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Two prayer gatherings were held at a Christian house of worship, but many faith traditions were represented.

Several days before he was sworn in as Oklahoma City's newest mayor, David Holt was the recipient of sacred prayers of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Months later, U.S. Rep.-elect Kendra Horn was the focal point of a similar service in which individuals from about a dozen faith traditions gathered to lift her up in prayer.

Both interfaith prayer services were held at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, where Holt and Horn are members.

Faith leaders who participated or attended the gatherings said the events highlighted the importance of diversity in the community.

"This really was inclusion at its most diverse," Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel in Oklahoma City, said of the prayer service for Holt.

"We each were asked to participate in a voice and in a way that celebrated our unique religious perspectives. I thought it was a very nice way and a very inclusive way to celebrate the diversity of our city."

Holt said that was exactly what he had in mind.

"Faith has always meant a lot to the people of Oklahoma City, and so a prayer service seemed appropriate. At the same time, that faith is diversifying," Holt said.

"Diversity means a lot of things, and certainly religion is an aspect of Oklahoma City’s increasing diversity. I wanted to acknowledge that by inviting Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders to celebrate our city’s new chapter."

Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, participated in the services for both Horn and Holt.

He said the invitations to pray at the gatherings meant much to him because he had been rejected from participating in the Oklahoma State House's chaplaincy program. Because he was never given a reason for the rejection, Enchassi and many Oklahoma leaders of other faith traditions felt he was being discriminated against based on religion.

"After a year of exclusion from praying at the State House, it was venerating to be asked to come to an interfaith service to pray for Mayor Holt and Congresswoman Kendra Horn," Enchassi said recently.

"I felt that I belonged. I felt that I was accepted. Most important, I felt that I had a seat at the table. This has always been my city, my state and my country. That day, I felt like a proud Oklahoman."

Other religious leaders also weighed in.

Horn's gathering included representatives of the Sikh Gurdwara of Oklahoma, an American Indian practitioner, representatives of the Baha'i Faith, Buddhist and Hindu faith communities, as well as Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.

The Rev. Chebon Kernell serves as executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan for the United Methodist Church, but he attended the prayer service for Horn as an American Indian practitioner.

Kernell, a member of the Seminole Nation, said the invitation to be a part of the prayer gathering meant a lot to him.

"Anytime we are invited to be part of something to represent the native American community, we always take it as an honor because there are many places in our society where we are not invited into the room or onto the program," he said.

"In this situation, we were very excited because it was my understanding that this service represented the diversity of Kendra's district. It was an acknowledgement of how diverse her district truly is."

The Rev. Joseph Alsay, rector of St. Augustine's, 14700 N May Ave., said the service for Holt was the spring board for Horn's. He said he put the latter gathering together with help from Noel Jacobs, a church member who is a member of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma.

The interfaith prayers were a good fit for the diverse congregation that is St. Augustine's, he said, adding that having differences doesn't mean one has to be divisive.

"When I came to St. Augustine's nine years ago, my hope was that it would become a radically diverse congregation — diverse theologically, ethnically, politically and socially — because it's a microcosm of what heaven will be like," Alsay said.

"I like what Dr. (Martin Luther) King said: 'We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.'"

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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