On February 4, I attended this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
As with many other events, the coronavirus pandemic changed how the breakfast this year took place. Instead of gathering at the usual location, a hotel in Washington, D.C., with attendance numbering as great as 5,000 people, I joined other masked Members of Congress, from both parties and both the House of Representatives and the Senate, in the spacious auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center to watch the events of the breakfast virtually.
It was disappointing this year not to be able to have more guests join us. From Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District, Bobby Griffin of Bristol often attends. I was sorry not to be able to see him this year. I spoke to him after the event, and he asked for the website link to the event. I have included it at the end of this column if any readers are interested themselves.
Despite this year’s changes, I appreciated the remarks, conversations, and musical performances that made up this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
Presidential attendance and addresses have been a highlight of the event for decades. The first event in 1953 was organized by Rev. Billy Graham among others, and he helped convince President Dwight D. Eisenhower to attend. This year’s event included clips from prayer breakfast speeches of each president since Ronald Reagan.
The words of George W. Bush’s 2001 address to the breakfast nicely capture the importance of the event:
Faith is also important to the civility of our country. It teaches us not merely to tolerate one another, but to respect one another — to show a regard for different views and the courtesy to listen. This is essential to democracy.
Several of the living former presidents offered a new message for this year. Bill Clinton spoke of how he looked forward to the National Prayer Breakfast each year of his presidency and came away from each one with a renewed sense of purpose, humility, and hope to build unity. Jimmy Carter sent a letter saying that it is too tempting to focus on what divides us instead of unites us, and that now is the time to bind up the nation’s wounds.
The keynote speaker for this year’s event was Andrew Young, a man who has led a historic life. As a civil rights activist, he was often by the side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including on the evening of April 4, 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. In fact, as he spoke at the prayer breakfast, his virtual background was the King Memorial in Washington. He went on to become a U.S. Representative from Georgia, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and the Mayor of Atlanta.
Ambassador Young described arriving in Washington after he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1972. One of the first people he met was Doug Coe, an evangelist, who gave him a Bible and invited him to the weekly prayer breakfast of House members. He still has that Bible and held it up several times during his talk.
At the breakfast, he said, together they talked honestly and found trust and love through the faith they shared. The breakfast taught him to appreciate differences but also created unity. He said that we are in that kind of moment now.
Ambassador Young cited the title of a book by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness. He urged us to move forward in the spirit of those words today. Forgiveness is the pathway to unity, and it should be shared widely.
The message of Ambassador Young was a powerful one, and I think it deserves the consideration of all who heard his words at the breakfast.
I have enjoyed the National Prayer Breakfast each year I have attended, but at a time of division and anxiety such as this, I found its message and its meaning especially powerful. If you are interested in viewing the program, you can do so by visiting https://2021nationalprayerbreakfast.org/.
For questions, concerns, or comments, call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671 or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.