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Chris Christie kicks off inauguration day with morning prayer

NEWARK -- In what must be a welcome distraction from the news of the past week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicked off a long day of inauguration events Tuesday morning with a high-energy prayer service in a Baptist church in Newark where a priest, a rabbi and a pastor gave prayers for his next term.

Supporters and students from a charter school braved the cold to line the pews of the New Hope Baptist Church, a brick building with red carpets and pews, and watched Christie, a Catholic, and his wife and family clap along to a 50-member church choir and bow their heads in prayer. 

The day will be a busy one for Christie, if one he hopes will be a distraction from days of controversy over accusations of bullying and political payback. After the church service in Newark, he headed to his inauguration in Trenton, some 55 miles south. A party tonight on Ellis Island was canceled due to bad weather.

For Christie, recent days have been marked by constant scrutiny and repeated apologies. First, emails emerged showing that a deputy staffer had closed lanes to a bridge, in what is believed to be retribution. Then last weekend, troubles deepened when the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, said that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno had told her that she had to support a real estate development to expedite Hurricane Sandy relief funds. Guadagno called the allegations “completely false” in a news conference Monday. She also attended the prayer service, dressed in a white suit, with her family.

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The Rev. Joe A. Carter, who has appeared in television ads for Christie, seemed to refer to the administration’s troubles during his message during the service, talking about a time he shot a TV commercial and cameramen told him the cameras worked better in the dark. God works better in the dark too, he said.

“For in our life, darkness will come, seasons of frustration, trials, tribulations, those things that seemingly are out of our control,” he said, standing at the pulpit, in front of three crosses mounted on the wall. “But rather than cursing your darkness, and rather than going into fits of depression and sadness, remember, whenever darkness comes, it’s not designed to bring the worst out of you, it's designed to bring the best out of you.”

The sentiment brought loud whoops and cheers from the audience.

Christie, for his part, seemed cheerful. He sat in the front row of the church, facing the chancel, where the African American choir and African American church members sat. The audience, mostly white, was less enthusiastic than the choir, which frequently broke into hand-clapping and soulful song, but Christie on numerous occasions stood and clapped with the choir, nodding his head, and the rest of the church behind him followed, standing and clapping as well.

Today is a day for Christie to be surrounded by family and supporters, and he was this morning. Most everyone coming out of the church had positive things to say.

“It's about renewal, Chris has been renewed,” said Candy Straight, a Bloomfield resident who said she’s a friend of the governor. “Going forward, he’s going to do a great job.” The scandals are just “a bump in the road,” she said. “He will get over it and he will be a better man for it.”

Jim Arakelian, the Republican chairman of River Edge, agreed.

“That will all sort itself out, I really believe that,” he said. “I have to say, I’ve known Chris for a while, I’ve looked at him on TV, and he looks like he’s telling me the truth. I’m going to go with it until somebody else tells me otherwise.”

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

Twitter: @alanasemuels

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