It is a fascinating glimpse into an American custom - the National Prayer Breakfast, which is a series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners. It has taken place since 1953 and has been held at least since the 1980s at the Washington Hilton. It is designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and build relationships.
The main event, the Thursday morning breakfast, typically has two special guest speakers: the President of the United States, and a guest whose identity is kept confidential until that morning. Every US president since Dwight Eisenhower has participated in the breakfast.
This was the third occasion my wife and I had received an invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. On the two previous occasions we were unable to make the journey, but we were determined to go this time, and we did.
What is the Breakfast about? Apparently it all started when Eisenhower was President and he called a friend of his, Senator Frank Carlson, and told him how lonely the White House was. His friend said that he should come and join their Tuesday morning fellowship breakfast in the Senate. He did just that, and out of it grew the National Prayer Breakfast, which every President has taken part in ever since. Thirty-five years and each year the President has made a special point to come and deliver a message.
It is held in the Washington Hilton - where President Reagan was shot - and this year a record number were invited and accepted - 3,700 in all. Quite a feat for any hotel to cook and serve an excellent hot breakfast for that number. But they did and well.
The vast majority of invitees were American but they had come from every corner of the States. In addition there were representatives from about a hundred countries. Whilst the central point is the Breakfast itself, there are many other meetings organised over a period of two or three days. A luncheon to which all Ambassadors in Washington are invited and at that meal, two Senators and the Attorney General of the USA spoke about their Christian belief. A Breakfast for Commonwealth Parliamentarians and another meal to meet European invitees and so on.
But the main gathering, the Breakfast, was at 7.30 a.m. on Thursday, February 5th, and it was a triumph of organisation. Many folk give up days and hours in an honorary capacity to achieve this, honoured to be one of the few
Each year a small number of persons are invited to meet the President and I was honoured to be one of the few, about twelve or thirteen, and they included the King of Tonga, the Ruler of the Zulus, Chief Buthlellsi, the Minister of Health for Canada, the Prime Minister of Bermuda, the Egyptian Ambassador in Washington and myself.
Vice-President and President
In this private room we also met the Vice-President of the USA and Mrs Bush. Mr Bush expressed the coincidence of meeting me because he had just finished reading a new mystery novel about Jersey by 'Jack Higgins'.
Then the President and Mrs Reagan were announced and they came in accompanied by many guards - the President, still unwell from his prostate operation, had been advised by his doctors to come only for ten minutes to deliver his message, but he said that this gathering was so important to him that he had come for the whole time which in fact lasted two hours.
After meeting the President and Mrs Reagan, I went into the hall to join my wife at our allotted table, the official party came in and after grace breakfast was served.
Then we had a message from the Senate and Congress from members of those two Houses. We had Bible readings read by Vice-President Bush and the widow of Martin Luther-King; we had prayers from the Governor of Missouri and the Chief of Naval Operations.
The highspot was a wonderful address based on the story of Esther, by the Hon Elizabeth Dole, the Secretary for Transportation in Mr Reagan's cabinet. The address was very moving and she received a standing ovation.
The President then gave his message; we all sang Amazing Grace and Dr Billy Graham concluded the proceedings with a closing prayer.
As part of the week my wife and I stayed the weekend before with a family in Boston. The American character is noticeably more forthcoming, but I learned that Christians in that country want to share their faith. We build walls and consider our belief to be something very personal. They, on the contrary, want to tell the 'Good News' to all.
I found, also how generously they supported their churches-we stayed in Boston with a family who belonged to a United Reformed Church which has 700 members, three Ministers and four paid secretaries, and the Church Treasurer who was our host had a budget of $400,000 a year. This kind of figure was equalled and surpassed by other churches.
What do they do with all this money? Well, in addition to keeping their churches and staff they also helped in the community around. An outreach of Christianity in immediate social problems.
To sum up, altogether a memorable and soul searching week which I am glad to have experienced.
What, therefore, is the purpose of these Fellowship Breakfasts? Not only do they take place regularly at the Senate and Congress in Washington, but at the House of Lords and Commons in London and lots of other places including, yes, Jersey, because a number of States members meet monthly in this way.
The objectives are to encourage a fellowship of responsible people banded together to find through Christ a better way of everyday living, in order to promote for home, community, country, and at every level of society a leadership led by God; and to work together to encourage a spiritual awakening throughout this country and the world through prayer, discussion and fellowship.