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LI church celebrates Obama, new era

A framed portrait of President Barack Obama stood under the mirrored cross at Living Hope Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Massapequa, where members worshiped and gave thanks five days after Obama officially became the nation's first African-American president.

The mood was joyful and inspired Sunday among the roughly 50 people who gathered to pray in the sparsely decorated auditorium of the black church.

"We have a new president - Hallelujah!" Pastor Pat Rickenbacker told the crowd. "It's the dawn of a new day - are you ready?"

Parishioners rose to their feet and sang religious hymns, then remained standing as Rickenbacker played a video recording of the moment that Obama took the oath, projected onto the church's back wall.

"I just keep watching that thing over and over again," she said as the crowd applauded.

Rickenbacker used her sermon to urge her congregants to seize the opportunity that Obama's election created, and not fall into the trap of believing that Obama can solve the nation's problems himself.

That was a message that resonated with parishioner Carolyn Chikazunga.

"I think people will look at themselves and say, 'What can I do better?' We all realize he can't do it by himself," said the Massapequa resident.

Chikazunga, 65, said she still feels "overwhelmed."

"Even talking about it makes me kind of tearful," she said.

Rickenbacker ended her sermon with a cry of joy that melded politics and faith.

"Before Tuesday and before all this transpired, I was so tired of always feeling like I was locked out," Rickenbacker said. "Obama is in the White House, God is in heaven, Jesus is in my heart, so glory, glory, hallelujah!"

After the service, Barbara Sullivan, 65, of Amityville said she had heard Obama's speech on the radio at a local thrift shop while gathered with a few other customers. She didn't want to return to her car for fear she would miss a word.

"For me, it was a freeing experience," Sullivan said. "When this thing happened on Tuesday, I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I praised God. I am still riding high on that wave of ecstasy."

Obama's victory also carries a special message for young people, Chikazunga said.

"I'm hoping they will see that drugs, violence and gangs are not the way to go," Chikazunga said.

Louise Marshall, 86, of Wyandanch, the pastor's mother, said while she is proud of Obama, it was important to remember the others in history who fought for civil rights and who made his presidency possible.

"I'm still so proud and thrilled and overwhelmed," Marshall said. "But let's not forget he had to be pulled up, too, by those before him."

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