At a signal from the Rev. Truett Leveritt, several dozen worshipers at the Vidette Methodist Church rose, formed a circle, joined hands and bowed their heads.
They prayed for rain to soothe the parched farms of east Georgia, and they prayed for relief from the crisis of low prices and high debt that grips their agricultural community.
" . . . Father, without help from outside, this ship is lost," Leveritt concluded. The amens were barely audible.
All across the state yesterday, in cities and rural hamlets, similar scenes were played out as Georgians responded to Democratic Gov. Joe Frank Harris' proclamation of a day of prayer for the farmer.
The yearlong drought, on top of the double whammy of debt and low prices, has shoved Georgia and other southeastern states into a major disaster. Crop and livestock losses are estimated at more than $1 billion, probably much more.
Sporadic rain in recent days has been insufficient to lift the spirit of communities like this one, whose economies rely almost entirely on the farmers' success. As the Vidette Methodists gathered to pray, a harsh sun beat down on the spare white clapboard church and not a cloud was to be seen in the sky. Nearby cotton and soybean fields drooped in the heat. Relief was not in sight.
Before the service, Leveritt noted that his congregation had appealed regularly to higher authority for rain to feed the crops. "Nearly everybody in this church is touched by the situation," the pastor said.
That no rain had come, Leveritt said, was acceptable to most of his flock. "But one of their big concerns is that no one is listening to the story of a crisis in agriculture," he said. "I believe that most of the American people do not link this farm crisis with their destiny."
Leveritt expanded on that theme during his service. "Today is a special day for the church and the state, and if God is willing, for the nation. A lot of people of little faith say it won't do any good . . . our only hope is the press because I am convinced that the politicians don't care."
The minister gave his flock a straightforward evaluation of the factors that have put U.S. farmers in crisis. He talked of economics, politics, energy, morality and of the independent farm family as a basis for national security.
The small congregation, scattered across the pews under six huge ceiling fans, listened attentively. They sang several hymns and prayed for their farmers and their nation.
"The farm crisis is a storm," Leveritt said finally. "The crisis itself ultimately is not going to matter. Rather, how we react to the crisis is what will matter."
Afterward, joined by visitors from the neighboring Presbyterian church, the congregation talked its way through a sort of group therapy session that Leveritt had arranged as a cathartic.
The gentleness and structure of Leveritt's sermon was erased by expressions of anger, dismay and fear. There was unchanneled talk of hunger, depression, greed in agribusiness and corruption in government.
"We're in a desperate situation, we see our county being destroyed. This county was built on agriculture, now a way of life is being wiped out," said one young farmer.
"I have written to Nancy Reagan and asked her to send someone to stay with us a week to see what is happening here," the farmer's wife added. "She has not even answered my letter."
But most of all, these farmers from Vidette were saying, they were hurt by a sense that people in the cities not only do not know of the crisis in the countryside, but that most do not care.
The cover on yesterday's service program depicted medieval peasants harvesting grain. "Give us each day our daily bread," the cover quoted from Luke.
The two congregations asked a visitor from Washington to carry their message back. It is, simply, that there is no daily bread without the farmers of Vidette.
Intense hot sun continued through the day, and no rain was in the forecast.