There we were, squeezing into a Metro train car in Silver Spring, Md. The train was so packed that no one had to grasp the handrail as we traveled to the Capitol. We were holding each other up.

Rev. Larry Pickens
A spirit of hopefulness, pride and joy permeated the atmosphere at 4 a.m. on Jan. 20, even before the dawn. It was Inauguration Day, and 2 million people had gathered to see what is great about our nation.

Witnessing the inauguration of Barack H. Obama as the 44th president reminded me of the awesome power that is inherent within our system of constitutional democracy. But what was more significant, as the president took the oath of office, was that our power is not merely military or political in nature; our nation also has the power to do significant good around the world.

Cloud of witnesses

The palpable spirit generating throughout Washington on Inauguration Day was the spirit of the cloud of witnesses, who also gathered to celebrate the first African-American president in this nation's history.

This day came in the backdrop history of slavery and segregation. It came in the reality of too many dreams deferred. It came in the midst of financial crisis and corporate greed. It came as we face the reality of two wars, political strife and religious intolerance around the world. Nonetheless, the hope of the day was seen in the eyes of the children and youth. It was the spirit of "yes, we can."

Through the charge to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin the work of remaking America," the new president challenged our nation to move forward and reach for our destiny.

As a local church pastor, I worked with other clergy who witnessed the leadership ability of our new president when he was a community organizer in Chicago. He engaged our churches and solicited our ideas. What is exciting about President Obama is that he really understands the experience of the common man and woman; this is a president who "gets it." At this moment in our nation's history, his experience will make him more resilient and open to the problems, hopes and dreams of all Americans.

New way forward

President Obama has also envisioned a new way forward as it relates to the Muslim world. He signaled clearly that we are not at war with Islam. He called for "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." This is a significant message to the world as we counter terrorism and distinguish that offensive from our respect of Islam and the benefit of living in the common values of all communities, despite our theological and ideological differences.

Change is in the air, but the aegis of the change that we anticipate is not inherent in what President Obama or Congress does. It is a change that is created by our initiative and volunteerism. It is the change that will be spawned in our churches, synagogues and temples.

We are the change

We are the change that is anticipated. The inauguration was a great start. Now it is time for every American to roll up his or her sleeves and begin building a new reality.

In Margaret Walker's poem, "For My People," she encourages the creation of a new world. Here is a portion:

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control.

Larry Pickens, the pastor of Northbrook (Ill.) United Methodist Church, and his wife, Debra, attended the inauguration ceremony.