For nearly a half hour Thursday, about two dozen people stood under the porch at the front entrance of Richmond Hill City Hall while rain fell, thunder occasionally rumbled and an incessant stream of cars on 144 whizzed by.
An hour earlier, another 30 or so people stood outside the Bryan County Courthouse in Pembroke, umbrellas in hand.
And even later Thursday, a group gathered at the South Bryan County Administrative Complex.
In each place, they prayed. And they sang.
It was part of National Day of Prayer, an event that takes place each year across the country in cities like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, and towns such as Pembroke and Richmond Hill.
And it’s needed, those who participate say.
Donley Huff was down from Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife Margo to visit their daughter and son-in-law, Pastor Joe Deplacito of Richmond Hill Vinyard Church.
“I think it’s important. People need to see there are people that will come out in the rain and stormy weather and pray for our nation,” said Huff, who is retired military. “Lord knows we need it.”
Deplacito opened the Day of Prayer event at Richmond Hill City Hall by reading a presidential proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln in March 1863 that named April 30 as a national day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer.”
The proclamation Deplacito read said, in part: “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray that God has made us …”
Tom Seaman from Richmond Hill United Methodist Church strummed guitar and led those attending in singing “America the Beautiful.”
A number of prayers followed — prayers for national leaders, prayers for state and local government leaders, prayers for families, the market place, schools and education and even bus drivers — read by various members of the South Bryan Christian Ministerial Association, a group of about 30 members strong.
“It seems like we’re building momentum every year,” Seaman said. “The ministerium is really strong together … our churches are pulling together and pastors are pulling together and I’m sensing a real strong spirit of unity this year.”
That unity among church leaders is important, those who attended the prayer event said. So much so the theme for the 2014 National Day of Prayer was “One Voice, United in Prayer.”
“Sunday can be one of the most segregated days of the week when we all divide up and go into our separate congregations,” Seaman said. “This, to me, is an effort to bring us all together. We all serve one God, one Jesus Christ. We may have different perspectives on that but he is the center and core of the foundation. We are united for a common, good cause.”
Pastor Daniel Boyd of Immanuel Christian Church in Richmond Hill agreed.
“If we come together as we’re supposed to, as the Lord wants us to, that’s when we can accomplish the most,” he said. “That’s why I’m part of this ministerial alliance. It’s to be a part of what I believe God would have us do. And as an African-American pastor, I know that we must unify across all races and genders … because we need to send a message to the community that the Lord our God is real and he wants us to unify.”
There was unity in Pembroke as well, as various North Bryan ministries gathered along with residents to hear a welcome given by Pastor Brad Butler, First Baptist Church of Pembroke.
Following that the group sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” led by minister of music at FBC, Travis Moore.
Prayers were then offered by Pembroke Chief of Police Stacy Strickland, followed by Bryan County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Mark Crowe.
A prayer for the country was offered by Dale Smith, Crossway Worship Center and a prayer for the government by C.C. Singleton, New Order Greater Faith Ministries.
Dan Bryant, Beulah Baptist Church offered a prayer for schools and Jim Sullivan Jr., Pembroke Christian Church offered the prayer for the churches.
The service ended with Moore leading the group in “God Bless America.”
And then the rain stopped and the sun popped through as it had been planned.
Back in Richmond Hill, pastors such as Deplacito, Boyd, Curtis Curry of Ignite Church, Clark Hubbard of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal, Adam Ricker of Waterfront Church, Tevin Roberts of Savannah-based Church of the Champions, Mark Snavely of Coastal Community Church and Gary Soop of Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church took turns leading prayers.
In a way, it’s living history, part of a tradition that dates back to the founding fathers, those at the Richmond Hill event said.
“George Washington said it’s impossible to govern without God and the Bible,
and our founding fathers couldn’t get a constitution together without stopping for a prayer,” Deplacito said.
The current National Day of Prayer is in its 63rd year, according to the event’s website.
In South Bryan, it’s been going on about seven years, according to pastors.
“This is my second year,” Deplacito said. “And there are more people out here this year than there were last year — even though it’s raining.”