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Posted at 10:51 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Prayer service opens day for new Congress

By Philip Rucker

The new Congress convenes for the first time Wednesday with a full schedule of events. We have full coverage the first day of the new Congress, complete with live video of the swearing in ceremony and what you're saying on Twitter.

Before the day's swearings-in, gavel-passing and speech-making, lawmakers gathered Wednesday morning for a bipartisan prayer service that some described as an emotional prelude to the opening of the 112th Congress.

Republican and Democratic leaders alike read proverbs and psalms, stood for prayers and sang "America the Beautiful." It was a moment of bipartisan harmony inside St. Peter's Catholic Church, still decorated with Christmas poinsettias and a Nativity scene. But lawmakers knew that they would soon begin sparring over the issues facing the country as the new Congress takes take hold a few blocks away inside the Capitol.

John A. Boehner, the Ohio native who would become House speaker by the afternoon, did not offer any words of his own, in keeping with the understated approach the Republican leader has taken during his ascendancy to the most powerful position in Congress.

Boehner, a Roman Catholic with working-class roots, was accompanied at the prayer service by his wife, Debbie, their two daughters, Lindsay and Tricia, 10 of his 11 siblings and other family members.

The Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, the House chaplain, delivered an opening prayer during the private service, which was closed to the press.

"It was a very positive tone," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a close friend of Boehner's. "I think the message is good, that we're one country and working together."

According to the program there were Bible readings from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who read1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12a, 13; incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who read Proverbs 2:6-11; and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), the Republican Conference Chairman, who read Matthew 20:25-28. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the assistant minority leader, read prayers.

Attendees read the Prayer of St. Francis and sang "America the Beautiful" as the service concluded.

"It was just beautiful," freshman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) said. "It was a real tribute to our country and our God. It's the perfect way to start the day, a very appropriate way to start the day."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said the Biblical passages spoke to "what we should be doing - compassion and service."

"It was emotional in many, many ways," Garamendi said. "It was an opportunity to ponder what we should be doing here -- our role is to serve humankind and justice."

Garamendi's wife, Patricia, who accompanied him to the service, said her husband was "very deep in reflection."

"But you walk out the door, and suddenly the issues of America were right there. And how do we work together?" the congressman said.

By Philip Rucker  | January 5, 2011; 10:51 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Election, 44 The Obama Presidency, Democratic Party  
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