In a divided nation, Hillary Clinton is eager to bring people together in any way she can -- including by potentially preaching as a layperson, her longtime pastor, the Rev. Bill Shillady, tells PEOPLE

By Tierney McAfee
August 15, 2017 06:35 PM
LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 19: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on during a "Get Out The Caucus" at the Clark County Government Center on February 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. With one day to go before the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Las Vegas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a divided nation, Hillary Clinton is eager to bring people together in any way she can — including by potentially preaching as a layperson, her longtime pastor, the Rev. Bill Shillady, tells PEOPLE.

Shillady, a United Methodist Church minister and the executive director of the United Methodist City Society, gave Clinton spiritual guidance throughout her 2016 presidential campaign, emailing her daily devotionals that he’s since compiled into a book titled Strong for a Moment Like This, out Tuesday.

During a photo shoot for the book’s release, Clinton told Shillady that she was interested in preaching, explains the pastor, who noted that United Methodists have a practice of allowing laypersons to sermonize.

Shillady says Clinton, a lifelong Methodist, has a “wealth of experience” to bring to the pulpit.

“I think she has incredible biblical knowledge,” he says, adding that Clinton has found strength and solace in her faith since her devastating loss to President Donald Trump in November.

“She really concentrated on her faith in the midst of the loss, and her faith has helped her to come out of the woods,” he says. “I think the pulpit is one venue where she can preach without worrying about being political.”

Courtesy Bill Shillady

These days, Clinton’s prayers are focused primarily on uniting Americans amid “the rising ride of hate and intolerance.”

“We both are concerned about the incivility and crudeness in our political discourse,” Shillady explains. “Preachers have the opportunity to direct thoughts and encourage people for moving toward moral courage and compassion and love, which seems to be in shockingly short supply.”

Clinton spoke out against such hatred and intolerance on Saturday in the wake of a killing and violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured when a man identified by police as 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of people demonstrating against the event. Two Virginia state troopers, Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, also died in a helicopter crash while responding to the violence.

“My heart is in Charlottesville today, and with everyone made to feel unsafe in their country,” Clinton said in a series of tweets that indirectly called out President Trump for his failure to specifically condemn the white nationalists who organized the deadly rally. “The incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets. Every minute we allow this to persist through tacit encouragement or inaction is a disgrace, & corrosive to our values. Now is the time for leaders to be strong in their words & deliberate in their actions.”

Like Clinton, Shillady took issue with Trump’s initial response that condemned the “hatred, bigotry and violence” from “many sides” — a sentiment the president defended in remarks on Tuesday.

“I think he needs to be the uniter-in-chief and not the divider-in-chief,” Shillady says.

The pastor says he and Clinton exchanged emails after the events in Charlottesville, and he shared with her some prayers he thought would be helpful from other Methodist clergy. One teaching that came to mind, he said, was the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus instructed followers to “love your enemies.” It was advice Shillady also offered to Clinton amid the rancorous 2016 election.

In the forward she wrote for Strong for a Moment Like This, Clinton describes first meeting Shillady 15 years ago at a 9/11 commemoration service in Central Park. Since then, he has become the family’s unofficial pastor, leading a memorial service for Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, officiating at daughter Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and giving the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention.

“Then, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Rev. Bill ministered to me in a different way,” Clinton wrote. “Every single day of the campaign, he woke up before dawn, sat down at his computer, and wrote me an email message of Scripture and lessons that he or the other writers had written.”

“There was one day in particular when I needed Rev. Bill’s wisdom more than ever: the day after … Election Day — one of the hardest days of my life. His words were a lifeline to me then — something to hold onto while I recaptured my footing. ‘Sunday is coming,’ he wrote. He was right.”

WATCH: Hillary Clinton Compares Donald Trump to Richard Nixon in Wellesley College Commencement Speech

As with all things Hillary Clinton, however, the book was attended by controversy after it was reported Monday that Shillady had plagiarized the prayer he sent Clinton the day after she lost the election.

Shillady said in a statement to PEOPLE that he was “stunned” to learn that his devotional, “Sunday is Coming,” was so similar to a post written by the Rev. Matt Deuel of Mission Point Community Church in Warsaw, Indiana.

“My entire approach to this book project has been to credit all of the many ministers and sources who contributed to the devotionals that were written for Hillary over the course of the campaign,” Shillady said. “In preparing the devotional on the morning of November 9, I was determined to provide comfort with the familiar adage that ‘It’s Friday But Sunday is Coming.’ I searched for passages that offered perspective of this theme. I am now stunned to realize the similarity between Matt Deuel’s blog sermon and my own. Clearly, portions of my devotional that day incorporate his exact words.”

Shillady said he has apologized to Deuel and will credit the Indiana pastor in future editions of the book.

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