Were the friends and members who attended the Holman United Methodist Church second annual prayer breakfast on a plane? It sounded like that Saturday in White Fellowship Hall.
“Welcome to this flight. We are prepared to take off to the heavens,” Rev. Judi Wortham-Sauls told the sold-out crowd.
“Please make sure your attitude and blessings are in good shape…put away negativity and disappointment. And, if oxygen is needed, reach up and pull down a prayer, which will be automatically activated by faith. There will be no baggage. Now, let me tell you a little bit about our captain.”
The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright is the Pastor Emeritus, of Trinity United Church of Christ, on the Southside of Chicago. In 1972, his first year in that pulpit, the congregation numbered fewer than 100 adult members but grew to more than 6,000 by the time he retired in 2008.During his tenure, he started 70 ministries for personal liberation and community transformation locally, nationally and internationally. His ministries reached across the United States, and as far as South Africa, Ghana and Palestine.
He is well-known for his powerful and creative preaching and teaching, and also because he married President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama years ago, and baptized their two daughters. During his first campaign for President, Obama withdrew his membership from the church, characterizing some of his minister’s remarks as divisive.
Nothing has stopped the Rev. Dr. Wright. He stayed focused, faithful and fortified in the mission God has called him into.
At the Holman prayer breakfast, he preached from Acts 16:25-28, reflecting on Paul and Silas in prison, around midnight, praying and praising God, as other inmates listened.
He described the prison ministry he founded in 1980 to minister to those who were incarcerated, and to their families. Asked to speak last year on the 35th anniversary, he said he “wrestled with the spirit of God, so fierce.”
He added, “It was so painful,” because his second oldest daughter, Jeri was scheduled to be sentenced the week before the celebration.
“Black folk, know about the criminal justice system,” he said. As he looked around the packed room, he made a request.
“If you have ever been in prison, on parole or probation, please stand.” Fewer than a dozen men rose.
“If you have a family member who has been in prison, on parole or probation, please stand.” More than half of the room got up.
The Rev. Dr. Wright said, “I stand before people whose lives have been troubled by the pain of prison.” He called the roll of Biblical figures that had been locked up like Joseph, Jeremiah, and, of course, Jesus. He listed great leaders, who have been locked up such as: Dr. Martin Luther, Jr., Marcus Garvey, and Nelson Mandela.
“But, this wasn’t about Jesus. This was personal. This was Jeri, my daughter who was locked up in prison,” with eleven months to go.
How could he “preach a word of hope,” at the prison ministry celebration, when he was “in a world of hurt.” He got his inspiration from a revival in rural Mississippi, and a familiar song, “Praise, Is What I Do.”
At the prayer breakfast, he sang, “I vow to praise you through the good and the bad…I’ll praise you whether happy or sad…Praise, is what I do, even when I’m going through….”
The Rev. Dr. Wright said, “It’s easy to worship the Lord, when everything is fine, you’ve been blessed with abundance, you’ve been chosen for favor, but can you worship, even when you are ‘going through’ and your ‘circumstances don’t even stand a chance?’”
Emphasizing the power of faith, he promised, even when it feels like nobody cares, God is right there beside you. Even when you are in prison, God can change your situation— for example, transforming a murderous criminal serving two life sentences to a man with a mission ministering to other inmates.
As he preached, several attendees wiped tears from their eyes. As he sang, Grammy award-nominee Brent Jones joined in. Earlier in the program, Jones sang one his most popular hits, “He Rose.”
The Holman Praise Team, the Holman Singer, Robert Johnson and Melida Skeete Byrde-Smith also gave witness in song. Holman Co-Director for Youth Ministry, Zaneta Smith, gave witness in dance through a powerful mime to Marvin Winans hit song, “Draw Me Close to You/Thy Will Be Done.”
Through teaching and song, more than three hundred people in attendance were equipped to rebuild their “War Room” and reposition their “Throne Room.” Areva Martin served as the mistress of ceremonies.
Closing the event with a prayer, the Rev. Kelvin Sauls, senior pastor of Holman United Methodist Church, added, “We have been blessed by a fundraiser, a friend-raiser and a faith-raiser. Now let’s pray forward for the edification of one another, the restoration of our communities and the glorification of God!”