JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City prayed Jan. 11 that God would bless and guide the newly sworn officials of Missouri’s executive branch to lead not just with the “power of their office” but also “with the moral authority founded on personal integrity and character.”

“In profound humility, O God, we pray that your blessing may rest upon our governor and all associated with him in our government, which we the people have set in authority,” the bishop prayed at the end of the inauguration ceremony outside the state Capitol for Gov. Michael L. Parson and other members of Missouri’s executive branch.

It also was the beginning of the state’s 200th anniversary celebration.

Church bells and train whistles punctuated the bishop’s words, which echoed off historic St. Peter Church, surrounding state government buildings and the century-old, Corinthian-column-clad Capitol.

“You to whom alone belong the dominion and the power, be their support in the fulfillment of this awesome trust of the people,” he prayed.

He entreated the Lord to give the state’s officers strength and enlightenment and keep them filled with awareness of his presence, especially when they are making difficult decisions that affect many people.

Using the words God instructed Aaron and his sons of the priestly order to use in blessing the Israelites in the time of Moses (Numbers 6:24:26), the bishop prayed: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

Joining Parson in being sworn into office were Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City; Secretary of State John R. “Jay” Ashcroft; State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick; and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

The Rev. Ray Linneger, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Bolivar, led the invocation. He asked God to bestow his richest blessings on the day’s proceedings, and for “the solemnity of the occasion (to) leak over into the days ahead, where matters of state are taken care of.”

“And bless us each,” he prayed, “to be honorable citizens, to be citizens that appreciate and express gratitude for the freedom that is ours under God, here in the state of Missouri.”

Rabbi Yosef David, executive director of Aish HaTorah of Greater St. Louis, called to mind a passage from Exodus (2:11), in which Moses “went out to his brethren and saw their burdens.”

“Moses personally felt their emotions and pain,” Rabbi David noted. “Only then was Moses capable of leading and making a difference in the lives of others.”

“We must lead by putting effort into seeing and feeling,” the rabbi stated, “and then God will help us to find the solutions to the challenges within our great state.”

Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, spoke of the significance of Missouri’s 200th anniversary of statehood.

“For 200 years, Missouri has been the heart of the heart of the nation!” said Kramer, a member of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City and a fifth-generation native of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Frankenstein, Missouri.

He mentioned a handful of influential figures of history who were born in Missouri.

“They drew upon their Missouri roots and Missouri values to rise in prominence in their respective fields and to influence the nation and the world,” he said.

He challenged the people to embrace and celebrate the state’s diversity of “geography and topography, religion and race, customs and culture, ethnicity and origins.”

“As we enter this bicentennial year, we have great opportunity as the Show-Me State to show the rest of the country and the world how diversity can be a source of strength,” said Kramer.

Outdoor inauguration ceremonies, depending on the weather, have been a Missouri tradition since the current Capitol was under construction over a century ago. Another time-honored custom involves waiting until the Angelus bell in nearby St. Peter Church strikes at noon for the governor to take his oath of office.

Msgr. Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general of the Jefferson City Diocese and chaplain of the Missouri House of Representatives, observed the proceedings from among the House delegation.

“It was impressive in many ways, most notably the emphasis on history and the state’s bicentennial, and the emphasis on family,” he told The Catholic Missourian, Jefferson City’s diocesan newspaper.

All the officials took their oath of office in the presence of their families, he noted, “including their children, which is something you don’t always see.”

Father Jeremy Secrist, pastor of St. Peter Parish, watched the ceremonies from the top perch of the construction scaffold encasing the church’s bell tower and steeple.

“Considering that this was the first and probably the last chance to witness an inauguration in-person from this perspective, I thought, ‘Carpe diem!'” he stated.

The view from above got him thinking about how much history is shared between the city’s oldest parish, which will celebrate its 175th anniversary this year, and the seat of the state’s government.

“Another thing that went through my mind was how much I love this state and how grateful I am to be from central Missouri,” he said.

Deacon Tyler McClay, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said he was pleased to witness the smooth beginning to the state officials’ new term of office.

“I was pleased to see how calm it was, how respectful it was and how smoothly everything went,” McClay said.

Two previous governors — one from both parties — and State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who ran against Parson in last year’s election, attended.

“It bodes well for the republic when people can move forward after a hard-fought election,” the deacon said. “That united sense of purpose will hopefully be a hallmark as our lawmakers and state officials go about their work this year.”

Nies is editor of The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.