2017-05-11 / Front Page

Asking for help from a higher power

Hundreds gather outside City Hall to pray
By Dawn Megli-Thuna


BLESSINGS—Thousand Oaks City Councilmember Rob McCoy, in back, a pastor, leads a group of city and county officials in prayer on the front lawn of the Civic Arts Plaza last Thursday, the National Day of Prayer. The event was organized by the Conejo Valley Pastors Fellowship. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers BLESSINGS—Thousand Oaks City Councilmember Rob McCoy, in back, a pastor, leads a group of city and county officials in prayer on the front lawn of the Civic Arts Plaza last Thursday, the National Day of Prayer. The event was organized by the Conejo Valley Pastors Fellowship. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers With his head bowed, eyes closed and hands grasped by strangers, Gene Pan prayed for the United States on the front lawn of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza as the sun started to set last Thursday. After he prayed for the country’s politicians, the 36-year-old Christian missionary said a prayer for China.

Visiting the Conejo Valley as part of a fundraising mission trip with his wife and infant daughter, Pan said he was accustomed to worshiping at secret meetings in private homes because of religious persecution by the Chinese government. Standing among more than 500 people gathered in front of City Hall listening to a worship band at dusk, Pan said he’d never seen so many pray together in public before.


COMING TOGETHER—Jim Losey of Newbury Park prays for peace with a prayer group in front of Thousand Oaks City Hall during National Day of Prayer on May 4. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers COMING TOGETHER—Jim Losey of Newbury Park prays for peace with a prayer group in front of Thousand Oaks City Hall during National Day of Prayer on May 4. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers “I can’t believe this is real,” he said. “It’s beautiful. You are so free.”

The event, organized by the Conejo Valley Pastors Fellowship, an association of more than a dozen local faith leaders, was held May 4 in observance of National Day of Prayer.

Several local government officials attended the gathering, including Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña, Councilmember Joel Price, City Manager Andrew Powers and Conejo Valley Unified school board trustees Sandee Everett and John Andersen. Thousand Oaks High School Principal Lou Lichtl was also there.

Andersen said in an email to the Acorn that he was excited to see so many people supporting the country and those who serve to make it work.

“It is such a blessing to be part of these many churches coming together to pray for healing for this great country, and for thanksgiving for our elected public officials,” he said.

Thousand Oaks Councilmember Rob McCoy, senior pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, said he’s participated in the day of prayer in the Conejo Valley for the past 16 years. He said prayer was the one thing all people could do to support their country.

“The nation is in need and even our city is divided,” he told the Acorn. “I see prayer bringing people together.”

Earlier in the day, McCoy gave the keynote address at the YMCA’s annual National Day of Prayer Breakfast at Cal Lutheran University.

In a speech titled “Unity in the Community,” McCoy read an angry letter he received after an Acorn article featuring pictures of him with Vice President Mike Pence and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

He told the interfaith audience that it was hard to be kind in the face of opposition based on his religion and friendships. But he said his faith compelled him to let God take care of the problem so his heart could be open to offering an olive branch—in this case, a cup of coffee—to his detractor.

He said finding common ground was more productive than divisiveness.

“Aren’t we all tired? Aren’t you tired of hating me?” he said.

Day of Prayer

Since 1775, 144 national calls to prayer have taken place, including during the Continental Congress and under President Abraham Lincoln. Congress established the National Day of Prayer with a joint resolution in 1952, and President Harry S. Truman signed it into law later that year.

Every president since then has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation. In 1988, Congress designated its observance on the first Thursday of May. The National Day of Prayer was challenged in court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in April 2011, but its constitutionality was upheld.

Kirk DeWitt, pastor of Conejo Church, told the Acorn he participated in the National Day of Prayer because it’s the only time of year the city gathers in one place for one purpose.

“It’s sad we’re not this connected the rest of the time,” he said. “It makes you realize you are part of something bigger.”

While most prayers were offered for government leaders, the Rev. Shawn Thorton of Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village prayed for believers in the Conejo Valley.

“I hope God will work in and through us,” he said.

Bob Wilson has been a parishioner at Godspeak Calvary Chapel for eight years. The 86-year-old horse breeder lives in the Santa Rosa Valley and said he was there because he thinks Christians should follow McCoy’s lead and get more involved in local government.

“I want to pray for him on the City Council,” Wilson said.

Bill-de la Peña said she was happy to represent her Episcopalian denomination at the prayer service. She said it was the second year McCoy had organized the event in that location.

“It was gorgeous. Just a beautiful, perfect venue,” she said. “It was nice to see so many different churches there for the same reason.”

Pan and his wife, Shirley, said they were just happy to pray.

“Don’t you feel like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? This freedom is a gift from God,” Pan said.

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