Against a background of a government shudown and national political discord, Mayor Steve Benjamin gathered Monday with his fellow Midlands mayors, at least one opponent and about 500 of his fellow Columbians to pray for the city and seek spiritual and community unity.
The event at The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium drew well-known Christian evangelicals, business and professional leaders and a Dallas-based organization that is leading a seven-day prayer revival this week in Columbia.
“This is not about me; it’s about the city,” Benjamin, a black Baptist, said.
The unabashed evangelistic spirit of the event stunned Kyle Lance Martin, founder and CEO of Time to Revive, the Dallas ministry that travels the country encouraging religious revival and re-awakening.
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“This is rare,” Martin told the gathering as he issued an invitation to come pray with him. While Martin has seen pockets of citizens come together in cities across the country, “what is rare is people are bold about it” in Columbia.
Benjamin, a Democrat who is seeking re-election in November, does not hesitate to talk about his Christian faith. But he has also managed to navigate the sometimes trickier territory of appealing to white conservative evangelicals as well as a traditional black political and religious base.
Hal Stevenson, a conservative Republican with deep evangelical roots, said he has found common ground with Benjamin on many issues.
“I think he is bringing us together,” Stevenson said. “His campaign or administration theme of ‘One Columbia’ was really on display today because he acknowledged from the podium that he represents the Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists but he was also willing to share his own personal faith in Jesus Christ.”
Gaye Tankersly, president of Food Service Inc., said she was grateful for the prayer gathering.
“I’m thrilled that our city leaders see the importance of this,” she said.
Bill Amick, a real estate developer and businessman who headed his family’s Amick Farms poultry operation until it was sold in 2006, was the main speaker, exhorting listeners to embark on Bible-based lives that include prayer and sacrifice.
Amick evoked some of the touchstones of conservative politics, recalling Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s battle to erect a granite stone etched with the 10 Commandments and Nikita Kruschev’s 1959 speech at the United Nations where he warned that the Soviet Union would feed America “small doses of socialism.”
“Are we there yet?” he asked rhetorically.
“Almost,” one audience member called back.
“We can once again have one nation under God,” Amick said. “I know what that feels like.”
Mayors in attendance at Monday’s breakfast included Mayor Gregrey Ginyard of Jenkinsville; Mayor Pat G. Smith of Springdale; Mayor Hardy King of Irmo; Mayor Randy Halfacre of Lexington; and Mayor Michael Ross of Blythewood. One of Benjamin’s mayoral opponents in the Nov. 5 election, Larry Sypolt, also attended.