Interfaith Council Holds Prayer Breakfast

James Wright | 6/21/2012, 12:03 p.m.

An organization revived by the mayor of the District recently held an event that focused on the condition of the city despite the myriad troubles of its top political leaders.

The Mayor's Interfaith Council Prayer Breakfast took place the latter part of May at the Blackburn Center in Northwest. Nearly 100 District faith leaders and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) feasted on a buffet breakfast, but also tried to feed their souls.

"We pray for Washington, D.C.," Imam Johari Abdul-Malik said. "I pray that our leaders have the wisdom of Solomon and the courage of David. We need a united, not a divided Washington, D.C."

The mood of the breakfast remained subdued, with Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign being under investigation for the past 15 months by federal authorities for campaign violations.

Two Gray political allies, former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas and former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, have pleaded guilty and in Thomas's case, sentenced, on criminal actions that took place while both served as elected officials.

When Marion Barry, then the District's mayor, faced a barrage of problems in the early 1990s for smoking crack cocaine at the Vista Hotel in Northwest, he went to supportive ministers for spiritual guidance. Barry had public prayer meetings to demonstrate his faith in times of difficulty.

However, nothing as dramatic took place at the prayer breakfast. The Rev. Christine Wiley, a co-chair of the council, said in a rushed manner "let's pray for our mayor."

Gray, 69, who is Catholic, talked about how important prayer is to the District.

"A city without prayer will never be One City," he said. "God never abandoned us and we need to make sure that we do not abandon God."

Gray said that the District's children and families need prayer for a better education system that would include early childhood education, a cause that he is passionate about.

The response to Gray's speech was polite and restrained.

The Rev. Graylan Hagler of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast didn't refer to Gray's legal issues, but had a fiery speech on what's happening in the city.

"We cannot have a prayer breakfast, engage in prayer and then it's over and done with," said Hagler, 58. "We have to go further and do something. We need to pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

Hagler criticized the arrival of Walmart in the District and said that if the residents of the city do not win their full political rights, "then D.C. should cede from the Union."

"I'm keeping my eyes on the Devil," he said to thunderous applause.

The Rev. Barry Black, the chaplain for the U.S. Senate said "Washington, D.C. - don't give up."

"One City, One Future, you need to learn to harness the power of prayer," said Black, 63. Quoting Galatians 6:9, he said "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

The District's clergy has had to weather some turbulent storms in recent years. Two years ago, the more traditional black churches lost the battle on same-sex marriage in the city and now the District is one of the few jurisdictions in the country to have sanctioned that form of union.

Mega-churches in Prince George's County such as Jericho City of Praise in Landover have members who used to attend District churches. Today, more and more District residents are venturing east into the county to worship. And, it's no secret that District churches are losing younger African Americans because they're not as tied to organized religion as their parents and grandparents.

Many blacks are staying home on Sunday to watch the Rev. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston or evangelist Joyce Meyer because they can relate to them.

The mayor said he didn't attend the event to talk about the ills of the church or himself.

"I wanted to talk about the things that are important to the people of the District of Columbia," he said.