Oregon is one of the least religious states in the country. In 2007, Benton County placed number one on the list for ‘unchurched’ counties in the United States.
However, that didn’t discourage Christians from celebrating the 2017 National Day of Prayer in the Willamette Valley with pride.
On May 4, close to 50 people congregated in front of the Benton County Courthouse for the annual gathering of song and prayer. Hosted by First Baptist’s head pastor, Russ Richmond, Christians from all different denominations and churches throughout Corvallis mingled on the courtyard grass. The event ran from noon until 1 p.m., and centered around prayer for both the local and national government.
At 11:50 a.m., Matt Kimmell, Southside Community Church’s, opened the afternoon with music, playing a few songs on his guitar while people pitched their chairs and settled their bags on the lawn. Attendees arrived with their families, as singles, or in church and school groups. All ages joined the affair, from young children to the elderly.
Russ Richmond’s son, Will Richmond, followed with a brief bagpipes performance, tapering off to allow Corvallis pastors Matt Gordon, Steve Thomas, and Dave Jackson to occupy center stage. The three men took turns reading scripture, and then passed the microphone to Richmond, who bowed his head in prayer for the United States.
When Richmond finished, he encouraged people to break into small groups and pray with one another, focusing on the three branches of government. Due to current divisions within the country, governmental officials need guidance more than ever, Richmond said.
During his short speech, Richmond also stressed the importance of events like the National Day of Prayer, hearkening back to other periods of tension in the country’s history. It was American tradition, he said, when war or disagreement broke out, to set aside differences and ask God for help.
According to Richmond, regardless of gender, race, political party, or religion, they were all Americans in the end; U.S citizens had proved themselves capable of unity before, and they could do it again. That was why the day was created, Richmond believes, to remind Americans that there’s always hope, even during the darkest times.
Halfway through the event, small groups transitioned to public 20-second prayers. Everyone was welcome to come to the front, speak into the microphone, and pray for the community, the country, or anything that was on their heart.
After one more small group session, all pastors and ministry leaders in attendance gathered in the middle of the courtyard for a closing prayer. Most people moved to form a mob around the men, some placing hands on the shoulders of those in front of them, others lifting their palms to the sky in silent worship.
As the religious leaders wrapped up their prayers, Kimmel and Will eased the crowd into a rendition of “Amazing Grace,” blending both the guitar and bagpipes.
Post-dismissal, Kimmel described the National Day of Prayer as “sweet,” because Christians all over the country were praying in unison. However, he said, what he appreciated most about the day was not the nationwide effort, but town celebrations.
“People think that the best things are 50,000 people gatherings, but local gatherings are powerful and make a difference” in individual communities, Kimmel said. “I’m more excited to see small [groups].” Real change has to start in pockets of the country, before it can affect the entire nation.
“We’re praying for the benefit of the city,” said Will. “Lots of things need to be fixed, and God can do it.”
Story and Photos by Megan Stewart