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Commentary: Prayer event brings unity to community

Photo of hands together in prayerMarch 30, 2006

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Dwight Sullivan*

Who is it that said, “We’ll pray for our nation; we’ll pray for the world, but we won’t pray with one another”?

The churches in Whittier, Calif., spearheaded by a small United Methodist church, want that to change. For the past eight years, more than 40 local churches and ministries have been gathering for an annual prayer summit.

This year’s event, held Feb. 11, brought more than 200 pastors, church leaders and intercessors in the Whittier area in southern California together to pray for their community.

Those attending have experienced great benefits in church relations and challenge other communities to do the same. As one pastor commented afterwards, “I was very impressed with the way you handle this. It is a very beautiful and moving expression of the Body of Christ.”

The 11-hour summit is led by pastors of various denominations and is an unapologetically Christian-based session flowing with prayer and praise. Prayer focuses on topics like “Personal Heart Searching Time,” “Prayer for Marriages, Homes & Families,” “Schools & Teachers,” “Personal Needs,” “The Persecuted Church,” “Homeless and Hungry” and “What Is God Wanting Me To Do?”

Sandwiching the 16 focuses of prayer are times of worship and praise led by local church worship teams. Elected and appointed officials, who respond to an invitation, are prayed for. One segment is devoted to Latino pastors for ethnic music and for prayer in Spanish (usually with translation). The procession ends with a “Prayer for Youth and the Call to Go Into the World To Serve Jesus.”

What is the purpose of this prayer summit? It is a call for greater unity in Christ that the Apostle Paul points to: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord ....” (Philippians 2:1-2).

When pastors set aside hectic schedules to pray with one another, the result may be better networking and teamwork among local churches for God’s purposes.

Another goal is to take responsibility for the area that we live in. If we believe that prayer is effective, then isn’t this a powerful way to impact a community? The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence.”

A third purpose is to make an effective witness for Christ’s love. International evangelist Ravi Zacharias states that one question he most often receives when he travels is, “Why are there so many divisions among Christians?”

When pastors in the same town lay differences aside to pray together fervently, it embodies the message, “See how these Christians love one another!” People and even local media take note.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
The Rev. Dewight Sullivan
The seeds for the Whittier Area Prayer Summit were planted in 1997 by one vigorous, hometown pastor with a vision to see the churches work together. When he challenged ministers to participate in a Saturday Convoy of Hope to feed the area’s hungry, the response from 35 churches was 900 volunteers who fed more than 8,000 people! The pastors saw that some things won’t happen until churches put a priority on doing spiritual things together.

When Ray Bringham, a founder of Prayer Summits in the USA, called me about such a prayer event, many pastors were ready. Held on the “neutral ground” of a ballroom in a local hotel, the first Whittier Prayer Summit was a success. One pastor came to describe this time of prayer as “something which starts the new year off with a really positive thrust.”

Though this grass-roots effort has been a success, challenges remain. A number of churches in town don’t participate. Disappointment is expressed by those praying about why more people in the community don’t attend. Others have difficulty with people of diverse backgrounds and varying worship and prayer styles. Yet isn’t this the challenge of love: to live with and even appreciate differences?

In Whittier, the prayer summit has become a blessing for the community and marks the calendar, as does a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and the National Day of Prayer. Each of these latter events lasts only an hour or two; the prayer summit is 11 hours. It has no other agenda than prayer. It convenes not to talk or teach about prayer. It meets to pray!

Yes, it is a lot of work. But it is worth it.

“I have just spent five and a half hours at the prayer summit,” wrote one person who attended, “and feel grateful and overflowing with the sense of God's presence as well as the warmth of authentic fellowship. I want to thank you for making this possible and for letting me be a part of it.”

The Whittier area churches challenge you in your community to start a prayer summit.

“How pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) dwell in unity!”

*Sullivan is pastor of Whittier (Calif.) Evangelical United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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