Friday, May 07, 2010

7 MAY 10: City On Our Knees?

While I can't prove it, I suspect more U.S. residents prayed Thursday during the National Day of Prayer than ever before. People who didn't attend organized events at 12:00 noon were praying at 3:00 p.m. that the stock market wouldn't crash completely.

After attending the National Day of Prayer event at the Phenix City Amphitheater for years, I decided Thursday to go to the Columbus Government Center. The Ledger-Enquirer promised something there from 11:00-1:00, but had no other details. Thankfully it was NOT an undercover police sting to catch deviant priests.

But when I reached the north side of the Government Center shortly before 11:00 a.m., no one else was there. I realized the two-hour window might have simply been the reservation time, with the actual prayer event starting later. But you'd think at least an Usher's Board might have been waiting....

Two other men wearing suits walked up to the plaza a few minutes later. One was "Deacon Michael Sapp" of WOKS-AM. The other was Columbus Council candidate Travis Chambers - who showed enough decorum to avoid wearing a "pray for my campaign" button.

A small crowd of about 30 people slowly gathered near the POW/MIA memorial downtown. I overheard someone note lawn mowers operating on the Government Center grounds, and saying that shouldn't happen on the National Day of Prayer. I don't think that would stop the Pentecostals in attendance - because they simply would have prayed louder.

Then the organizer of the event showed up, carrying a small cardboard box marked "National Day of Prayer." No, she did NOT pass the box around to take a love offering....

The group was ready to pray - but the Government Center wasn't ready for them. Someone had to go inside to ask why no chairs and lectern were set up. It turns out the staff forgot the National Day of Prayer was happening. That's what happens when the event isn't posted on the city web site's calendar.

Someone apparently forgot to ask Mayor Jim Wetherington for a National Day of Prayer proclamation - because while one was read from President Obama, the organizer admitted there was none from the mayor. Tuesday's "proclamation day" at Columbus Council did mark Jannie Barnes Day - but no one brought her up, much less prayed for her.

The prayer event began with everyone standing, and Travis Chambers leading a prayer for local businesses. To his credit, Chambers never brought up his campaign for Columbus Council - although he left the group early, so he might have left brochures on some people's windshields.

After chairs and a lectern hurriedly were set up, organizer Annie Barclift admitted to the audience the 48 hours leading to the prayer event had been very challenging. She didn't explain why - but she didn't compare any local officials or ministers to Satan, either.

Annie Barclift took this National Day of Prayer event in directions I'd never experienced before. She declared Carver High School "trusts God," because two students were allowed to read proclamations during the ceremony. Of course, Carver's principal didn't trust enough to let the entire senior class attend....

Annie Barclift also claimed some sort of "word from the Spirit" - that someone in city government has the money to fund school crossing guards. I think I know who that person is. But Finance Director Pam Hodge can only authorize the checks other officials approve.

Annie Barclift's clear concern at the prayer event was education. She broke down in tears, after praying about her daughter graduating this weekend from Tuskegee University. "I repent!" Barclift said in prayer several times - and she should be thankful no one radioed police to come forward and hold her for questioning.

The National Day of Prayer event ended at 12:30 p.m. - and many thoughts bounced in my head as I walked home. While Phenix City's ceremony is organized by Baptists and displays stately dignity, the Columbus service had a Pentecostal flair to it. And at times it was so personal, it almost felt like Annie Barcliff wanted to be added to everyone's personal prayer list.

I was also struck by how small the lunch-hour crowd was in downtown Columbus -- especially with the recent federal court ruling declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. If the only activities in a "Bible Belt" city were by scattered small groups, maybe the judge was wrong. Most U.S. residents don't feel forced to pray at all.

Let's see what else might have distracted people from praying Thursday....

+ WTVM showed Joseph Reese of Columbus outside federal court, after his arrest on child pornography charges. If there's any redeeming thing about this case, it's the T-shirt Reese wore as he walked out of the courthouse - reminding everyone the Aflac Outdoor Games are two weeks away.

+ Spencer High School's Debra Everett was named Muscogee County Teacher of the Year. Everett directs the Army JROTC program - which makes me wonder if some soldiers at Fort Knox threatened to stay in Kentucky, instead of transferring to Fort Benning.

+ City Manager Isaiah Hugley was one of the honorees at Fort Middle School's "Legacy Day." Amazingly, Emanuel Jones was NOT honored - as if the day wasn't named after his car dealership at all.

+ Columbus Civic Center Manager Dale Hester told a budget work session Auburn University's new club ice hockey team will play at the new South Commons ice rink next winter. Isn't this amazing? The new Auburn Arena hasn't officially opened yet, and it already feels outmoded.

+ Columbus State first baseman Jason Rogers was named Peach Belt Conference baseball player of the year. Rogers has hit 25 home runs this season, including one which hit a door at the Cunningham Center. There's a reason why you don't find law school buildings close to the walls of baseball stadiums....

+ Washington whipped Atlanta in National League baseball 3-2. But Atlanta fans were buzzing about a Capitol Hill tribute to outgoing Manager Bobby Cox - because a cake presented at the ceremony misspelled his last name. You'd think they'd know the team plays in Georgia, not South Carolina.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: Updates from Arizona and the Georgia Legislature....

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