Chaplain Commentary: The purpose of a prayer breakfast
March 13, 2013
The Army at Fort Sam Houston carried on a widespread custom within the Department of Defense by hosting a prayer lunch in solidarity with the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The timing of the annual event varies by military installation. One thing, however, does not vary -- the friendly gathering of military, civilians and family members to continue the tradition of praying for our nation.
I attended my first National Prayer Breakfast more than 30 years ago as an Army officer at Fort Sill, Okla. It was a totally new experience for me because I was familiar with prayer solely within my own worship community growing up. This event enabled me to gather alongside men and women of other faith traditions and to gain strength from them and to experience the power of common prayer.
Although I will always cherish the Catholic tradition, which has cradled me from my youth, I have come to realize that faith extends beyond denominational boundaries and religious traditions. Within the Army family, I hear the stories of faith that are lived by inspired and inspiring people of every stripe, color and creed. I am united with my comrades in common service to, and common prayer for, our beloved country.
I have heard many speakers at prayer breakfasts, including lawmakers, military and religious leaders, celebrities and occasionally a soldier with a compelling story. They have spoken of the founding principles of our great democratic republic and the merits of virtue and faith or the miraculous ways in which they have experienced the power of God. Whatever is said, I always come away mindful of how blessed we are in this land called America, and how fortunate that we may publicly gather in an attitude of prayer, to celebrate faith and seek blessings on Earth.
Prayer breakfasts normally feature a soloist or a group that may offer a traditional hymn or folk songs. I vividly remember attending a prayer breakfast while stationed in Egypt with the multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai Desert. I was mesmerized by a group of burly men from the Fijian infantry battalion, who donned their traditional island skirts and, without any formal musical training, sang enchanting church hymns, in harmony, with angelic voices. The various blending of musical forms and prayer styles experienced during a prayer breakfast is yet another blessing of the rich diversity found within our Army family.
In my younger days, I was more inclined to attend prayer breakfasts for what I would receive. Today, I realize that what I bring to the event is just as important. It's a spirit of celebration and gratitude for our many blessings. It's an open heart for the injustices, sufferings and sacrifices of our fellow citizens. It's a soul that craves to be united with its source and with its neighbor in a fusion of mind and spirit and will.
Our Founding Fathers believed that God governs in the affairs of men and that divine blessings would be necessary in order for America to be the shining "city on a hill." Although their religious expression varied, all of them were men of faith who wanted to ensure future generations of Americans could worship in a manner conforming to the individual conscience. I am proud to serve today in an Army that defends one of our first freedoms and gathers regularly to practice it.
Chaplain (Colonel) Gary R. Studniewski serves as the Command Chaplain of U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.