Thousands of people — 8,000 as of Thursday morning — signed on to join Gov. Rick Perry on today in a nationwide day of prayer and fasting, to be held at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The Response is billed as a nonpolitical, nondenominational event launched by Perry “because the nation is at a crossroads,” said Eric Bearse, spokesman for The Response. More than 1,000 churches nationwide have registered to simulcast the service, which will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
“Many have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and a great many have lost hope in the future,” Bearse said.
The country’s issues with cultural battles, drought and other horrific weather events, and even terrorism “all weighed on the governor’s heart,” Bearse said, so he decided to do something about it, and “unite the country as a whole.”
Bearse said many more people than the 8,000 registered are expected to attend the live event.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and a smattering of local state representatives from Texas are on the list to attend, he said.
The Jewish Herald-Voice reported that more than 50 religious and community leaders representing a wide spectrum of faiths in the Houston area have expressed deep concern over Perry’s use of his office to call for a prayer rally.
The statement, signed by Muslim, Jewish, Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran leaders, among others, emphasizes that the governor’s participation in a prayer rally that is “not open to all faiths” constitutes “an official message of endorsement of one faith over all others, thereby sending an official message of religious exclusion and preference to all Texans who do not share that faith.”
Sue Evans, a local volunteer for The Response, said the event is not about politics.
“We’re just praying for God to heal our country,” she said.
People attending will be given a prayer guide to encourage people to search their own hearts, pray for themselves, and pray for the nation, event officials said.
In addition, Bible verses will be read every half-hour.
Several local churches have already been praying for rain, and at least one is joining The Response today by opening its doors for people to come in and pray.
The Rev. Richard Jones, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, said the church’s doors will open at 10:30 this morning. He is inviting the community to come and pray. Several sick members of his church prevent the pastor from going to Houston personally, he said, but he said his desire to participate is so strong that he is bringing the rally to Longview.
“We’ve prayed for rain for the past several weeks,” Jones said. “I don’t know if God is trying to get our attention ... It seems like things have to get desperate. I’m all for what Gov. Perry is doing and think it took a lot of courage for him to call for this prayer meeting.”
Jones said American leadership has been steadily turning away from God since the 1960s. He believes that prayer is the answer, quoting 2 Chronicles 14: 7, he said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will 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.”
Jones said God will hear the prayers of his people.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said. “As a Christian, our first response should be prayer, but too often it is the last resort.”
Julie Englerth, a staff member at Longview Christian Fellowship, said her church has sent up prayers for rain, and many of the church’s members are going to Houston to participate. Other members have expressed their intentions of heading to Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler where the event will be simulcast.
“We definitely feel very strongly in the power of prayer and have been praying,” she said.
Janet White of Macedonia Baptist Church said there have been many prayers for rain and encouragement to pray privately daily for rain.
The Rev. Ricky Ricks of Greggton United Methodist Church said the church plans no special service, but has been praying for rain.
“During the Tuesday morning prayer breakfast, that’s definitely been the topic for prayer,” he said.
The Rev. Jay Barnes of Winterfield United Methodist Church said his church was started by farmers and ranchers in the 1870s and continues its strong ties to the agricultural community.
“We still have a lot of folks with good pieces of land raising cattle,” he said. “Yes, we have prayed for rain. I have prayed for rain. We are very concerned about the health of our community, our water tables, the drought, its effect on us, its effect on the animals.”
Barnes does not believe this is a punishment from God, he said.
“A lot of people said that about New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, you know, because of so many sexually-oriented businesses ... But Dallas has more sexually-oriented businesses than New Orleans. By that logic, shouldn’t (the hurricane) have devastated Dallas instead?”
The Rev. Jennene Laurinec, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Carthage and director of Newgate Mission, said people at the mission daily pray for rain and relief from heat.
“At St. John’s, we have used the prayer for rain found in the Book of Common Prayer: ‘O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.