Local leaders unite in prayer
by Eddie Burkhalter
OXFORD — Standing in front of hundreds of local business leaders and city officials, flanked by six fellow mayors and assembled clergy, Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart spoke about unity.

Stewart spoke at the inaugural McWane Prayer Breakfast, co-sponsored by the RMC Foundation Board of Directors and YMCA of Calhoun County, which brought together the mayors of Oxford, Anniston, Hobson City, Piedmont, Weaver, Jacksonville and Ohatchee for collective prayer.

The mayors each spoke briefly before introducing their pastors to lead the crowd, assembled in the gym of the Oxford Civic Center, in individual prayer.

“What’s good for Oxford is good for Piedmont,” said Stewart during his turn at the microphone, echoing a theme of both the prayer breakfast and the way in which the Anniston City Council has worked since taking office six months ago. “…We can do so much more if we are sharing one vision and one goal.”

Stewart and the Anniston City Council have in recent weeks led a push to create a team of local governments and institutions dedicated to developing the McClellan Industrial Park. Oxford officials have yet to sign on to that effort, but Mayor Leon Smith has said he is willing to do so.

Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith said that he is thankful to live in a country where the founding fathers prayed before making decisions.

“It is appropriate that we pause and thank God for blessing our country and each of our individual communities,” Smith said.

Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCory said that the progress her town has made in recent days is because of the help of “God and the help of the good people of Hobson City.”

Calhoun County native and Pulitzer-prize winning author Rick Bragg was guest speaker, and told the crowd stories of faith and family.

As each took their turn at the podium, the pastors prayed for their communities and for the country. They prayed for guidance for local leaders and for the military.

“Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping, all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad,” said Rector Lee Shafer of Anniston’s Grace Episcopal Church. “Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace ...”

At each prayer, Paula Watkins paused among the tables inside the gym. Carrying plates of food in her hand, a Western Sizzlin apron around her waist, Watkins lowered her head until the prayers were complete.

The 57-year-old lives in Blue Mountain and has worked at the Oxford restaurant, which catered the breakfast, for 11 years. She has two grown children and lives alone. She prays all the time, she said, and almost always for the country and for the president.

But sometimes she also prays for herself, she said.

“Mostly about finances,” Watkins said, standing with coworkers in a back room after serving hundreds of breakfasts, all of them eating some breakfast of their own.

Watkins said the pastors Wednesday morning should surely pray for our nation and for each community, but they should not forget to pray for the individual people in the communities who might be hurting, she said, just like she does … sometimes.

“Because we’re all the same,” she said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
© 2013