3 million people join online group to pray for Bush
The Presidential Prayer Team is one of the many prayer groups that formed in the United States after George W. Bush took office in January 2001, and it has grown to be one of the largest. It originated in Oro Valley.
By Stephanie Innes
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
President Bush and God have virtually brought 3 million people to an office on Tucson's Northwest Side. "I don't think anyone anticipated it getting this large except God himself," said John Lind, president and chief executive officer of the team.
The member services for the nonprofit group, which disseminates prayers for the president and his Cabinet, are handled out of an office at Ina Road and North Mona Lisa Drive. The group's membership has doubled over the past year.
"We're excited it did and we're anticipating more involvement in 2004. We're trying to create a Web site resource for people who are serious about praying for the president and the nation," Lind said.
The Presidential Prayer Team works on the premise that the Bible asks the faithful to pray for those in authority. The Web site changes weekly with different prayers for not only Bush but also for members of his staff.
Member services manager Penny Church says membership in the prayer team soared to 3 million members around the world during the past year, including 11,293 in Arizona - 2,000 of them in Tucson. The greatest amount of site traffic comes from Bush's home state of Texas, she said.
"Some people call and think we are connected to the White House, or that they can talk to the president through us. We are clarifying that a lot,'' Church said. "We get some complaints, too. But we just tell them that we're mandated in the Bible to pray for our leaders. We're just doing as God instructed."
Prayer team staff members, who say their own daily devotions for Bush, study the schedules and even birthdays of White House employees to write prayers.
The prayer team, which organizers say has evangelical Christians as the majority of its members, began with an idea from two Scottsdale residents - Cornell "Corkie" Haan, a Baptist minister, and Bill Hunter, a sculptor and devout Christian. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, provided the catalyst to fast-track the project online.
With financial backing from The Envoy Group, a Christian advertising agency based in Oro Valley, the Web site launched on Oct. 14, 2001, with a goal of inspiring prayer for the president among at least 1 percent of the American population, or 2.8 million people.
"From the very start it all mushroomed so rapidly. We had no idea what to expect, and when it grew we were all just kind of amazed," said Oro Valley resident Meagan Gillan, a writer whose husband is pastor of Grace Community Covenant Church, 9755 N. La Cholla Blvd. "Americans have really responded to the call for prayer. It is amazing how people have latched onto this idea. They love to pray."
Gillan runs the public relations side of the prayer team from her home. Three full-time employees, including Church, work in its membership office at 7225 N. Mona Lisa Drive. The Envoy Group is no longer involved and the prayer team's headquarters are now in Scottsdale.
It could be assumed that most prayer team members would like to see Bush re-elected, Gillan said, though she stressed the site would never pray for him to win.
"We take a lot of hits from people, but the most important thing is that the Presidential Prayer Team exists in perpetuity. A year from right now it could be Joe Lieberman," Gillan said. "It is about the acknowledgement that when Americans turn to God in prayer, good things happen."
Gillan said several churches have put prayer team banners and links on their Web sites. There is also a prayer team for kids that's popular with home-schooling parents and a virtual prayer team store that sells mugs and a lithograph depict-ing George Washington and Abraham Lincoln praying over Bush.
"Prayer is not just a once or twice a week thing," said Paul Shedlock, a 50-year-old Oro Valley engineer who joined the prayer team eight months ago after the Iraq war began.
"It reaffirms my belief that there are a lot of praying Christians in the United States who want our leadership to do well. Regardless of the party affiliation, I think our leadership needs to make God-based decisions," Shedlock said.
The prayer team's honorary committee includes such high-profile Christians as Phoenix Suns Chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo, Promise Keepers founder and President Bill McCartney and musician John Tesh. Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith, who Gillan said is a friend of Bush's, is on the board of directors.
"Evangelicals love that George Bush is president. He has coalesced the evangelical faith behind him in a way that has not happened in a long, long time," Gillan said. "His embracing of the evangelical faith is sincere and he truly believes the stuff he's talking about."
The National Association of Evangelicals has a link to presidentialprayerteam.org on its Web site, as does the conservative Center for Arizona Policy in Phoenix and the East Side Pantano Christian Church, 10355 E. 29th St.
"We ask only that these people will seek God's wisdom. ... We do talk about some of the issues near and dear to President Bush. Like, it would not be unusual to give thanks that the partial-birth abortion ban was passed," Gillan said. "That is such a dear issue to the president and to most evangelicals."
The prayer team has no official connection to the White House and did not take a position on the war in Iraq other than to pray for the troops. There's no charge to join the team, though it does seek donations for its $1.5 million annual operating expenses.
Clyde Wilcox, a government professor at Georgetown University and an expert in American politics and religion, says groups like the prayer team are usually sincere in their nonpartisan mission.
"Many evangelicals do in fact pray for the president, whichever party controls the office. They hold up the president in prayer because they believe that God can guide his choices, and bless the country," Wilcox said. "In fact, some GOP evangelicals might just pray all the harder with a Democrat in the White House, since they think that God would need to work a little harder to get His will done."
Wilcox said a clear majority of white evangelical Christians will probably vote for Bush in 2004 and many believe God has chosen him to lead the nation through the Republican Party - "God's Own Party." Others are less partisan, he said, and may prefer Bush but believe Democrats can also be Christian.
Gillan said one of the prayer team's long-range goals is to have an office in Washington, D.C. No matter who is elected president in the future, she said the Presidential Prayer Team expects to endure.
"Obviously it's a lot easier on this side. My big concern would be that Christians would stop praying," she said, pondering the team's future under a Democratic administration. "But no matter who is leading this country, you need prayer and you need to be strengthened by the prayers of Americans."
* An excerpt from this week's prayer from The Presidential Prayer Team Web site, www.presidentialprayerteam.org:
l Pray for Paul Bremer, Colin Powell and other members of the president's team working to implement democracy in Iraq. Pray that they will work together with other world leaders to bring an effective and good form of government. Pray that God will graciously intervene to accomplish His perfect will for the nation of Iraq, affirming leaders He chooses. ...
Pray for the troops who continue to serve faithfully around the world, and especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pray for their protection and for individuals to be strengthened in their faith. For those who do not know God, pray that they will come to a saving knowledge of Him even as they serve their country.
Pray for the vice president as he prepares to celebrate his birthday on Friday, January 30. Pray that he will enjoy blessing, health, wisdom and strength as great gifts from God, and that he will seek to know and do God's will in the coming months and years.
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