Wards 7 and 8 faith leaders hosted a prayer breakfast on Dec. 11. Nearly 200 fully vaccinated, temperature-checked and socially distanced attendees filled the Panorama Room of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church (OLPH) in the Fort Stanton neighborhood of Anacostia. OLPH provided the gratis breakfast served by Ward 7’s Imani Catering and blessed by Rev. Ricardo Payne of Lighthouse Baptist Church. Mayor Bowser was represented by Rev. Thomas Bowen, the director of her office of religious affairs.
Most of the guests had not been together in person since the beginning of the pandemic, and the prayer breakfast did not disappoint. Reverend Karen Curry, associate minister of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, was the emcee and knitted together an inspirational two-hour program which began with a welcome from OLPH pastor Father Michael Thompson. In 2020, OLPH celebrated its centennial anniversary and Father Thompson noted that the church was founded by African American Catholics who were tired of having to attend racially segregated masses in their parish and petitioned the archdiocese to grant permission to form their own congregation.
Making his first public appearance as the new US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Matthew Graves informed the audience that he has been a DC resident for two decades, his children attended DC public schools and he will engage in energetic community engagement during his administration. He said that “our city has seen an unacceptable rise in homicides” and pledged that “my job as US attorney is to see that 2022 doesn’t look like 2021. Prosecuting and incarcerating people will not make our communities safer.” He was warmly received by the prayer breakfast attendees.
Recognizing that neighborhoods east of the river have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and homicides, Amir Muhammad, the president of Ward 8’s America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, spoke of healing, and Rev. George Gilbert Jr., director of the Center for Racial Equity and Justice, prayed for peace.
The prayer breakfast was not all talk and food. There was also music and dance. Rawn Harbor, director of music, and Debra Tidwell-Peters, cantor of OLPH, gave two selections. A liturgical dance performance was rendered by Sister Tasha Rhodes, The Move of God Dance Ministry, Rock Christian Church Ministry.
It had been announced early in the year that Barry Black, the US Senate Chaplain, would be the featured speaker at the prayer breakfast, but he had to cancel in order to speak at the funeral of former Senator Robert Dole in Kansas. Only two days before the prayer breakfast did the organizers confirm the featured speaker: Rev. William Lamar IV, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church and co-chair of the Washington Interfaith Network.
Rev. Donald Isaac Sr., the Southeast Tabernacle Baptist Church pastor, was effusive in his introduction of Rev. Lamar, who delivered a rousing message that brought the audience to its feet several times. Rev. Lamar may have been a last-minute substitute keynote speaker but he brought a right-on-time spirit to the event.
Closing out the prayer breakfast were remarks from Irwin Royster and Rev. Wanda Thompson, co-conveners of the monthly meetings of Wards 7 and 8 clergy and faith leaders. Rev. William Young, the recently installed pastor of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, gave the benediction, which he preceded with an a cappella solo.
The video of the prayer breakfast can be viewed by visiting YouTube.com and searching “Wards 7 & 8 Faith Leaders Breakfast.” Or you can click on https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wards+7+and+8+prayer+breakfast.
There are nearly 200 churches and two mosques east of the river. If these institutions work collectively on community issues and problems, the benefits could be immeasurable. The Dec. 11 prayer breakfast set a tone and sent a message of unity that hopefully will guide the community in 2022. Arrangements are being made to host another prayer breakfast on the weekend of the celebration of Juneteenth. Keep your eyes and ears open for the announcement.
Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.