Inauguration: Witnesses to history and a sense of hope
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From the imposing ceremony of President Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to the religious solemnity of the Jan. 21 National Prayer Service, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve came away from their two-day visit to frigid Washington, D.C., warmed by witnessing not only a historic national event but also examples of graciousness, hope and unity.
President Uchtdorf — who was accompanied by his wife, Harriet — and Elder Ballard were assigned by President Thomas S. Monson to represent the Church at the inaugural events.
President Monson said, "It is always an honor for the Church to be represented at the inauguration of a new president. We send our best wishes to President Obama and pray for the blessings of a loving Father in Heaven to be upon him and his administration."
Helping to arrange for and host President Uchtdorf's and Elder Ballard's visit was Elder Ralph W. Hardy, an Area Seventy in the North America Northeast Area.
They were seated close to the presidential stage for the inauguration and near President Obama and his contingent for the prayer service.
"It was very appropriate to have two apostles of the Lord right here at this inauguration, where you have an African-American becoming the president of this great nation," said President Uchtdorf, contacted while in the nation's capital with Elder Ballard by the Church News and after their return to Utah.
Both President Uchtdorf and Elder Ballard used adjectives like "marvelous," "wonderful" and "overwhelming" in describing their experiences.
"This new administration is sending a message of hope and change to the world," President Uchtdorf said. "We know there is no greater message to all the world than the message of the Church and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I only hope this historic moment will open doors and hearts to the gospel message of hope and change."
Both left the prayer service with a sense the people of America are going to unite behind the new president and his administration and that we need to pray for him. Elder Ballard said, "We need to exercise our prayers and help him accomplish the great objectives that he has set."
One such objective catching Elder Ballard's attention was President Obama's pronouncing an importance on responsibility. "People being responsible for their own lives and responsible for others who need help — I like that theme very much and hope the whole country can take hold of that because it can make a vast difference," Elder Ballard said.
He pondered aloud how an emphasis on responsibility could have a powerful difference with the youth, who will be the future leaders of the nation and their own faiths. "That was great," said Elder Ballard of the president's "responsibility" objective "and I hope he holds on to it."
At the inauguration, the Uchtdorfs found themselves seated next to an African-American couple. "When the oath was taken, this lady next to her [Sister Uchtdorf] just embraced her and gave her a kiss on the cheek with tears running down her face," said President Uchtdorf.
He added that the emotions he sensed over the two days were not simply the result of the massive numbers witnessing the event nor the historic moment of the United States' first African-American president, but rather a sense of how the transfer of power displayed in a free democracy can bring hope that even great challenges may be overcome.
The crowd, President Uchtdorf said, was the largest he has ever been in. Elder Ballard noted it was reported that more than 1.5 million people were at the inauguration ceremony.
"We could feel the deep emotion around us — we were surrounded by people of all colors, of all creeds and of all languages," President Uchtdorf said. "It was a great experience we had — to see a unity there that I hope will last on and continue throughout the years of this administration."
President Uchtdorf and Elder Ballard joined Muslims, Jews, people of different Christian denominations and other religions at the prayer service. "We felt we were in the right place with all these whom we call brothers and sisters," President Uchtdorf said, "to pray for this presidency, for this administration, and with them to pray for all the governments around the world to bring again peace and prosperity and unity to all countries."
President Uchtdorf spoke of the graciousness shown by presidential candidates at the conclusion of the November 2008 elections and the graciousness shared between outgoing President George W. Bush and incoming President Obama leading up to the inauguration. He called it an example of democracy to all and representative of the kind of efforts put forth by the Church.
"That is a very important example to all of us and what we as a Church try to do — reaching out to the one and to all, helping to bridge differences, helping to bring the wonderful restored gospel message we have to all the people wherever they are, whatever language they speak, whatever history they have."
Participation by Church members in the inauguration events varied from the 14 members of Congress who joined their peers on the inaugural stand to Saints who were among the University of Utah and Evergreen, Washington, High School marching bands. And from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who were among the four members of Congress on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to Lynn Rasch returning to ride with an equestrienne group in the parade and 11-year-old Ethan Durrant joining the San Francisco Boys Chorus to perform at the inauguration.
The Union High School AFJROTC unit, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma was the only ROTC unit selected to march in the inaugural parade, and was the 94th out of 96 entries (they marched right before the University of Utah marching band). The three LDS members of the ROTC unit are Alex Mason, Preston Memmott, and Brent Hickman.
Highlights of Church leader and member involvement in U.S. presidential inaugurations over the past 56 years:
2009 — Inauguration of President Barack Obama
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve represented the Church at the inauguration and National Prayer Service (see story on this page).
2001 — Inauguration of President George W. Bush
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir made its first inaugural performance since 1989; its itinerary including two concerts, a radio/TV broadcast and the inaugural parade, where the singers squeezed on a 125-foot-long float labeled the largest of its kind in inaugural history. Representing the Church was Elder J. Willard Marriott Jr., an Area Seventy in the North America East Area.
1997 — Reinauguration of President Bill Clinton
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve represented the Church at inaugural events.
Utah's representation in the inaugural parade included a replica pioneer-era covered wagon — reconstructed from pieces of antique wagons found around Nauvoo, Ill. — and a replica of the handcarts used to cross the Plains.
1993 — Inauguration of President Bill Clinton
Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve represented the Church at inaugural ceremonies.
1989 — Inauguration of President George H.W. Bush
President Ezra Taft Benson and President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, represented the Church, while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed before the inaugural ceremony. Elder John K. Carmack traveled with the choir, and Steve Studdert, a Church member, organized the 1989 inauguration.
1981 — Inauguration of President Ronald Reagan
President Ezra Taft Benson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, was joined by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Seventy as lead representatives of the Church. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir earned its tag of "America's Choir" from President Reagan, making a stop of five-plus minutes in the parade in front of the review stand to honor first lady Nancy Reagan's request for a performance of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
1977 — Inauguration of President Jimmy Carter
Representing the Church was President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor in the First Presidency. Sen. Howard W. Cannon, D-Nev., conducted the inaugural program and served as chairman of the joint committee for inauguration arrangements.
1973 — Reinauguration of President Richard Nixon
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sent a delegation of 30 choir members to sing in the White House's East Room, too small to accommodate the entire choir. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve represented the Church, while the BYU Cougar Marching Band participated in the inaugural parade.
1969 — Inauguration of President Richard Nixon
President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency and Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve represented the Church, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir making its second trip in as many presidential inaugurations to perform. J. Willard Marriott served as chairman of the inauguration, with his wife, Alice, as special assistant.
1965 — Inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir made its inauguration debut, but dense fog at the Salt Lake Airport forced 251 members of the 363-strong choir to board buses for a nine-hour ride to Las Vegas, Nev., where they caught a subsequent flight and arrived just three hours before they were scheduled to assemble on the Capitol's east side.
1953 — Inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower
President David O. McKay attended inauguration ceremonies, while Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve rode in a convertible down Pennsylvania Avenue in the inaugural parade — he joined join President Eisenhower's Cabinet the next day as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
— Compiled by Scott Taylor from Church News and Deseret News archives