Column by Pastor Stewart Rawson: Hands clenched tightly have little chance of succeeding


I recently had the privilege of attending the Mayor's Annual Prayer Breakfast. It was held at Alice Drive Baptist Church. I have served at churches in six different states and in 10 different cities, and every city I have served has a Mayor's Prayer Breakfast. This was by far the best one I have ever attended.

You see, in the other prayer breakfasts, the tone and feel of the event was that members of Christian churches were gathering to pray for the other Christians in the town or city. This prayer breakfast, the one here in Sumter, those invited to pray prayed for everyone! There was a prayer for teachers and a prayer for students; there was a prayer for the military and a prayer for church leaders; there was a prayer for medical professionals, and there was a prayer for first responders. As I said, we prayed for everyone.

As people of faith, we make bold claims like, "God created everything that exists." We cite from our scriptures that "everyone is created in God's image." Christians quote Jesus, and we remind ourselves Jesus commanded us to "love our neighbors as we love ourselves." When a community gathers to pray together it only seems right and fitting that we would pray for everyone. The words of those who prayed (and I was told that every effort is made to not have ministers pray, which I actually love) lifted everyone in this community up to God.

A memorable moment in the prayer breakfast came when Dr. Mark Mitchiner, a respected pediatrician at Sumter Pediatrics, came forward to pray for medical professionals. Dr. Mitchiner made the observation before he prayed that right now in our world we are all walking around with our hands clenched tightly, a metaphor for him, as I understood it, that we are clinging so tightly to everything that we have and everything we believe that we are not open to God's guidance. Dr. Mitchiner observed that he is working hard to live with his hand opened, opened to the world, allowing God to guide us and lead us. I absolutely love these sentiments, and I told Dr. Mitchiner I was going to quote him.

There are so many pressing needs in our community: creating a safe place for our children to live and grow up, finding ways to make sure those in our community who are going hungry are fed and creating affordable housing for those who are on the margins. These kinds of challenges require that we come together and work together to improve our community. If our hands are clenched tightly, rather than being open to others, we will have little chance of succeeding. But, if we can reach across divides and sit down around tables together and greet each other with kindness, then the possibilities are limitless.

May God continue to guide us to become a more beloved community.

Stewart Rawson is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Downtown Sumter.