Faith leaders primarily from places of worship east of the Anacostia River in the District joined residents in praising God and asking for His help as the city grapples with problems such as persistent gun violence, uneven economic growth, a nagging pandemic and even pastoral burnout.
“You do so many wonderful things,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, D.C. to a crowd of about 150 people at a prayer breakfast held at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Ward 8 in Southeast on Dec. 17. “You do so many wonderful things for people who don’t know how to say thank you.”
Gregory, who delivered the closing prayer, is the first African American to reach the level of cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Gregory supervises about 139 churches and other Catholic programs in the Washington, D.C. area. He also has a voice and vote on high-level church matters such as the selection of a pope. During his brief remarks before his prayer, Gregory said those in the clergy need to take time out to minister to themselves.
“It’s time we need to pray for ourselves and for one another,” Gregory said.
The constant theme that prayer can make a difference in the lives of District residents resonated throughout the program. Individual pastors prayed for a healthier environment, economic growth, the halting of community violence and stopping the spread of drugs and better police-community relationships. Pastor Reginald Luckett, speaking on fighting gun violence and drugs in the District’s neighborhoods, said prayer is the “key to making the community whole.”
“Prayer is the deliverance for our nation,” Luckett said. “We can succeed. No weapon formed against us will prosper.”
The Rev. Anthony Motley, a well-known Ward 8 civic and political activist, touched on police-community relations. He talked about the importance of forgiveness and how it should be practiced by people on both sides of a conflict. Motley also briefly commented that grace must be shown “to those who labor in the vineyards.”
The Rev. Anika Wilson-Brown, the senior pastor at Union Temple Baptist Church in Ward 8, served as the keynote speaker of the event. Wilson-Brown mainly talked about clergy burnout.
“As ministers, we should respect our own well-being,” she said. “We seem to ignore our own selves to care for others.”
Wilson-Brown said pastors should be intentional when praying for the uplifting of their psyches.
“We have to be on point when praying for words of encouragement,” she said. “Even when we need encouragement ourselves. The preacher needs a pastor.”
Wilson-Brown admitted that she didn’t have the answers to problems the clergy deal with. But she reminded the audience that “it is God that sustains you.”
Throughout the event, were performances of inspirational songs such as “I Need You to Survive,” “Worth” and “Mary, Did You Know.” While the songs were sung, people rose out of their chairs and swayed to the singer’s words and a few even danced a little to the rhythm of the beat.
While the prayer breakfast focused on spiritual renewal, politics made its way into the discourse. D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) talked about the importance of staying engaged in the city’s political process.
“When I came onto the Council in 2017, the District had a $14 billion budget,” White said. “Now the budget is up to $20 billion. It is important that we as Black people learn as much as we can about the budget process so we can get as much as we can.”
Sheila Bunn, the chief of staff for D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), spoke on behalf of her boss, who could not attend the event. Bunn emphasized the importance of political engagement, and she stressed the clergy plays an important role in city affairs.