On February 2 every year, the national prayer breakfast is held in Washington, DC. The founder of this event was Abraham Vereide. Born in Norway (October 7, 1886 – May 16, 1969), he was a Methodist minister and founder of Goodwill Industries in Seattle, Washington. He ministered to the down and out, the ones that society had backed away from. During the Depression, he provided relief work to all he could.
Realizing that he could help so few, he started mentoring the rich and powerful to work together and nurtured Christian leaders.
The event—which is actually a series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners—has taken place since 1953 and has been held at least since the 1980s at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue NW.
The breakfast, held in the Hilton’s International Ballroom, is typically attended by some 3,500 guests, including international invitees from over 100 countries. The National Prayer Breakfast is hosted by members of the United States Congress and is organized on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation, a Christian organization. Initially called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, the name was changed in 1970 to the National Prayer Breakfast.
This breakfast is designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and build relationships. Since the inception of the National Prayer Breakfast, several U.S. states and cities and other countries have established their own annual prayer breakfast events.
Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the annual event, and these presidents have shared about their faith.
Soon after his election in 1952, Eisenhower told Dr. Billy Graham that the country needed a spiritual renewal. For Eisenhower, faith, patriotism and free enterprise were the fundamentals of a strong nation. But of the three, faith came first.
As historian Kevin Kruse describes in “One Nation Under God,” the new president made that clear his very first day in office, when he began the day with a preinaugural worship service at the National Presbyterian Church.
At the swearing in, Eisenhower’s hand rested on two Bibles. When the oath of office concluded, the new president delivered a spontaneous prayer. To the surprise of those around him, Eisenhower called on God to “make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people.”
Part of President John F. Kennedy’s remarks were,
These breakfasts are dedicated to prayer and all of us believe in and need prayer. Of all the thousands of letters that are received in the office of the President of the United States, letters of good will and wishes, none, I am sure, have moved any of the incumbents half so much as those that write that those of us who work here in behalf of the country are remembered in their prayers….
This morning we pray together; this evening apart. But each morning and each evening, let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillips Brooks: ‘Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.’
In 1975, President Gerald Ford said,
Since we last met, I have discovered another aspect of the power of prayer: I have learned how important it is to have people pray for me. It is often said that the presidency is the loneliest job in the world. Yes, and in a certain sense, I suppose it is. Yet, in all honesty, I cannot say that I have suffered from loneliness these past six months.
The reason, I am certain, has been that everywhere I go, among old friends or among strangers, people call out from the crowd or will say quietly to me, “We’re praying for you,” or “You are in our prayers,” and I read the same sentiments in my mail. Of course, there are some that are not so inspiring, but the great ground swell of good will that comes from the true spirit of America has been a wonderful source of strength to me as it was, I am sure, to other Presidents before me. Believe me, having counted the votes and knowing that you have them is a great satisfaction, but the satisfaction of knowing that uncounted numbers of good people are praying for you is infinitely more rewarding.
Prayer is a very, very personal thing, at least for me. Yet, to me, as many of my predecessors, it is a terribly important source of strength and confidence.
Then in 1984, President Ronald Reagan said,
We all in this room, I know, and we know many millions more everywhere, turn to God in prayer, believe in the power and the spirit of prayer. And yet so often, we direct our prayers to those problems that are immediate to us, knowing that He has promised His help to us when we turn to Him. And yet in a world today that is so torn with strife where the divisions seem to be increasing, not people coming together, within countries, divisions within the people, themselves and all, I wonder if we have ever thought about the greatest tool that we have — that power of prayer and God’s help.
If you could add together the power of prayer of the people just in this room, what would be its megatonnage? And have we maybe been neglecting this and not thinking in terms of a broader basis in which we pray to be forgiven for the animus we feel towards someone in perhaps a legitimate dispute, and at the same time recognize that while the dispute will go on, we have to realize that that other individual is a child of God even as we are and is beloved by God, as we like to feel that we are.
The seriousness of prayer is evident in the body language here of President George H. W. Bush.
The National Prayer Breakfast has grown steadily over the years – from 400 attendees to close to 4,000. The presence of the U.S. president has made the event a draw for leaders worldwide and networking before and after the breakfast.
Just as speakers have become more diverse, so have attendees. There are Muslims and Jews as well as Christians. The Fellowship Foundation, an organization started by Vereide that sponsors the breakfast, considers the National Prayer Breakfast as an inclusive event. Mother Teresa, Tony Blair, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and musician Alison Krauss have attended.
But while the breakfast is an open tent, the small seminars and discussions that fill the days before and after are exclusive. These meetings, also organized by the Fellowship Foundation, convene clergy, politicians, military leaders and businessmen for high-level discussions on the global intersections of faith, power and money. The president does not attend these meetings, but his confidantes do.
Today, our new President Donald Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast.
It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty.” Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?
At the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton, Dr. Graham again prayed for our nation.
Lord…remind us today that You have shown us what is good and what You require of us; to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. We ask that as a people, we may humble ourselves before You and seek Your will for our lives and for this great nation. Help us in our nation to work as never before too strengthen our families and to give our children hope and a moral foundation for the future. So may our desire be to serve You, and in so doing, serve one another. This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God bless America!