President Reagan joined most of the members of Congress, several Supreme Court justices, a number of top administration officials, and other power brokers last month for a breakfast meeting focused on prayer. Guests also included leaders of business, labor, and the church from across the country, along with scores of notables from abroad.
The 3,000 men and women in attendance were continuing an annual tradition begun in 1953 known as the National Prayer Breakfast. And for the second time in 34 years, a woman was the main speaker: Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth H. Dole, an active Methodist.
Comparing her position as a Christian in an influential government post to that of the biblical Esther 25 centuries ago, she traced the struggle that led her a few years ago “to put Christ first, at the center of my life.” Such faith has implications for the whole of life, she said. Dole challenged her listeners to serve God as a basis for public service, saying, “The world is ripe for men and women who will accept the challenge and privilege of serving.”
Reagan talked about prayer, saying he was deeply moved by the number of cadets at the Air Force Academy who had told him they were praying for him. Later, he said, the school’s commander informed him that “several hundred gather in the chapel every day to pray for the President and the nation.”
U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), a Lutheran, brought greetings from the Senate prayer group, which he said meets weekly for mutual nurture and “frank discussions” of national and personal problems from a religious perspective. As a result of such sessions, he said, “we hope we can accommodate our political actions to our religious beliefs rather than the other way around.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.), a Baptist, represented the House of Representatives prayer group. He pointed to a number of moral ills in American society, including “teenagers and professional athletes turning to drugs [and] public officials dishonoring their public trust.” He warned that the nation is more in danger of collapse from decay within than from attacks by external enemies.
Others taking part in the prayer breakfast included Adm. Carlisle A. H. Trost, chief of naval operations, who led the opening prayer; Missouri governor John Ashcroft, who led a prayer for national leaders; civil-rights figure Coretta Scott King, who read a passage from the New Testament; U.S. Rep. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a Baptist who chaired the event; and evangelist Billy Graham, a participant in all but two of the annual breakfasts, who pronounced the benediction.
The National Prayer Breakfast is officially sponsored by the House and Senate prayer groups. The real work force behind the scenes, however, is the Arlington, Virginia-based Fellowship Foundation. The organization sponsors numerous prayer breakfasts and other Christian-witness projects among leaders in the United States and abroad.
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