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Hempstead pastor delivers opening prayer at U.S. House

The timing of the Rev. Malcolm J. Byrd’s appearance to open the session of the U.S. House wasn’t planned to be during a time of national soul-searching over gun violence and police-community relations after a tension-filled week across the country last week.

But that’s what it turned out to be Wednesday, when at noon Byrd delivered the House session’s opening prayer, an invocation that tends to be general and religious, not political.

Byrd, 32, pastor of the historic 350-member Jackson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Hempstead, responded by reaching back to the words of the founder in 1882 of Livingstone College, the historically black college in Salisbury, N.C., which Byrd attended as a student.

“We channel in the midst of our various strivings the words of Joseph Charles Price: ‘It matters not how dark the night, we believe in the coming of morning,’” Byrd said.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) followed him with a floor speech recalling the first time she met Byrd a year ago as he led a prayer after a gunman had shot and killed nine black men and women inside Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.

“Reverend Byrd said, ‘Oh God, there is a long road that leads from Hempstead to Charleston. But there is one thing that makes us closer than the miles that separate us: We are all part of the family of God,’” Rice said.

“There is a long road that leads from Hempstead to Orlando . . . and to Baton Rouge . . . and to Falcon Heights . . . and to Dallas,” Rice said. “There is a long road that leads from Hempstead to Washington, DC. But I thank God that Reverend Byrd has traveled that road safely today.”

Coleman Lamb, Rice’s spokesman, said the congresswoman had been working since the beginning of the year to have Byrd deliver the opening prayer, and the timing of his turn in the House happened to be, as Rice put it, “in the wake of tragic violence.”

Afterward, Byrd admitted he was nervous about delivering the prayer in the House chamber, presided over by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But he called the moment “a great privilege and a great honor.”

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