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Published: Monday, 1/19/2009

Toledo clergy full of hope as Obama era commences

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Every time the Rev. Robert Culp looks at his watch - which features an image of President-elect Barack Obama - he thinks about the era that will dawn Tuesday.

"I see it as a historic event. To me, it's more than a changing of the guard. It's a changing of the times. I feel it will institute a whole new order of how things are done in the world. I really do," said Mr. Culp, 74, pastor of Toledo's First Church of God.

He will be in Washington because he didn't want to miss the historic moment when an African-American is sworn in as president of the United States.

"I feel like Simeon in the Bible when he saw Jesus," Mr. Culp said. "He said he could die in peace and with joy. I almost feel that this is that kind of occasion, the kind you never thought you'd see come to pass in your lifetime."

He still was hoping to find tickets to get near the swearing-in ceremony, but bought a new gadget just in case: binoculars with a built-in camera.

"I don't expect to get close to much, but I'll be able to take a picture up to a mile away. I just want to record as much as I can," he said.

Mike "Huggy Bear" Huggins of Toledo also is going to Washington without any special VIP privileges. He organized a tour bus that will leave this evening, arrive in Washington early Tuesday, then head back to Toledo around 5 p.m.

"I wish I could bring the whole city of Toledo down there," Mr. Huggins, 43, said. "I think it's a great thing for all Americans to jump on the bandwagon as far as being a time for change. That's what we need, definitely, a change all over the United States. And what better way to start than in Washington with our government officials?"

Mr. Huggins' pastor, the Rev. Thomas Fant of St. Stephen AME Church on City Park Avenue, will travel on the bus and is excited at the prospect of seeing the start of the Obama Administration.

"Personally, it's gratifying and it reinforces the scriptures that say there is always hope. And for me, being who I am, a black pastor of a church, I really didn't believe that I would see this day," Mr. Fant said. "But this lets us know that God is always working for the common good of all mankind."

Mr. Fant, 63, believes the political changes have been "generated by God," and that proof of divine intervention can be found in the fact that Mr. Obama will take office the day after the nation celebrates the birthday of the late civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King., Jr.

"It's all magnificent. Man could not have done that," he said.

Also in Washington for the historic event will be the Rev. Cheri Holdridge, pastor of a new Toledo church called The Village, and her husband, attorney Kurt Young, with their two children ages 6 and 9.

She read Senator Obama's biography a few years ago and was excited about his qualifications and his outlook. "But I didn't think he had a chance to win so I tried not to get my hopes up," she said.

Ms. Holdridge considers President-elect Obama to be a person of integrity and a smart man who is giving people hope.

She believes in that message, she said, because "God gives everyone hope and wants everyone to have joy and fulfillment in their lives. This country has come off track with everybody looking out for themselves. I think we've seen the results of that as our economic system collapses."

She and her husband volunteered for Senator Obama's campaign and as the candidate gained momentum, they booked a hotel in Washington a month before the election.

They bought tickets to an Ohio gala and have tickets to stand in the designated "silver section" of the mall, not too far from the steps of the Capitol where the inauguration will take place.

The Rev. John Roberts, pastor of Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, said he will watch the ceremony on television. "This is history-making time," the 81-year-old minister said. "I didn't really think it would happen in my lifetime, but some things came up that opened the door."

He praised President-elect Obama for his "insight on how to really communicate with people, and that's very much needed."

Toledoans Ed and Avie Dixon will host a party in their Glenwood Avenue home starting several hours before the inauguration.

"We're excited about the fact that he is our president. We are looking forward to some great things. And we'll be able to share this moment with people and we won't be out in the cold or in the crowd," Ms. Dixon said.

Mr. Culp of First Church of God said the election of an African-American president should silence the complaints of people who say they are being held back because of race.

"It's almost taking away anybody's excuse for saying using racism and bigotry and 'the man' is their reason for not achieving," he said.

"You have to back up on that now and say in America that anything can happen. Whether it happens for you or not, it can happen. It's a whole new day for civil rights."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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