The People’s Prayer Breakfast: ‘Enough for Everyone’

I got up early this morning to join the People’s Prayer Breakfast held at The Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. In order to get there I had to thread my way through police barricades and closed streets around the Washington Hilton Hotel. Thousands of people of faith-based leaders were gathered at the Hilton for the annual National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama gave the keynote address. The cost is several hundred dollars per plate.

The People’s Prayer Breakfast charged nothing. With signs pointing us to the church basement I walked in to a room twinkling with tiny white Christmas lights. The round tables were hugged tight by chairs–the room was fully occupied. Coffee and tea flowed freely. The Hari Krishna’s provided fruit salad. Someone had boiled mountains of eggs. An abundant table was set for whosoever would come and the banner stretched over head read “Enough for Everyone.”

We were led in prayer and silence by a nun from the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Poolsville, Maryland. And Sweet-Honey-In-The-Rock-great Dr. Ysaye Barnwell sang an earth-groaning rendition of “Kumbaya, My Lord” to a generation who were experiencing for the first time the power of Black church music as a political and social force to be reckoned with.

The People’s Prayer Breakfast was not a protest against the National Prayer Breakfast, as some have framed it. Indeed, there were some leaders who were attending both. Instead, the People’s Prayer Breakfast extended the circle, opened the table, fired up the prayer, and grounded good spirituality in the lives and experiences of the humble, the poor, the young and the old, the disenfranchised and the powerless.

“To abstain from prayer is to refuse to let oneself be loved,” Brian Merritt reminded us, quoting Gabriel Marcel. I don’t know how folks at the Hilton felt afterward, but OccupyFaithDC, OccupyChurch, OccupyJudaism, OccupyJummah invited the people to breakfast and all went away marveling at the love they felt in the breaking of the bread.–Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and poet. She blogs at

A Nation That Prays Together

I was delighted that Rev. Joseph Lowery, Methodist pastor and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was asked by Prez Obama to lead the benediction at the Inauguration. I was SO delighted in fact that I wrote to Rev. Lowery and asked him to tell Sojourners how he felt about the honor. He responded:

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I’d live to see the day…. At an entirely different level, I’m engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to—at any point in my life. And this comes from one who shared in the revjosephloweryDream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago. It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner. But, there’s something much greater at work here. I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama. I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man. … Read the full response here.

I was less than delighted with Obama tapping Rev. Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at the Inauguration. Warren is trying to represents the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing new face of conservative American evangelical Christianity. I’m disturbed (to say the least) by his public support of Prop. 8 in California. (Bad move, bro.) But I can verify that he has a very kick-butt wife and that always gives me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the Warren controversy, I’m glad to see that Prez Obama has liturgically fenced-out Warren by surrounding him with worship leaders with a more biblically-grounded understanding of God’s love, generosity, and liberation. Rev. Lowery for one.

Additionally, Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ, is the first woman to take the prominent position of preacher at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Also, Episcopal bishop Gene V. Robinson will lead the prayer at the “National Inaugural Concert” on Sunday. When Robinson was confirmed as a bishop he had to wear body-armor under his pastoral robes at the liturgy because there’d been so many death threats against him, his children, and his partner Mark Andrew.

I was also very glad to see that Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is taking a prominent role at the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

Despite our differences, I’ll fall back on the old adage–when it looks as diverse as this crowd, I think it’s true: A nation that prays together, stays together.