Originally created 05/07/99

Area services draw crowds



Delivering prayers that brought tears to the eyes of some, four ministers stood on the steps of Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building on Thursday and asked for God's mercy on America.

"Our hearts are heavy today, heavy for the backsliding ... we give our lives for work, for the dollar, for pleasure," prayed the Rev. Brian Dickert, youth pastor at First Assembly of God and manager of radio station WAFJ-FM (88.3).

"Oh God, have mercy on America. Have mercy on us," he said before a crowd of 150-175 gathered for the 48th National Day of Prayer.

Bad weather had kept the crowd away last year at the Municipal Building, but the rains held off until after Thursday's event.

Strangers clasped hands and prayed in groups during Augusta's ninth observance.

The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance, established by an act of Congress in 1952. It is held on the first Thursday in May.

About 2 million Americans were expected to participate throughout the nation.

The scene was repeated across the Augusta area.

More than 2,400 workers -- or 17 percent of the work force -- at Savannah River Site prayed at 19 locations scattered across the 310-square-mile installation at noon.

"People said it was a privilege to be able to pray with fellow believers," said Sandy Pike, a human resources specialist for the Department of Energy.

At the North Augusta Community Center, the Rev. G. Bryant Wright Jr. told about 200 faithful gatherers that public figures cast long shadows of influence, for good or evil. He asked his listeners to consider what kind of shadow they cast.

In Aiken, Harry S. Dent of Columbia, a former aide to President Nixon and the only top-level White House adviser untouched by the Watergate scandal, led Aiken's largest observance of the National Day of Prayer, a lunchtime gathering for city employees that also was open to the public.

Retired from politics, Mr. Dent and his wife, Betty, conduct a lay ministry, Laity: Alive and Serving, and are authors of an inspirational book, Right vs. Wrong: Solution to the American Nightmare. Aiken Mayor Fred B. Cavanaugh said the event fit with the city's emphasis on character in daily life.

Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.