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Inaugural prayers mirror new governor’s themes of tolerance, unity

Jeremy Lazarus | 1/19/2018, 7:18 a.m.
The Rev. Kelvin F. Jones called on new Gov. Ralph S. Northam and his leadership partners to “pursue an aggressive ...

The Rev. Kelvin F. Jones called on new Gov. Ralph S. Northam and his leadership partners to “pursue an aggressive agenda” with a focus on “health care, a fair living wage, a thriving economy and a superb education for all” in his opening prayer at the governor’s inauguration Saturday.

And Rabbi Michael Knopf separately urged Virginia’s leaders to “uphold the cause of the impoverished, the marginalized, the vulnerable and the oppressed, ensuring equality and justice for all” in his benediction delivered after the governor, new Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax and second term Attorney General Mark R. Herring were sworn in.

Pleas for tolerance and unity, themes Gov. Northam stressed in his address, filled the prayers of both clergymen — the African-American minister who leads First Baptist Church-Capeville on the Eastern Shore, where Gov. Northam is a member, and the other the spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El in Richmond.

Rev. Jones prayed for the leaders to make “diversity, inclusion and bipartisanship” a hallmark of their work to create a model for others to follow.

He also urged that God “touch the hearts of members of the General Assembly” so that they would end their divisions in decision-making and “remember what is at stake for all Virginians, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or economic status.”

Rev. Jones also prayed that Gov. Northam would “always seek wise counsel” in considering issues, and prayed that God would “guide his thoughts and order his steps.”

He also called on Mr. Fairfax to be “a drum major for justice” in his new post and on Mr. Herring to continue “to do justice” as the state’s top lawyer.

“Let them have the courage of David as they encounter their Goliath,” he said.

Rabbi Knopf used the benediction to tackle some of the concerns about America’s government and the current president, who was not named.

“In the face of resurgent and resilient hatred, xenophobia and racism,” he prayed that, with God’s help, Virginia’s leaders would be emboldened “to eradicate bigotry and inaugurate a new era of inclusion and equality.”

He also urged God “to grant our leaders the wisdom to discern the silent agony of the unseen and unheard, the plundered poor and the passed over. … In this moment when the cause of the just is too readily sold for silver and the needs of the poor betrayed to benefit the wealthy, give our leaders the strength to discharge the duties of their offices with honesty and integrity, withstanding the temptation, as the scripture says, that ‘blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the righteous.’ ”

“Help us,” Rabbi Knopf concluded, “to remain mindful of the extraordinary gift of freedom attained by our ancestors at great expenditure of toil and blood that we have been blessed to inherit.”

He urged all to be mindful “of our responsibility to one another as a self-governing people.”