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Sikh Representative joins President Obama in Prayer at National Service

Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive at the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral. (Tribune photo by Terrence Antonio James).

Washington, January 22, 2009 - Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education attended the national prayer service inaugurating President Barack Obama. Obama, embracing a tradition that dates to George Washington, the first U.S. president, took part in a multiracial, multireligious worship prayer service on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral. The new president and first lady sat in the front pew of the church, alongside Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who won Senate confirmation later yesterday to become Obama's secretary of state, also sat in the first row. Obama greeted the Sikh Representative Dr. Rajwant Singh by saying 'good morning' while entering the Cathedral.

Dr. Rajwant Singh thanked the Presidential Transition team for the invitation and he exchanged notes with the officials about the inclusion of Sikhs and issues facing the community in future deliberations by the Obama Administration. Dr. Singh, accompanied by his wife, Dr. Balvinder Kaur, was seated in the front with other religious leaders from all over the U.S. Uma Mysorekar of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, based in Queens, New York, read a prayer for the new administration during the prayer ceremony.

Dr. Rajwant Singh along with his wife, Dr. Balvinder Kaur seated along with other religious leaders.

Dr. Rajwant Singh said, "America is witnessing a momentous time and monumental challenges. President Obama needs all the prayers from all of us. May God give him the wisdom to lead us during this difficult road ahead."

The Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman to give a sermon at this 56th traditional event, encouraged President Obama to set a national tone of making the right choices, such as loving God by loving one's neighbor. Imploring, "Lead us there, Mr. President," Watkins added, "That is a journey worth pursuing."

Watkins used the story – she said was attributed to Cherokee wisdom – which said there are two wolves struggling inside each person– one filled with anger, resentment, and self-pity – and the other filled with compassion, faithfulness, and hope.

"We need you to feed the good wolf within you, to listen to the better angels of your nature, and by your example encourage us to do the same," Watkins said speaking to the President and the Vice-President.

The service included scripture readings and hymns delivered by religious leaders of a variety of faiths. President Obama sang along to the "Star Spangled Banner", a booming rendition of "Amazing Grace" and a variety of hymns. The Washington Performing Arts Society Children of Gospel Choir sang "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands," to which the new president sang along, smiling.

Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd of DC, in the opening remarks, joked that the best way for the new administration to begin their first day on the job is by praying.

Dr. Rajwant Singh with Obama's paternal Grandmother and his cousin from Kenya

Obama was not scheduled to make remarks. He attended the service after spending about 10 minutes alone in the Oval Office earlier in the morning and reading the personal note left to him by President George W. Bush.

The 3,200 invited guests included members of Congress, diplomats, and other leaders. Choirs sang and psalms and biblical passages were read, but the service had a strongly nonsectarian feel, with many prayers mentioning no deity in particular.

The national prayer service traces its origins to a congressional proclamation delivered three days before George Washington took the oath of office in New York City.

It directed that the president, vice president, and members of Congress "proceed to St. Pau'ls Chapel to hear divine service."

During the Civil War, the services became non-denominational and took place in the Capitol. In 1985, then-President Ronald Reagan moved the service to the National Cathedral in Washington, a gothic giant set on a hilltop in Northwest Washington that serves as an ecumenical religious center. President Bill Clinton broke the new tradition of using the cathedral for both of his inaugurals, directing that the services be held at a historic black church in downtown Washington, Metropolitan AME.

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