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Bipartisanship On The Hill? Living On A Prayer

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It’s maybe a sign of the times that the morning’s first opening-day-of-Congress event, at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, had to be branded a “bipartisan prayer service.”

But for about an hour Wednesday morning, it didn’t matter what side of the aisle a fair number of congressmen and women sat -- including outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, incoming Republican Speaker John Boehner and a passel of his Ohio family members.

In fact, Pelosi settled in just a few rows in front of conservative firebrand Rep. Virginia Fox (R-NC) on the left side of the aisle of the Capitol Hill church. And both joined in a rousing version of “America the Beautiful.”

Outside, it had dawned one of those sparkling Washington mornings -- chill in the air, sun glinting off the maze of white granite and marble buildings that crowd the avenues -- that brought to mind the childlike awe many feel on making their first acquaintance with the nation’s capital.

Inside, St. Peter’s altar was still banked with red poinsettias, Christmas trees wrapped in white lights and ribbons and a manger whose occupants awaited the Bible’s promise of the arrival of three wise men Thursday (no irony intended).

The prayers focused on service, the readings on mutual purpose. Looking out on a sea of dark suits and bowed heads, the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, the House chaplain, reminded that members were gathered as “Americans diverse in many ways,” but united by love of country.

Soon-to-be House Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, read Proverbs 2:6-11, and Pelosi followed with 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.”)

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, read Matthews’ message of humility and service, and the Rev. Patrick McDaid invoked Thomas Jefferson. In crafting the Declaration of Independence, McDaid said, Jefferson drew not on man’s laws, but on “laws of nature, nature’s God.”

And he provided an apt warning in an age of politics awash with money and temptations (a stark fact for new House members, who found themselves dialing for dollars before their office nameplates were even affixed): “the crucible of the legislative process,” McDaid said, “has tested many a conscience.”

The result? Sometimes a “profile in courage,” he said. Sometimes not.

As participants streamed out, they blinked in the bright midmorning light, watched as a cadre of Capitol Hill bike police rode by, and were confronted by a large photograph of a bloody fetus and a megaphone-enhanced demand to “defund Planned Parenthood.”

So it begins. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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