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Oklahoma City church has politically powerful parishioners

January 6, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Late on a recent Sunday afternoon, the Rev. Joseph Alsay stood before his congregation and assorted guests in bright vestments over a pinstriped suit and cufflinks, his backdrop the strewn hay of a Bethlehem manger.

“In our country, we are divided, we are surrounded by a vitriolic spirit,” he said. “There is so much divisiveness around us. Indeed, we step on each other’s feet. We’ve stubbed our own toes in the darkness. But tonight, we dare to light a candle to disperse — to dispel — that darkness.”

As he looked out over the congregation, he undoubtedly saw two of the city’s most prominent politicians, one so lanky that his face hovered higher than the rest, and the other in a bright red dress.

Alsay watched and prayed this year as David Holt was elected mayor and Kendra Horn was elected the city’s congresswoman, quickly elevating two of his parishioners at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church to the upper echelons of local political power.

“Here we have a progressive mayor who is coming from the Republican Party and we have this progressive congresswoman who’s coming from the Democratic Party, able to worship together in the same place,” Alsay told The Oklahoman , his words bursting out through a wide grin.

Horn, he said, “is a history-maker, a barrier-breaker and a citizen with a commonsensical approach — a bridge-builder. That’s what we need today. She’s doing that and, dare I say, Mayor David Holt is doing that as well. We’ve got two trailblazers at St. Augustine so yeah, we are blessed.”

St. Augustine is in far northwest Oklahoma City, an area that is home to large churches popular with prominent politicians. A few blocks away is Crossings Community Church, which former Mayor Mick Cornett attends. Across the street is Quail Springs Baptist Church, where Sen. James Lankford worships — and sometimes preaches.

“There have been election years where virtually every candidate on the ballot attended one of our megachurches in town, but this is a relatively small Episcopal church,” said Holt, who has known Horn for 20 years and calls her a friend. “So, it is something rather unique to have two political figures from our city in attendance.”

The congresswoman will be sworn in during the first week in January. She defeated Rep. Steve Russell, who wears his Southern Baptist faith on his sleeve, after a contentious race in which she rarely mentioned her own faith, something she considers to be a private matter. Horn expects to work well with Holt, her fellow St. Augustine parishioner.

“I don’t know if it makes it easier but I think it’s nice that we share a church and congregation,” she said. “I think the way Mayor Holt and I will be able to work together is because there are many things that we share in common about our commitment to service and the importance of making sure all the voices in the communities are heard.”

Before Holt was sworn-in in April, his church hosted an interfaith prayer service on his behalf. On Nov. 6, at her Election Night watch party, Horn asked Alsay to host the same for her. Eleven religions were represented when he did so on Dec. 16, their adherents filling the pews at St. Augustine and their clergy reading prayers of their respective religions.

“We wish peace upon you this day,” Rabbi Abby Jacobson said to Horn as she read a Jewish prayer, first in Hebrew and then in English. “Go out from us in peace, emissary of peace, to do your important work. Bless us with peace, emissary of peace, through your important work. And then come home to us, emissary of peace, to the loving arms of those who sent you forth.”

Imam Imad Enchassi prayed for God to grant Horn “wisdom over rhetoric, generosity over indifference and justice over patronage.”

The Rev. Chebon Kernell sang a chant in the Muscogee language that explained how, after a time of suffering, the creator remedies.

Holt, bending at the waist to talk into a microphone on a low lectern, read from the Book of James.

“But be doers of the word,” the passage began, “and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, upon going away, immediately forget what they were like.”

Horn’s own remarks were a blend of proselytism and policy, a seven-minute speech that included the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis — “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” — and some political folksiness: “Red dirt clings not only to my clothes and my shoes and my memory but to my soul.”

Oklahoma, she said, “is a living, breathing example of diversity, complete with the contradictions and conflicts that prevent it, and the people who call it home, from being tied up neatly in a package.” She called for a righting of historical wrongs, for “erasing the remnants of racism, sexism and other barriers.”

“I ask that you hold me accountable to this: to include all of us. To make sure the voices of those who, for far too long have been unheard, become heard. Because it’s easy to see, in the things that are happening in the world, that we are living in a time of uncertainty, fear and division. But we are also living in a time of change, of opportunity, of awakening,” Horn told the crowd of about 120 people.

Surrounded by the faith leaders of 11 religions, she then knelt at an altar before Alsay and was anointed with chrism, a consecrated oil, as he read aloud a Franciscan prayer. Horn wiped away tears after Alsay, for the second time in six months, had prepared a parishioner’s soul for political office.

“On any given Sunday, I want people who visit our church to see the wide variety that’s here,” the reverend said in an interview. “That, in microcosm, is what heaven will be like.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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