- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. | Pastor Shirley Caesar-Williams opened her sermon Sunday at Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church with a prayer of thanks for the election of Barack Obama - at the risk of her flock getting “more excited over this than you do over the word.”

“God has vindicated the black folk,” the Grammy-winning gospel singer said as a member of the congregation waved an American flag and another marched among the pews blowing a ram’s horn.

“Too long, we’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole, but he has vindicated us, hallelujah,” she cried. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have nothing to put my head down for, praise God. Because when I look toward Washington, D.C., we got a new family coming in. We got a new family coming in. And you know what? They look like us. Amen, amen. They look like us.”

Across the country, clergy members asked God to give Mr. Obama the wisdom and strength to lead the country. On the day Martin Luther King famously called “the most segregated day of the week,” they also called for the nation to come together behind the man who will be the first black president.

In his Web message last week, senior pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s 167-year-old First Baptist Church decried a society that has turned to government as its savior.

“Today,” he wrote, “Hollywood is our pastor, technology is our Bible, charisma is our value, and Barack Obama is our president.”

But from the pulpit Sunday, Mr. Matte asked the 1,000 or so mostly white faces staring back at him to “lift up President-elect Obama” even if he wasn’t their choice Tuesday.

“Regardless of whether you voted for him or not, he’s now our president come Jan. 20,” he said. “So we’re going to come behind him and pray for him and pray for wisdom, that God will give him wisdom and be able to really speak to his heart.”

At a white church in Mississippi, where roughly nine in 10 whites voted for Republican John McCain, the scene was more muted.

The neighborhood around the Alta Woods United Methodist Church in Jackson has seen its demographics shift from white to black in recent decades, and most of the parishioners have moved to the suburbs. While Pastor David W. Carroll recognized Mr. Obama’s election as a “historic shift,” he said he was also struck by Mr. McCain’s patriotism in defeat.

But in black churches from the capital of the Confederacy to the streets of Harlem, it was all about Mr. Obama.

At Hungary Road Baptist Church in a working-class suburb of Richmond, the two-hour, 40-minute service was part celebration, part history lesson, led by a pastor who had felt the sting of the Jim Crow South. The Rev. J. Rayfield Vines Jr., pastor of the predominantly black congregation, paused briefly as he recalled the indignities he endured but did not bow to growing up Suffolk, in southeastern Virginia.

“I was there when you had to ride in the back of the bus,” Mr. Vines said under a simple cross illuminated by eight light bulbs. “I was there when you went to the department store and you couldn’t try on the clothes. I was there when they had a colored toilet and a white toilet.”

The pastor said he shared his humiliations Sunday to help give those “who had not tasted the bitterness of segregation … an idea why we all shouted.”

“My cup runneth over on Tuesday night,” Mr. Vines said. “My eyes have seen the glory.”

Inside Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, Obama T-shirts vied with colorful plumed hats as a fashion statement. Church member Sheila Chestnut, 61, wore a rhinestone Obama pin on her suit lapel.

“I am so happy,” she said. “I cried so much. I never thought that in this lifetime I would live to see an African-American become president of these United States.”

When the Rev. Calvin Butts invited the congregation to stand up “and give God praise for the election,” several hundred churchgoers rose as one, lifted their hands in the air and gave a sustained cheer, then chanted, “Yes we can! Yes we can!”

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