A graduate of both Wilberforce University and Payne Theological Seminary will deliver the benediction during President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.
The Rev. Silvester Beaman, a pastor at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, for 27 years, said he was in bed early the evening of Jan. 3 and preparing to fall asleep to rest up ahead of his daily 6 a.m. service when Biden called to ask if he was “available” to deliver the historic event’s concluding prayer.
“I said, ‘Be available? Yeah, I’ll be available,” Beaman said, and laughed. “There wasn’t really anything else on Jan. 20.”
Beaman, a longtime confidant of and spiritual adviser to the Biden family, said he was “awash instantaneously, simultaneously” with humility, surprise and reverential fear and found himself “a bit shocked” that he was being selected for such a special moment.
“As a preacher, being asked to pray or give the benediction, that’s like breathing,” he said. “Something that we’re called and able to do.”
Formulating his message and culling from numerous sources since Jan. 3, Beaman said he planned to start writing Friday the inaugural benediction, which he said will emphasize “healing, reconciliation, inclusivity and the path forward.”
Even before the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, he planned to speak about that and relate it to the process that got Biden to the point just prior to a week ago Wednesday, Beaman said.
“It was an arduous task and of course on Election Day you could see a divided nation, which he won electorally by a landslide and the popular vote he won with a greater majority,” he said. “However, a great number of people still supported Donald Trump, and I believe that out of that 70 million-plus that was supporting Donald Trump, that mob in D.C. does not represent them.”
Beaman said when he first began his pastoral duties at Wilmington, Delaware’s Bethel AME in June 1993, Biden helped him take on “the responsibility of being baptized into the community, and social involvement and advocacy.”
“He was saying ‘Pastor, you have to know your constituents and you have to know the people who are looking to you for leadership. You have to know what their needs are so that you can represent them,” Beaman said. “To me that was not just about politics and being a community activist, it was even pastoring. You can’t pastor a church successfully if you are not connected to the pews. He was just simply saying, ‘Connect to your community, connect to your environment. Know what’s going on around you.’”
Beaman also was good friends with Biden’s deceased son Beau, praying with him before he was deployed overseas in the Army and during his fight against brain cancer.
“When his son decided to run for attorney general, he told his son to call me,” Beaman said. “He brokered that relationship that really blossomed into a very good, close personal friendship so that when he was going through some difficult times even when there were social issues going on in the state that the attorney general had to deal with, he would often call me on the phone and we would talk and converse.”
Beaman, who said he came from the projects of Niagara Falls, New York, said Wilberforce University, from which he graduated in 1982, taught him leadership, how to preach, public speaking and involvement in the community.
Beaman, who earned a master’s degree from Boston University, returned to Greene County to attend Payne Theological Seminary, where he earned an doctorate in 2012.
He noted that a number of those rising to higher political office this year are graduates of historically black college or universities (HBCU), including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and U.S. Senator-elect Raphael Warnock of Georgia. In addition, so is Stacey Abrams, a politician, lawyer, voting rights activist and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives.
“The final words spoken at this inaugural address will be done by an HBCU grad, from Wilberforce University,” he said. “I think that says a lot about Wilberforce.”
He said that Biden, as president, will have a spirit that would seek to heal the nation through truth and reconciliation. That is because when it comes to his faith, Biden is “genuine.”
“It’s not pretentious, it’s not political, it’s not trying to be correct,” Beaman said. “It is what he truly believes. He is a man who seeks the heart and wisdom of God, not in a fanatical way, but in a real honest, Christian, serious way. He’s a man of faith.”
Beaman said looking back at Biden’s life, including the death of his first wife and their 1-year old daughter in a 1972 crash, he might not have made it through some of the dark times of his life without that faith in God.
“He’s a man that’s after God’s heart. That’s what I love about him,” Beaman said. “That’s why I know that God has put him in the place for such a time as this.”