Sometimes, we get so focused on all the political squabbles, school board spats, the ongoing question of the Braves financial arrangements, kneeling cheerleaders, traffic woes and the like that we forget the good things going on in our county. At the top of my list is the annual Cobb County Prayer Breakfast. Except for a gaggle of nonbelievers, it is the one event that unites us more than any other.
Now in its 35th year, the Cobb Prayer Breakfast is believed to be perhaps the second largest of its kind in the nation behind only Washington D.C., which needs all the prayers it can get. The Cobb function usually draws a crowd of around 1,000.
Over the years, the breakfast has drawn a who’s who of illustrious speakers from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to actor Charlton Heston to Ambassador Andrew Young to Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, among other luminaries.
As with a lot of things in our lives these days, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on this year’s function, which had been scheduled for May but had to be canceled. Fortunately, things have eased up enough that a small group could gather over lunch at Vinings Bank on Tuesday and reminisce about how the Prayer Breakfast got started and the influence it has had on the community.
A small group, but what a group. Gov. Brian Kemp was there. Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes was there. Former Cobb County commission chair Earl Smith was there, along with Vinings Bank officials, assorted guests and one very lucky columnist.
It speaks to the reputation of the Cobb Prayer Breakfast that Gov. Kemp showed up at the luncheon, leaving a bunch of mischief-making legislators alone under the Gold Dome for an hour or so. The governor looked surprisingly relaxed. In talking about the myriad issues he is dealing with these days, the governor asked for our prayers. He’s got mine. I can’t imagine a harder job these days than his.
The stars of the show were five of Cobb County’s most respected ministers who were around at the beginning of the prayer breakfast in 1985: the Rev. Jim Speed, retired minister of First Presbyterian Church in Marietta; the Rev. Charles Sineath, who served for over two decades as senior minister at Marietta First United Methodist; the Rev. Harris Travis, the senior pastor at Zion Baptist; the Rev. Mike Woods, senior minister at First Baptist Church of Powder Springs and my MDJ colleague and former pastor of Roswell Street Baptist church, the Rev. Nelson Price.
I was given the honor and the responsibility of introducing the ministers. In doing so, I told the story about the cab driver in New York who picked up a fare asking to go to Christ Church. He was driven to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The rider protested that he had asked to be driven to Christ Church to which the cabbie pointed to St. Patrick’s and said, “If He ain’t here, He ain’t in town.” It was obvious He was at the Vinings Bank yesterday with these good men.
Each related their own experiences in watching the event grow and how it has brought both the clergy and laity together as a result.
When we had finished, Babby Mason, who once taught in Cobb County schools before embarking on a distinguished gospel music career that has included the Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades and the White House, closed out the luncheon with a spine-tingling rendition of Amazing Grace. You should have been there because my words can’t do it justice.
He will try to deflect credit for his role in getting the Cobb Prayer Breakfast started but Joe Daniell, executive vice president of Vinings Bank, has been instrumental in the event’s growth and success. Daniell is one of the quiet movers-and-shakers in Cobb County who works quietly behind the scenes to make good things happen.
Though plans are still a bit tentative, it is hoped the next Cobb Prayer Breakfast can be held in August. Stay tuned. When we were leaving, I asked Vinings Bank president Clark Hungerford why he and CEO Dan Oliver put so much time and effort into supporting the Cobb County Prayer Breakfast, including yesterday’s luncheon while operating a successful community bank in unsettled economic conditions. “Because,” he said simply, “it’s the right thing to do.”
If we ever needed prayer in these trying times, it is now. That is why the Cobb Prayer Breakfast is so important. It reminds us that as we look at each other for being the cause of all our problems, maybe we need to pause a moment and look at ourselves or, more accurately, look inside ourselves. Get the beam out of our own eye before we complain about the mote in someone else’s eye.
As we were leaving the luncheon, I thought about the old African American spiritual, “Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Can I get an amen?