PARKERSBURG - Communities from around the valley gathered with others from around the nation to celebrate the National Day of Prayer Thursday.
"Pray for America" was the theme for this year's event, based on Matthew 12:21, which states: "In His name the nations will put their hope."
The National Day of Prayer was signed into law by President Harry Truman on April 17, 1952, and is intended as a time when members of all faiths can join to pray in their own way for the world, their country and each other.
Members of the Williamstown Ministerial Alliance and city officials pray in front of the city building Thursday during the annual National Day of Prayer program. From left are Mayor Jean Ford, The Rev. Steve Gedon with First United Methodist Church, city councilwoman Barbara Lewis, The Rev. Elizabeth Campbell with First Presbyterian Church and The Rev. Tony Foreman with First Baptist Church. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
At Fort Boreman Park, a group of about 100 gathered for the 7 p.m. event. The Rev. Brian Harrell, pastor of the Liberty Street Church of God, said the National Day of Prayer has been observed at the park overlooking the city for about 10 years.
"There had been a prayer event at noon in the city but a lot of people can't come at noon," he said. "This was started in the evening to give more people a chance to come."
Harrell said the event was taken up by pastors who felt a burden to lead the event. In addition to Harrell, they were the Rev. Dave Ellenwood, of Friendship Ridge Christian Fellowship; the Rev. Randal Fuson, of 19th Street Church of God; the Rev. Randy Kochersberger, of Bethel Baptist Church; the Rev. William Payne of DuPont Road Baptist Church and the Rev. Dan Stevens of Bible Baptist Church.
After an opening prayer, the group broke into five groups to pray for specific things. Harrell said those were families, pastors and churches, the military, government and schools.
Michelle Sellers, of Parkersburg, said the day of prayer was a privilege.
"It's such a privilege," she said. "That's our life line, our communication with the father, it's a privilege to have someone to talk with about the things we face."
Charles R. Williams said he came to pray for the nation.
"I came to pray for our leaders to make better decisions," he said. "Bring our country back to what it used to be."
"In participating in this National Day of Prayer, we are honoring the tradition of those who have come before us," said the Rev. Elizabeth Campbell with the First Presbyterian Church in Williamstown. "I pray this event has been a sanctuary for those who attend and participate."
Williamstown has held its event at noon on the steps of the city building at W. Fifth Street for more than a decade. Several pastors from the Williamstown Ministerial Alliance have organized it and participated with their own prayers for the community, city, nation and world.
The program included the Pledge of Allegiance, a proclamation by Mayor Jean Ford and prayers with moments of reflection from the three pastors involved the Rev. Steve Gedon with the First United Methodist Church, Campbell and the Rev. Tony Foreman with the First Baptist Church of Williamstown.
"Many of us sense a great need for a revival of our land," said Foreman. "As there are people gathered across the country, I pray that we truly come together."
"I am thankful that the community knows the importance of prayer and uses it," said Ford.
In Vienna, Mayor Randy Rapp, Police Chief George Young and other city employees prayed with the Rev. Pat Kerr, pastor of Wayside United Methodist Church.
"In the past several weeks we have suffered nationally," Kerr said. "All good things come from (God) and I pray that he grants us the wisdom to take the appropriate steps and to bring us all together under the umbrella of His love."
About 60 faculty, students and parents gathered on the playground at North Christian School Thursday to participate in the National Day of Prayer. Students spent about 20 minutes offering special intentions and prayers.
Local school choirs sang praises to God and to country and community leaders offered up prayers and words of wisdom from the Washington County Courthouse steps Thursday afternoon. More than 200 community members, local officials, and pastors gathered at noon on Putnam Street in honor of the event, celebrated yearly on the first Thursday in May.
"It's been our privilege and our priority to have prayer in a public gathering," said Rodney Lord, an event coordinator and pastor of Valley Harvest Church in Marietta.
Speaking to the crowd, Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz reiterated that the National Day of Prayer may be more important than ever.
"Everything seems so negative. Our state and national leaders are not talking to each other, or at least not listening to each other," he said.
Many of the recent tragedies, such as the Newtown, Conn., school student shootings or the events in Boston, could have been avoided if people talked and prayed with one another more often, said Lorentz.
In honor of the event, Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews and the Washington County Board of Commissioners presenting proclamations recognizing the day.
In addition, the Elementary and the Ensemble Choir from Wood County Christian Schools sang songs from the courthouse steps, including "Joshua Fought The Battle Of Jericho" and "God Bless America".
A variety of community members spoke at the event, including Keith Malone, who prayed for members of the military and their families.
"I pray that this event may encourage us to be more prayerful, especially at this time for the safety of our military and the safety of our nation," he said.
Other speakers shared verses and prayed for health care issues, the responsible use of natural resources, students, and more.
Marietta resident Jack Hansis has attended National Day of Prayer celebrations for two decades and can remember courthouse gatherings that ranged from four people to the large crowd in attendance Thursday.
"In my daily life, I seek God's guidance, and I pray for each one of my guys' safety," said Hansis, who is a captain in the Marietta Fire Department.
(Jody Murphy and Jasmine Rogers contributed to this story.)