Mike Butto of the West Side raises his arms in prayer as he and dozens of other gathered for the National Day of Prayer observance ceremony on the steps of the Statehouse on Thursday

Ohio Celebrates Faith and Freedom on National Day of Prayer

Kali Smith wasn't going to venture out into the gray, chilly Thursday.

She wanted to take a nap.

But, instead, the 24-year-old German Village resident felt called to attend the Ohio National Day of Prayer observance outside the Statehouse.

"God was definitely pulling at my heartstrings to come here, and I'm really thankful that I did," she said. "It was definitely rejuvenating and very educational, and they stayed true to God's word and the reality of Jesus. So I loved that. It was powerful."

The Christian event was as much patriotic as religious. Along with saying prayers that covered a variety of topics, the more than 100 participants were offered hand-held American flags, said the Pledge of Allegiance and heard renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and "America the Beautiful."

And then Benjamin Franklin made an appearance.

"The creation of the United States of America was a sovereign act of God for the purpose of building his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven," said Dennis Harbert of Massillon, who portrayed Franklin. "We had a secret weapon ... We knew that God was on our side."

Harbert presented a prayer said to have been given by Franklin during an impasse at the Constitutional Convention, to ask his fellow revolutionaries to recall their daily prayers at the start of their fight with England: "Have we now forgotten that powerful friend, or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? ... God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?"

The event opened and ended with the blowing of horns called shofars. Prayers were offered for government, the Christian church, the military, families, music, education, the media, businesses and the relationship between the United States and Israel. And evangelist Flora Ferguson made her annual appearance dressed in white and holding a white flag proclaiming "One Nation Under God."

Coordinator Nancy Garver of Westerville also offered up a flag, held by two women and featuring a green pine tree and the words "An Appeal to Heaven." She said the image dates to 1775, during the American Revolution, and was chosen by George Washington to fly on warships.

"We were getting to the place where America would not survive without the help of God," she said. "He said, 'If God doesn't intervene, we're finished.' Well, God did intervene and turned our nation back to him amid the most insurmountable odds. Again today our country stands at a crossroads, so I wanted this flag displayed."

She prayed: "We ask that you turn our country back to the way it used to be, so we can be proud to be Americans again and be that light to the world."

Among others offering prayers were a pastor, a teacher, a businessman, a retired Marine Corps captain and counselors. State Auditor Dave Yost also shared a prayer, asking God to help elected officials be just and merciful and bear the hearts of servants.

Participants at times closed their eyes and bowed their heads, outstretched their arms or raised them up. One woman held her hand over her heart through most of the event.

Abigail Ahrens, 19, of the West Side, was visibly moved, often raising an arm and swaying.

"When you've dedicated yourself to the Lord, even as a young person or a young voter in this nation, I think it's important to show up to events where they're praying for the nation that you live in," Ahrens said. "I want to be involved in things, and I want to bring the Lord's peace wherever I'm at."

jviviano@dispatch.com

@JoAnneViviano

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