"How many people here believe that prayer is effective?"
That was the question put to attendees at the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning. Hands shot up around the hall at Alice Drive Baptist Church when speaker Dale Forehand kicked off the National Day of Prayer by pressing the importance of prayer in our lives and in our relationships with others.
Forehand and his wife, Jena, speak from personal experience about how faith can affect relationships. The Birmingham, Ala., actually divorced before, they said, "the Holy Spirit melted the hardened mess of our hearts," and they found a way to continue their marriage. Now the couple gives talks on marriage at church-related functions across the country, including one at the Sumter Opera House on Friday and Saturday.
Both Forehands spoke at the breakfast about the importance of communicating with your spouse or anyone else important in your life, and of praying for them.
"Without our relationships, there's little in life worth living," Dale Forehand said. "We are the sum total of our relationships. And we all have people in our lives we need to pray for."
Years ago, Forehand heard from someone who told him he'd made a list of 30 people in his life who had helped him, and assigned each of them a day to receive a prayer.
"He set aside the 18th of every month to pray for me," Forehand said. "Can you imagine hearing someone say 'I prayed for you today,' what the effect of that is?"
He encouraged the audience to pray for the people in their own lives, and for those who need support like the mayor, the military, or the next generation.
Jena Forehand said it's important for the older generation to impart the information they already have to younger people, noting the Book of Deuteronomy repeats many legal commandments contained in earlier books of the Bible.
"The reason Deuteronomy repeats the law is because they already forgot it and the next generation doesn't know about it," she said.
If we commit ourselves to praying for someone else, "You can raise a canopy of prayer over them," Dale Forehand said. Even if the person prayed for is far away, "through prayer the distances get shorter."
Several other members of the community offered prayers directed at different functions or institutions, ranging from the military and media to education, church and family.
Former Sumter City Councilman Walter "Sonny" Newman offered a prayer for those in government.
"Give them the wisdom to know the right thing, and the strength to carry it out once it is clear," Newman said.
Ray Davenport, owner of Reliable Pawn Shop, prayed for business and industry, saying "We do nothing on our own. ... You are our most important partner."
Mayor Joe McElveen praised the work of the breakfast's organizing committee and sponsors in putting the event together and noted the efforts of former organizing chairman Stan Schaetzle, who helped revive the annual breakfast before he passed away last year. McElveen encouraged Sumter's religious believers to take the time to convert their commitment into action to improve their neighbors' lives.
"We are a community of faith," he said, "but the power of prayer comes when we put legs on our prayer."
Reach Bristow Marchant at (803) 774-1272.