Churches reflect on Obama election

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) âÄî Jubilation, pride and relief permeated pews and pulpits at predominantly black churches across the country on the first Sunday after Barack ObamaâÄôs election, with congregrants blowing horns, waving American flags and raising their hands from Raleigh to Los Angeles to the Atlanta church where the dream was born. âÄúGod has vindicated the black folk,âÄù the Rev. Shirley Caesar-Williams said as a member of her Raleigh congregation, Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church, brandished a flag and another marched among the pews blowing a ramâÄôs horn. âÄúToo long weâÄôve been at the bottom of the totem pole, but he has vindicated us, hallelujah,âÄù the Grammy-winning gospel singer cried. âÄúI donâÄôt know about you, but I donâÄôt 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.âÄù In the historically black New York City neighborhood of Harlem, Obama buttons and T-shirts were as prevalent in the pews as colorful plumed hats, while in a church in the former capital of the Confederacy, a young girl handled a newspaper with a photo of Obama and the headline, âÄúMr. President.âÄù At Los AngelesâÄô oldest black church, ushers circulated through the aisles with boxes of tissues as men and women, young and old, wept openly and unabashedly at the fall of the nationâÄôs last great racial barrier. And on the day that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously called âÄúthe most segregated day of the week,âÄù black and white Christian clergy members asked God to give Obama the wisdom and strength to lead the country out of what many consider a wilderness of despair and gloom. At Hungary Road Baptist Church in a working-class suburb of Richmond, Va., the 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 African-American congregation, paused briefly as he recalled the indignities he endured but did not bow to while growing up Suffolk, in southeastern Virginia. âÄúI was there when you had ride in the back of the bus,âÄù Vines said under a simple cross illuminated by eight light bulbs. âÄúI was there when you went to the department store and you couldnâÄôt try on the clothes. I was there when they had a colored toilet and a white toilet.âÄù The pastor said he shared his humiliations Sunday to help give those âÄúwho had not tasted the bitterness of segregation … an idea why we all shouted.âÄù Inside HarlemâÄôs Abyssinian Baptist Church, member Sheila Chestnut, 61, proudly wore a rhinestone Obama pin on her suit lapel. âÄúI am so happy,âÄù she said. âÄúI cried so much. I never thought that in this lifetime I would live to see an African-American become president of these United States.âÄù When the Rev. Calvin Butts invited the congregation to stand up âÄúand give God praise for the election,âÄù several hundred churchgoers rose as one, lifted their hands and gave a sustained cheer, then chanted, âÄúYes we can! Yes we can!âÄù At Apostolic Church of God on ChicagoâÄôs South Side, less than two miles from ObamaâÄôs home, jubilant Sunday services were peppered with references to the election and calls to be grateful for his victory. âÄúWe thank the Lord for this second Sunday (in November) after the first Tuesday,âÄù Dr. Byron Brazier said to resounding applause and cheers from the mostly black congregation. âÄúThis is a wonderful time to be alive.âÄù Obama spoke at Apostolic on FatherâÄôs Day in his first address to a congregation after leaving his longtime church, Trinity United Church of Christ, following inflammatory remarks there by his former longtime pastor and others. In Los Angeles, tears flowed freely at the First AME Church during the raucous two-hour service of house-busting music and prayer. There were some white and yellow faces among the congregants, and the Rev. John J. Hunter felt the need to let them know they were not being left out. âÄúThe smiles on our faces are not gloating looks of victory,âÄù he said. âÄúThe smiles on our faces are not the sign or any symbol that it is now our time and our chance to get even. Rather, the smiles on our faces are expressions of thanksgiving.âÄù 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 the Rev. David W. Carroll recognized ObamaâÄôs election as a âÄúhistoric shift,âÄù he spent just as much time praising McCainâÄôs patriotism in defeat. âÄúAs the crowd began to boo a little bit … he quieted them down and said, âÄòNow is not my time, but IâÄôm an American first and I will serve the president-elect,âÄô âÄù he said. âÄúIn a loss, he showed us still how he could win through his service.âÄù In his Web message last week, the Rev. Gregg Matte of HoustonâÄôs mostly white First Baptist Church decried a society that has turned to government as its savior. âÄúToday,âÄù he wrote, âÄúHollywood is our pastor, technology is our Bible, charisma is our value and Barack Obama is our president.âÄù But from the pulpit Sunday, Matte asked the 1,000 or so mostly white faces staring back at him to âÄúlift up President-elect ObamaâÄù even if he wasnâÄôt their choice on Tuesday. âÄúRegardless of whether you voted for him or not, heâÄôs now our president come Jan. 20,âÄù he said. âÄúSo weâÄôre 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.âÄù Perhaps nowhere was the weight of history more palpable Sunday than at AtlantaâÄôs Ebenezer Baptist Church, from whose pulpit King spread his message of inclusion and across from which he lies entombed. When the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock tried to put into words what it meant for Obama to win Virginia, where the first American slaves landed nearly 400 years ago, his words were drowned out by applause and cheers from a capacity crowd whose faces captured the spectrum of the human rainbow. âÄúBarack Obama stood against the fierce tide of history and achieved the unimaginable,âÄù he said. âÄúBut he did not get here by himself. Give God some credit. He is the Lord.âÄù But while he told the congregation that it was a time for celebration, he also reminded them it was a serious time. âÄúWe still have a whole lot of work to do,âÄù he said. âÄúYou have two little girls who will grow up in the White House. Around the corner, you have two little girls who will grow up in a crack house.âÄù Among those in attendance was the slain civil rights leaderâÄôs sister, Christine King Farris. She was reminded of her brotherâÄôs prescience. âÄúAs he predicted the night before he left us, âÄòI may not be with you, but as a people we will reach the promised land,âÄôâÄù she said stoically. âÄúThat promised land was realized Tuesday. Yes, it is our promised land.âÄù