Religious leaders from across Kansas representing a variety of faith traditions gathered Monday morning at the Statehouse to offer their blessings for new Gov. Laura Kelly in a ceremony that took place about three hours before the Democrat from Topeka was inaugurated.
The ceremony, which got under way around 8:20 a.m., took place in the old Supreme Court Room on the third floor of the Statehouse. The service originally had been scheduled for the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, but that location remained closed Monday as the partial government shutdown entered its 24th day, necessitating the move to the Statehouse.
About 75 people, including a number of lawmakers and cabinet-level secretaries, were on hand for the service, during which clergy from Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish faith groups spoke.
Kelly, who became the state's 48th governor when she was sworn into office later Monday morning on the south side of the Statehouse, sat in the front row next to Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers.
Before the service began, the Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen, pastor of Topeka's First Congregational United Church of Christ and the service's master of ceremonies, said he was thrilled to see the response from such a diverse group of religious leaders.
"It's really exciting," said Schlingensiepen, who ran on the Democratic ticket in 2012 for the 2nd District congressional seat that was won by Republican Lynn Jenkins. "We have a really diverse group of faith leaders here.
"We're asking blessings that the new administration and all who will begin working in this house soon will be a blessing to all Kansans in all that they do."
Imam Omar Hazim, of the Islamic Center of Topeka, said it was "always historic when interfaith leaders come together."
Hazim, who offered a prayer for the new governor during the service, said Monday's service "really represents a new beginning, looking at the future in a better way."
Rabbi Debbie Stiel, of Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka, was among those in the audience. Stiel complimented Kelly for her years of supporting Temple Beth Sholom and members of Topeka's Jewish community.
"I think this is a wonderful day for Kansas," Stiel said. "Laura Kelly is showing her appreciation for diversity by starting off her day with an interfaith service. That means so much to me and to minority faith groups in Kansas. I'm so thankful that she wants to listen to us.
"We are so excited to have her as our new governor. I really believe she'll do great things."