ST. PETERSBURG — Homelessness. Crime. Poverty. Unemployment.
For one night, hundreds of families, churchgoers, community activists and government leaders turned to prayer as an answer to the city's toughest challenges.
The event, hosted by Seven x 7, an interdenominational community group, drew more than 1,000 people Thursday night to the Gibbs High School Football Stadium to celebrate the National Day of Prayer. As gospel music accentuated the night, the crowd swayed from side to side, clapping and singing in the name of Jesus Christ with all the soul, spirit and passion of a Sunday church revival.
Contagious shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah" filled the stadium as ministers from more than 49 churches offered prayers for racial and cultural harmony, peace, repentance and love.
The prayer fest is the latest effort from Seven x 7 "to revive the church community," and engage the faithful in a citywide campaign against violence, said community activist Gypsy Gallardo, who helped organize the event. Seven x 7 was formed by a group of ministers in January.
As participants entered the stadium Thursday, volunteers asked for prayer requests. Signs throughout the high school proclaimed: "Prayer! America's strength and shield."
"You have to put it all in God's hands," said Lisa Houston, 21, as she raised her hands in testament. "It seems we have tried everything else but prayer."
Pastor Clarence Williams of Greater Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church called for the crowd to pray for government leaders to remember their calling and work for the good of the community.
"Lord, there are so many problems, I know you know them all," he said. "Let us individually and collectively lift the mayor. I don't agree with him on everything, but I pray for him every night."
In turn, elected leaders offered up their own prayer requests.
Mayor Rick Baker, whose Christian faith has quietly influenced his tenure, said he would pray for spiritual guidance.
"We have a great city, but we have a land that needs healing," he said to the cheering crowd. "I believe the best avenue of healing is truly the redemptive blood of my savior Lord Jesus Christ."
Council Chairman Jamie Bennett read a proclamation declaring May 1 Seven X 7 Day.
"When we are unified we can do anything," he said.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.