Regular prayer unites, uplifts church members from corners of Washington region

By Hamil R. Harris
Sunday, February 6, 2011

Howard Green has made the five-hour trek by car from his retirement home in a small North Carolina town to the Washington area at least twice a month for more than a decade with one goal in mind: praying.

The retired National Naval Medical Center warehouse worker has battled traffic jams and other obstacles to make the trip. So the snow and ice that dotted the roads and slowed Green's journey one recent Friday evening didn't deter him a bit.

Nor was he discouraged when he arrived at the Temple Hills church where he was to meet fellow members of his prayer group and found no heat or electricity. Or anyone there.

"I am never late," said Green, 74. "I usually call the Prayer Union to order."

The Prayer Union is a group of about 100 people - mostly men, but some women and children, too - devoted to keeping prayer alive. Green, who has been a member for 40 years, is currently the group's president.

For about 110 years, preachers, deacons, and ordinary men and women from 28 congregations across the area have come together at different locations on the second and fourth Fridays of each month and every federal holiday for prayer.

James A. Roberts, chairman of the deacon board of the Shining Star Freewill Baptist Church in Seat Pleasant, serves as secretary of the group. He said the union is guided by the verse James 5:16 in the New Testament: "Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that ye may be healed."

No one is certain when the Prayer Union began, but they know for certain that it got its start on a Saturday night.

Green, who lived in Northeast Washington for more than 40 years, said sometime around 1900, George Casey, a deacon with Metropolitan Baptist Church in Northwest, began gathering with fellow church members.

"Groups of people would go around from place to place," said Green, who remains a deacon at Faith Temple No. 2 in Capitol Heights. "They called it 'the Saturday night host.' "

At some point, the Rev. Lemon White, pastor of Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, organized the group into the Prayer Union Meeting of Washington, D.C., and Vicinity.

Green said that to have deacons lead prayer services has long been part of the African American church tradition. Worship services would begin with a cappella singing, and then a line of deacons would kneel in front of the pulpit and offer up prayers.

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