A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST

           

As recalled by Tim Arensmeier

 

         After the Crash of '29, when homelessness was caused by the economic upheaval resulting from those events, an emigrant preacher, Abram Vareidy, living in the Seattle area, helped to start Good Will Industries.  The objective was to assist the "down 'n outers."

 

         Another ingredient affecting this history was the rampant corruption existent in Seattle:  open gambling, prostitution, "numbers" and general gang and mob activity, going essentially unchecked due to the infiltration of mob activity into local politics.  At that time, the longshoremen's union had been infiltrated by communist thinking.

 

         While working for Good Will Industries, one of Good Will's board members, rather casually commented to Abram, in the light of the general evil "at the top" of the political totem pole, "Abram, maybe if you were as concerned about the ‘up 'n outers’ as you are the ‘down 'n outers,’ something could be done about the city and its corruption.”

 

         This was responded to by Abram, who (with his Norwegian pastor's heart) immediately set up a weekly prayer time with his Good Will board, to pray about the issues of the city of Seattle.

 

         One result was that the man who had challenged Abram, finally ran for political office.  He was told by his prayer partners that while they would not support him politically, they would pray for him to be sensitive to the leadership of Christ in his own life.  He was ultimately elected to political office, and eventually became major of Seattle, and finally was governor of the State of Washington at least once (if my memory serves).

 

         The city of Seattle was so positively affected that Mayor LaGuardia of New York City traveled to Seattle to find out how they had cleaned up their city.  His path was ultimately directed to Abram Vareidy who was viewed as the defacto leader of the prayer breakfast group in Seattle.  LaGuardia invited Vareidy to "...come to New York and do there what you've done here."

 

         To my knowledge, Abram never actually got there, but started similar "Mayor's Prayer Breakfasts" in Olympia, Tacoma, Portland and San Francisco, and ultimately ended up in Washington D.C., at the personal request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, where he helped establish the Senate Prayer Breakfast in 1945, and the Representatives Prayer Breakfast, both still meeting while congress is in session each week to this day.

 

         In 1952, while running for the Republican nomination, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was accompanied by Senator Frank Carlson, Kansas.  During one of their stops at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado, Conrad Hilton was waiting in the vestibule of Eisenhower's suite in the hotel, when Eisenhower, Carlson and a young fairly unknown Southern Baptist evangelist named Billy Graham came out of the General's rooms.  Hilton had wanted to meet Graham anyhow, and upon recognizing him, introduced himself, and met Eisenhower and Carlson.  During their brief conversation, Hilton told Eisenhower that his prediction was that Eisenhower would not only obtain the Republican nomination, but would be elected next President.  Hilton further said something to the effect that, "If there's ever anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask."

 

         After the election and inauguration of Eisenhower, in January 1953, Ike and Mamie were “early to bedders" and shortly after the festivities, and bed, President Eisenhower called Senator Carlson, and invited him to the White House, saying essentially, "This is the loneliest house in the nation!"

 

         Senator Carlson, after arriving at the White House, was invited by Eisenhower to pray with him.  After they had prayed, Carlson mentioned the Senate Prayer Breakfast.  Since only sitting senators, and honorably replaced former senators were permitted into the Senate Prayer Breakfast, Senator Carlson suggested that he would see if President Eisenhower would be welcome.

 

         Of course he was welcome, and attended, being told that politics were not an issue there, just a desire to encourage each other to keep their focus on trying to live their lives in honor of Jesus Christ – that they would also keep him as focused as he would allow.

 

         After the President learned of the Representative's Prayer Breakfast, he instigated a combined prayer breakfast which immediately took on the "Presidential Prayer Breakfast" title and virtually a life of its own.  One of the initial challenges was where to hold such an event, as none of the dining rooms in the capitol was adequate to hold the estimated 300 or so who would probably attend.

 

         Enter Senator Carlson, again, recalling the offer of Conrad Hilton following his prediction.  Senator Carlson called Hilton in Los Angeles and reminded him of his offer, and asked if they could hold the meeting in his Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.  Hilton's response was that they were welcome, at his expense, with the caveat that Hilton wanted to have a say in the program, i.e., he wanted Billy Graham to be the speaker.

 

         Billy was the speaker, and continued to be the speaker for the first 12 years of the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.  At this time, the International Christian Leadership (ICL) was being headed up by Abram Vareidy who passed the mantle on to Doug Coe at some similar time.  The leadership of ICL was functionally responsible for the Presidential Prayer Breakfast -- behind the scenes.  It was decided that having non-clergyman speak would be better.  Billy has attended all but two of the subsequent breakfasts, and has participated usually offering a prayer at some time, until about 1994, when he consented to speak for his last time, due to failing health and his age.  Jan and I were present at this occasion and have many interesting stories to tell about that experience.

 

         After 14 years of the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, to which all sitting presidents have come, it was decided to change the name to the National Prayer Breakfast.  Several people had given large sums of money to the campaigns of various presidents, and had not received one of the 3,000 invites annually, and were miffed, therefore the change of the name.

 

         Each year at the National Prayer Breakfast, there will vary between 160 to 175 different nations of the world being represented by leaders or representatives of their respective countries.  Any given year will see between three to seven Heads of State.

 

         Prior to the actual Breakfast, heads of state are now invited by our President to attend a quiet, small prayer time just prior to the entrance of the President and his entourage onto the dais for the official beginning of the National Prayer Breakfast.

 

         The Breakfast is not a Christian function, though it is held in the Name and Spirit of Jesus Christ.  We have every religion on the face of the globe represented, and several of them while being essentially antagonistic to Christianity find themselves able to get along with people who are not pushing Christianity as much as attempting to uplift and talk about Jesus Christ.

 

Web posted:  20 February 1996

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