Dark clouds parted and rays of sun descended on the Village Square in Salem Thursday as a large crowd gathered to pray - one nation united in recognizing God's presence.
"I think the Lord was looking down on us and showed us favor today," Salem National Day of Prayer committee member Jim Kelly said.
With an all-day downpour on Wednesday and a not-so-promising forecast for Thursday, he wasn't sure what to expect, but the rain stayed away. According to Kelly, the city's Eighth Annual National Day of Prayer Gathering attracted what he considered one of the best turnouts ever, estimated at more than 260 faithful.
Area residents bow their heads in prayer as they gather together for the National Day of Prayer event in downtown Salem Thursday at the corner of State Street and Lincoln Avenue. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
For Allegheny Wesleyan College and its choir directed by Don Quales, this was the first time to participate, but college president Rev. Dan Hardy said they'll be back. He served on the committee and said it's exciting to be part of a national effort to pray. He said it brings the community together and brings the people together and he felt privileged to be a part of that.
The National Day of Prayer is held the first Thursday of May and this year's theme was "One voice, united in prayer." The program covers seven points of prayer or seven centers of power where prayer is focused: government, military, media, business, education, church and family.
Presentations in each of those areas were given through scriptures and prayers by Tom Cope for business, Dallas Johnson for media, Buckeye school principal John Lundin for education, retired Chaplain Ross Jackson for military, Pastor Tim Ginter for government, Visitation Pastor Bob Amey for church and Salem High School senior Mike Popa for family.
In talking about education, Lundin said he wished he had a GoPro camera he could strap on his head as he walks through the halls of Buckeye Elementary to show what goes on there with the children, their families and their teachers.
"I believe that God is at work in our schools right here and right now," he said, talking about acts of heroism done on a daily basis, whether it's gathering food for those who need it, providing transportation for people or giving assistance to others.
For the military, Jackson asked the crowd to pray for those who served in the past and died, for those who are serving now and for the families of those serving now. Amey said prayers for renewal of the spirit and asked God to shower blessings on the people.
Popa talked about the breakdown of families and asked that everyone do their part to "get family back where it needs to be."
"We're here basically because we believe God exists. He is our creator and heavenly Father. Jesus is risen from the dead and he is our Lord and Savior. We are very thankful our early settlers believed and trusted in God. We're thankful our presidents have acknowledged there is a higher power," Kelly said, adding "...prayer is our communication with God - one voice, united in prayer."
Realife Church Royal Rangers Christian Fitch and Ben Sparks carried the flags for the ceremony and Salem Mayor John Berlin read a proclamation. Pastor Peter Fowler offered the welcome and opening prayer, while Pastor Andy Black led the National Anthem and committee member Cindy Smith offered the closing prayer.