Gospel music echoed outside Bethany Baptist Church on Saturday as several people gathered for prayer intended to heal themselves, Loudon County and the nation.
“One of my friends from Mississippi sent me an article on what they’re doing today in Washington, D.C., and this what they had going,” Brad Scott, co-organizer, said. “He sent it to me back in June and we started rolling with it probably in August ... and then we started working pretty hard on it at the beginning of this month.”
Flyers were shared at other churches, grocery stores and restaurants, he said. Scott organized the gathering with his wife, Veronica, and Doug Rucker.
“I mean everything seems to be hitting us all at once,” Veronica said. “We’ve got the virus going around and churches shut down because of it. We’ve got unrest in the streets and what not. We believe that that’s just a sign of — I mean that’s just part of what’s in the Bible that’s coming, so we felt it was important to have an event that everybody can come to and still kind of practice social distancing, stay away from one another if they need to.”
The gathering included testimony from state Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, Russell’s campaign manager, Paul Grady, and prayer led by Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris and the Rev. Jeff Shrimsher, New Life Alive pastor.
Safety measures were taken, including offering free face masks, providing hand sanitizer and encouraging those in attendance to social distance in the parking lot. Masks were donated by the Loudon County Senior Center.
Although the event started at 6 p.m. and was estimated to go at least an hour, Brad Scott said the church invited anyone to give testimony or pray.
The Rev. Rick Harrell, church pastor, said the event could go to midnight if that’s what the Lord wanted.
“This is not a prayer gathering so that everyone can get together and talk about how good we are,” Harrell said during the event. “It’s a prayer gathering for all of us to get together and talk about the things in our lives that need to change. … My prayer life is not what it ought to be. My visiting and reaching out to the lost is not near what it ought to be.
“My time in God’s word is not near what it ought to be,” he added. “My time with my family is not near what it ought to be. And most of all, my time with my God in communion and connection with him is not near what it ought to be. So these are things I plan to work on and I hope you’re going to work on them also.”
Harrell noted 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
He said he wanted to emphasize that message.
“We believe without prayer we don’t have any hope,” Harrell said. “We do believe that prayer changes things, but what we want with this prayer is to change ourselves. It’s a prayer of repentance. We can’t change anybody but ourselves, so that’s our goal so that God can search our hearts and find us sincere in wanting our nation to change. Use us as a vessel for a change.”
Shrimsher wanted the community to have a “greater desire to obey God’s commandments and to humble themselves” in God’s presence.
“The turn that our society has taken — people have gotten away from God and so we’re just praying,” he said. “As pastors, we have authority that we can ask God to forgive our city, our state, our nation, not just the people in our church and not just ourselves. We have that authority, so we come together and we pray, and we’re praying for revival, for God to bring a revival to our nation, because that’s what’s going to change the nation. It’s not going to be eloquent speaking and preaching and good singing, it’s going to be a move of God.”