The inauguration of Barack Obama as America's first black president is a "transformative" moment in history that will have huge significance for the rest of the world, say church leaders.
The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, drew comparisons between Obama's induction into office and that of former South African President Nelson Mandela who was dubbed "everyone's president" because of the global significance of his election victory after the end of apartheid rule.
"Obama's inauguration is, for the USA and for the world, a similarly transformative event," said Noko. "It sends the clearest possible message of the willingness of the American people to be challenged and to challenge the politics of racial and other forms of division."
He added, "It calls for the creation of a true union of all U.S. citizens. It also invites all of us around the world to examine our own contexts and to do the same."
Noko acknowledged the enormous expectations of a turnaround in national and even global fortunes under the Obama administration.
"After a period in which the United States and much of the rest of the world became estranged from each other, Barack Obama's election, even in a time of economic and humanitarian crisis, has raised a tidal wave of hope around the world," said Noko.
"Today, with his inauguration, the weight of all those hopes and expectations falls heavily on his shoulders," he continued. "Joining so many other religious leaders meeting and praying together during these days in the USA and around the world, I pray that President Obama will be given the wisdom and strength to bear the burden of so much hope, and to give leadership toward the goals of justice and dignity that he has so powerfully articulated, in the United States and globally."
Obama made history on Tuesday when he placed his hand on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln in his 1861 inauguration as he took the oath to become the 44th U.S. president. An estimated two million people crammed onto the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to witness the occasion.
The Chair of the Church of England's Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, the Rev. Rose Wilkins, similarly described Obama's inauguration as a "most momentous occasion" and a "redemptive moment."
"His election was a truly redemptive moment and one of pride and aspiration for many people. It was a particularly redemptive moment in terms of the legacy that African Americans have endured for over two centuries - and this was not lost on the President," she said.
Wilkins said his inauguration had given the world a "new iconography" in the shape of a first family that is not defined by any one ethnic group.
"This is a symbol of immense significance to millions of people, not just in America but across the world," she said.
Wilkins pointed to the inauguration's implications for the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion.
"The Church of England has a significant number of minority ethnic people among its regular worshippers, and of course among those within its pastoral care. As a Church we must decide on how we will respond in the light of this truly transformative moment.
"Despite the contentious issues around the worldwide Communion, the election of Obama is a prophetic pointer to the possibilities which open up if hearts and minds have the confidence to change by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Wilkins urged the Church to begin to nurture a leadership "that can engage and function at all levels within it - across all ethnicities."
"All could reflect on their key aspirations concerning hope and transformation in Christ but we call on the Church of England to renew its commitment tangibly to minority ethnic people.
"This is what Obama's presidential campaign was all about, but it is unfinished business in the Church. Can we ever have 'business as usual' in our Church again?"