Norman Grubb

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Presidential Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C.

February, 1961

Norman P. Grubb

 

 

To have a Presidential Prayer Breakfast, attended by the leaders of a nation, in the ballroom of a hotel, sponsored by laymen of all denominations would be a unique event in the capital of any country, but particularly so where it is in the capital of the greatest nation in the world.  For eight years, this has taken place in Washington, through the vision and boldness of Abraham Vereide of International Christian Leadership.  Either President Eisenhower or Vice-President Nixon has attended each year, but with a change to a Roman Catholic President and a new Congress, it was a question what would happen this year.  But Mr. Vereide’s faith never faltered.  The day after the election, he was quietly saying that the new President would come – it was the word of faith!

 

But President Kennedy did come and for the first time, the Vice-President accompanied the President and with them, the six leading Cabinet Ministers – Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, Secretary of the Treasury, Dillon, Secretary of Defence, Macnamara, Secretary of Labour, Goldburg; and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, flew down from New York to attend.  The Grand Ballroom was filled with 130 Congressmen, 40 Senators, 20 Foreign Ambassadors, 20 of the heads of the Pentagon and several hundreds more of men from the State Departments and in various official positions.  It was the largest attendance of any breakfast.

 

After eating, the program began with the beautiful singing of two verses of “Sweet hour of prayer” by an Army chorus.  It was something to see those men in their uniforms leading us to the Presence of God in that quiet song.  As the meeting progressed, a remarkable series of Scriptures were quoted from memory by Chief Judge Marvin Jones, in clear, slow, resonant tones, such as “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding” and those victorious last eleven verses of Romans 8 by Secretary Macnamara.

 

But the coming of Jerome Hines to the podium to sign was like an electric shock.  The President, sitting next to Billy Graham, had remarked that he had heard Hines singing in opera, but you could see he did not expect what Hines started with, which was that he had not come here to sing even to the President but to “tell you that eight years ago, Jesus Christ gave me the power to become a son of God, but not of my own merits”; then, after describing in a few minutes what Christ had done for him and become to him, this famous Metropolitan opera singer said he would sing his favourite song – “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine”.  The interest of the President, as well as of the whole audience was evident.

 

Following him, came another surprise.  William C. Jones of Los Angeles, the host of the Breakfast, instead of giving a word of formal welcome, told why he was doing this:  how as a younger man he had lost health, fortune and almost his home, through liquor and gambling; then how he had tried good works as a way of renewal, by giving to churches, but that did not bring deliverance.  Only when he was confronted with receiving Christ as his personal Saviour did the wonderful change take place, a new home, the adoption of five orphans, a prosperous newspaper business which, cost him what it may, he must run on honest lines and the main bulk of profits dedicated to the Lord for all is His. 

 

It was evident that speaker after speaker caught the interest and was moving the hearts of the hearers.  The Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, (although neither he nor the President were announced to speak) made some excellent statements such as that a man is tallest when he prays:  forget problems, but not prayer:  separation of church and state did not mean separation of public men from spiritual values:  a man who fears God fears no man:  balance the power of the enemy with the power of God:  worship a power greater than the state.

 

Billy Graham was honoured by that audience with a standing welcome when he rose to speak, the President also rising to shake him by the hand.  He implemented the personal testimonies of the other men by shewing how the issues of life are out of the heart, but that the heart as desperately wicked, who can know it and out of it proceed evil thoughts, adulteries and so on; but then how Jesus Christ alone can cleanse the heart by His blood and how he changes the lives of those who receive Him, illustrated by such men as Jim Vos, the former wire-tapper and now doing probably the greatest job in New York in reforming and redeeming teenage gangs.

 

The final surprise of the Breakfast came after Graham sat down and we thought the program was ended.  Then the President arose and went to the rostrum.  He spoke quietly, but clearly and incisively and obviously carried his audience with him in his sincerity.  One statement he made was that in a nuclear age, faith is stronger than atomic power; that we must turn back to our origins; every President of the United States had been a believer in God and he was one also.  And then, after other remarks, he quoted two Scriptures:  “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even His enemies to be at peace with him”; and, “Be strong and of a good courage; I will not fail thee nor forsake thee, saith the Lord”.  The applause that accompanied the President’s return to his chair was far louder than when he started and was indicative of the impression of his words.

 

The last request of the meeting raised a laugh.  For the first time, International Christian Leadership had arranged a First Lady’s Breakfast, in a large room on the opposite side of the hotel.  Mrs. Kennedy had recently been forbidden all public engagements for a few weeks and it had been striking that the papers had picked out only the First Lady’s Prayer Breakfast to remark on as something she was missing.  Vice-President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, took her place, accompanied by the wife of the Admiral Arleigh Burke, the Naval Chief of Staff and many others.  Two hundred women had been estimated to come; nearly 700 were there.  A special request was made to the President that he would accompany Billy Graham and Mr. Vereide to call in on the women – that raised the laugh.  This he did to their great delight, but his special comment was that he hoped another year “we men and women might pray and worship together” – thus inviting himself to next year’s Breakfast!

 

One final innovation of note was the start this year of Governors Prayer Breakfasts in the State Capitols.  It was another bold venture, but crowned with blessing and success.  Twenty such Breakfasts have been held, some concurrently with the Presidential Breakfast, attended by the Governors and warmly welcomed by them and the members of their staff and legislatures, sponsored by local layman often with the Governor himself speaker, with prayer for God’s blessing on the affairs of the States and with someone presenting the free gift of the grace of God in Christ to “whosoever believeth in Him”. 

 

Surely it is something significant, important, something to be devoutly thankful for and to be well-pleasing to God, that in these days of danger and stress, these leaders, specially in Washington, carrying enormous burdens take these morning hours out to acknowledge their need of God and to confess Him as the guide and hope of the nation and world.