Augusta is known around the world as the capital city of golf. Bobby Jones and the Masters golf tournament have given the city a special sense of identity that is almost unique in the world of sports.
If you didn't know, though, Augusta is also known for something else: many churches and much prayer.
A QUICK LOOK through the Yellow Pages shows over 900 churches in the Augusta area, and one online directory shows over 1,000. All these churches are houses of prayer.
A few years ago the Russian national gymnastics team visited Augusta. One afternoon I had the opportunity to speak with some of the team members about their experiences in the United States. They had a number of things to share, but the one I remember best was their observation regarding the churches in Augusta. They said something like, "You have churches everywhere, almost on every street corner. You must be a very religious people."
I had to agree.
I told our Russian visitors that having lots of churches wasn't something we often think about, and yet it was, in my opinion, a very important feature of the local life in Augusta. They were surprised to learn that Augusta was the birthplace of two different denominations and, since there are only a few different types of churches in Russia, they were interested in the diversity of faith here.
I EXPLAINED that Christians and churches in Augusta are very different in some ways, and yet in the most important ways are the same. They may be Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Catholics or Orthodox, all practicing their faith in very unique and different ways - but they are all people of prayer, and they do pray a lot.
Here is an example of what I mean.
On Friday, April 16 of this year, nearly 8,000 Christians from 587 different churches representing many different denominations gathered at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center for prayer and worship. The participants were interracial and interdenominational (some say "transdenominational") and they filled the arena with faith strong enough to move mountains.
NEARLY TWO hours was devoted almost exclusively to worship and prayer, with not even an offering being taken. The event was co-sponsored by more than 150 local churches from different denominations. Local circumstances prevented much media coverage of this singular event, but it was, by all estimations, a historic happening of major significance.
Another example is the local observation of today's National Day of Prayer.
For a little historical perspective, it was on Feb. 19, 1795, that President Washington issued a proclamation setting aside a special day of public thanksgiving. In 1952 Congress established an annual day of prayer that, in 1988, was specifically designated as the first Thursday in May.
PEOPLE OF Augusta have observed many of these national events by gathering publicly and offering prayers in a number of places and in different ways. In recent years, Augusta Mayor Bob Young has issued annual proclamations officially honoring the National Day of Prayer. Mayor Young, working with Miracle Making Ministries, also hosts the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on the morning of the same day.
Especially in times of war - and we are in a war with terrorists now - prayer takes on increased significance.
Today, we all face some major trials and challenges that can be dramatically influenced by prayer. The war on terrorism needs our constant and faith-filled prayer. Another area needing prayer is the persistent reality of racism. With much prayer, love, respect and hard work, the city of Augusta - once a market for the slave trade - could become a model of racial healing and harmony.
SOUND IMPOSSIBLE? Nothing is impossible with God, especially when people join together to offer their united prayers to the God who loves them all so much. People of Augusta, now is the time for us to lay aside our many differences and come together for prayer.
This year, the 53rd National Day of Prayer will be observed at the Augusta Riverwalk Amphitheater at noon today. Mayor Young, state Sen. Randy Hall and other local leaders will be in attendance to offer united prayers for the city of Augusta, the state of Georgia, the United States of America and for other areas of special need.
EVERYONE IS invited, so please use this opportunity to participate fully in the faith-filled prayers that really will make a difference.
(Editor's note: The writer is an elder of The Alleluia Community and a National Day of Prayer event coordinator.)