MANATEE -- Children from WEE World Preschool in Palmetto filed out in front of a crowd of hundreds to sing "Lord I lift your name on high" as part of Thursday's National Day of Prayer ceremony at Heritage Park in Palmetto.
Each set of innocent eyes scanned the crowd of strange faces until they locked onto the familiar sight of loving parents. Anxious faces melted into warm smiles as soon as the children knew they were in the presence of those who love them.
It was, perhaps, the best symbolism of the day in representing those who scan a sometimes hostile world in search for the peaceful, loving presence of God.
The National Day of Prayer officially began with a congressional proclamation in 1952, but it was the Founding Fathers who formed the idea in 1775 that the nation they were about to create should devote at least one day a year to God as a united country in prayer.
Shane and Courtney Johnson attended the Palmetto event for the first time to watch one of their children sing. Courtney said it was good opportunity to do something positive as a family, and her
"It's important to show our children early how God is working in their lives and who God is," said Shane Johnson.
Across the Manatee River at the Manatee County Courthouse in Bradenton, dozens more gathered for the city's annual Day of Prayer event. City, county, invited officials and guests gathered on both sides of the river to offer prayer for the seven centers of power, which are government, military, business, church, family, education and media.
In Palmetto, Pastor Jason Lane, of Skyway Community Chapel, provided the opening call to prayer while Wendall Wilson of Loving Hands Ministry welcomed guests to the Bradenton event.
"There is no greater thing a community can do than to come together in prayer," said Lane.
Florida Army National Guard Sgt. Major Rich Atkinson thanked God for all the supporters, friends and family of veterans in Palmetto.
"May God forever express His firm support and love," said Atkinson.
In Bradenton, Pastor Lawrence Livingston of Eternity Temple and Reverend Fidal Diaz of the Tabernacle Baptist Church prayed for racial tolerance and reminded those attending that Jesus Christ sees beyond race.
In Palmetto, Pastor Roberto Gonzalez of RG Ministries Global summed it up by saying, "We are the church, one body in Christ."
The message for education was the same from both sides of the river, with Palmetto Charter School Principal Brian Bustle calling for a return of God into the nation's schools.
"The state of education is not where it should be," said Bustle. "I pray that this mountain be re-taken and raise up Godly teachers to claim this community in Your name."
Bustle said the values of God's word once again need to be established in and out of the schools.
Speakers from a variety of congregations had a singular message that no matter the gender, race or denomination, believers of Christ, not buildings, are the true church.
Following the Palmetto prayers, Shelly Riker, a pastor at the Church on the Rock, said she has attended her community's event for many years. She said it's only appropriate for the community to come together for the "One Voice United in Prayer," event.
"This is what defines our community," she said while looking over the large crowd attending Thursday's prayer and with a proud confidence in her voice, said, "It's a declaration of who we are."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.