After participating in two days of U.S. presidential inauguration ceremonies, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Presidency, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the church's Quorum of the Twelve left Washington, D.C., warmed as they witnessed not only a historic national event but examples of graciousness, hope and unity.
The two attended Tuesday's inauguration of President Barack Obama on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and joined him and other new national leaders at Wednesday morning's National Prayer Service in the National Cathedral.
"We could feel the deep emotion around us — we were surrounded by people of all colors, of all creeds and of all languages," said President Uchtdorf in a phone interview with the Deseret News before catching a return flight to Utah. "It was a great experience we had — to see a unity there that I hope will last on and continue throughout the years of this administration."
President Uchtdorf — who was accompanied by his wife, Harriet — and Elder Ballard represented the LDS Church and President Thomas S. Monson in accepting the invitations to attend the inaugural events. They were seated front and center some four-dozen rows from the presidential stage for Tuesday's inauguration and then just a couple of yards away from Obama and his contingent for Wednesday's prayer service.
"I left with a feeling that the people of America are going to unite behind this new president and his administration and that we need to pray for him," Elder Ballard said. "We need to exercise our prayers and help him accomplish the great objectives that he has set."
Saying "it was wonderful to feel that unity of different faiths" as they joined Muslims, Jews and others of different Christian denominations at the prayer service, President Uchtdorf added: "We felt we were in the right place with all these whom we call brothers and sisters, to pray for this presidency, for this administration, and with them to pray for all the governments around the world to bring again peace and prosperity and unity to all countries."
At Tuesday's inauguration, the Uchtdorfs found themselves seated next to a black couple. "When the oath was taken, this lady next to her (Sister Uchtdorf) just embraced her and gave her a kiss with tears running down," said President Uchtdorf, adding that the emotions he sensed over the two days were not simply the result of the massive numbers witnessing the racially historic moment but rather a sense of graciousness displayed by a free democracy.
"It was for the people of the world to have a chance to follow the wonderful example given by the United States in a transfer of powers in a democracy — the liberties, the freedoms and the justice for all — as it is presented in such a wonderful way from one administration to another."