GENESEO, Ill. - "Prayer has given me strength, no matter what I've faced," Army Chap. (Lt. Col.) Brian Curry told attendees of the Geneseo Mayor's Prayer Breakfast held May 4 at the Geneseo Moose Lodge.

During more than 20 years of military service, Curry has faced two combat tours and counseled countless Soldiers seeking solace and prayer. Curry, who is assigned as deputy command chaplain at First Army Headquarters at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, was the keynote speaker at Geneseo's annual prayer breakfast, held in recognition of the National Day of Prayer, which has been observed the first Thursday of May for 66 years.

"I believe our nation, from its very foundation, valued prayer and has found help from God in prayer," Curry said, offering as evidence two of George Washington's initial actions as commanding general of the Continental Army. The first? Organizing the infantry. The second? Creating a chaplain corps.

"Chaplains are a reminder of our nation's commitment to prayer," Curry said. "I believe prayer is in our DNA as a nation."

About 50 clergy members, civic leaders and local residents attended the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, which was organized by the Geneseo Ministerial Association.

"We're a civil society, we're a secular society, but we are also a faith-filled society," said Rev. Stephen Palm, president of the Geneseo Ministerial Association and senior pastor of Geneseo Evangelical Free Church. "Separation of church and state was never intended to be a discouragement of church by state; it was designed to protect the state, but also to encourage these kind of events."

This is the second time an Army chaplain has been asked to serve as keynote speaker for the prayer breakfast, Palm said.

"I think because this is a day that is a national day of prayer," Palm said, "we look at an Army chaplain as someone who particularly embodies both of the things that we want to bring forward."

Palm added that two retired military officers in his congregation have helped influence the choice of breakfast speaker. "They're two men who would say, 'Let's look for any opportunity we can to partner with the military, pray for the military, get to know the commanders at our Arsenal, so that we can be supportive and prayful for them.'"

Prayer plays an important role in Geneseo, where city council meetings begin with a prayer, said the town's mayor, the Honorable Kathy Carroll-Duda.

"There are many people who are praying - a lot of churches and individuals - who are praying for me, as mayor, which means a lot, and also for all of our leaders," she said.

"I just think it's something we really need to do, especially in today's world, where things seem to be kind of chaotic right now. I feel like it's so important that we pray for our leaders to make the best decisions and to look for guidance and wisdom from God."