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Ga. governor, others, gather at capitol to ‘pray up a storm’

ATLANTA (BP)–More than 250 Georgia residents gathered on the steps of the state capitol Nov. 13 to pray for a blessing which many had taken for granted -– clean drinking water that has become increasingly scarce in recent months.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Georgia Baptist church member, led the lunch-hour prayer service to ask God to restore the rain after a drought that has resulted in record lows at the state’s major reservoir and prompted a water fight between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Lake Lanier, located north of Atlanta, dropped to its lowest level in 21 years earlier in November. All outside water use has been banned. If rains continue to hold off, Lake Lanier is expected to drop by Dec. 7 to its lowest point since it was built in the 1950s.

As water restrictions are being tightened, fines of up to $1,000 are being levied against first-time offenders, with water being cut off to repeat offenders. Pike’s Nursery, the state’s largest nursery, declared bankruptcy on Nov. 14 citing a tumble in business since plants and yards can no longer be watered.

Georgia’s last serious dry spell occurred in 1986 but explosive growth has pushed the state’s water resources to the limits.

Perdue, standing before the crowd in downtown Atlanta and flanked by lawmakers and ministers from across the religious and political spectrum, sought divine intervention as he prayed, “We come here very reverently and respectfully to pray up a storm.”

When asked at the conclusion of the ceremony if he felt a miracle was on the way, he told reporters, “God can make it rain tomorrow, He can make it rain next week or next month.”

While those crowded on the capitol steps were in full sympathy with the prayer service, about 20 protesters, mostly from the Atlanta Freethought Society and cordoned off a block away, hoisted signs reading “20% chance of rain today, 100% chance of church-state violation,” “Government sponsored prayer is unconstitutional,” “Nothing fails like prayer” and “Pray on the church steps, not the capitol steps.”

But at least some of the protestors, from the Geologists for Sane Government, took more of an issue with government planning than theological differences. Those individuals argued that the state’s problems were due more to lack of good stewardship of the state’s natural resources than a temporary dry spell.

Perdue seemed to agree at the end of the service when asked if the water crisis could have been avoided with better long-range planning.

He told reporters that Georgians have not done “all we could do in conservation” and that the drought was an attempt by God to “get our attention. Hopefully we will be better conservators of the blessings God has given us as He gives us more rain.”

Unmanaged growth is a large part of the crisis, the geologists maintained, and the state’s underground aquifer is being slowly depleted by more residents than it can support. Atlanta already is recognized as having the nation’s longest commute as urban sprawl pushed the 28-county metro area’s population up nearly 40 percent in one decade, from 2.9 million to 4.1 million, between 1990 and 2000. The Census Bureau earlier this year estimated metro Atlanta’s population at 5 million for the first time, which placed it as the nation’s ninth-largest metropolitan area. The report also noted that 12 of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing counties since 2000 are located in the Atlanta area.

The Georgia Baptist Convention called its churches to observe a statewide day of prayer for rain on Nov. 4. Mark Sterling, GBC consultant for prayer and spiritual awakening, noted that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division had implemented a level 4 drought response across the northern third of the state and that the state “is in a desperate need of rain.”

The state convention distributed prayer guides and bulletin inserts to churches to raise visibility for the need of divine intervention. If the rains do not come, Sterling cited news reports that the area’s main source of drinking water could be depleted within 90 days.

State geologists agree with that prediction, adding that it will take three years for the state’s reservoirs to return to their pre-drought levels once the rains return.

Churches such as Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta already have taken steps to conserve water.

“We are not delaying baptisms or anything like that, but we have shut off our irrigation system, turned off our waterfall and are placing half-gallon jugs and bricks in our toilet water tanks to conserve as much water as possible,” business administrator Jerry Maxfield said. “As we update our bathroom fixtures, we are also installing more efficient high-pressure flush toilets like you see in the newer hotels and public restrooms.”

Alvin Hobgood, executive minister at North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, said the Gwinnett County church has taken similar measures and the church responded well to its participation in the GBC’s call to prayer.

“At the conclusion of our Nov. 4 evening worship service, our 700 participants were divided into groups of five or six and prayed for God to send us rain,” Hobgood recounted.

“Prayer is a privilege that He gives to His children and we are urged to pray for each other and to ask for any needs that we have. God wants us to pray and He wants to hear our prayers,” Hobgood said.

“One of the last things the disciples asked Christ was for Him to teach them how to pray. If it was important to His disciples back then, it should be important to us today.

“I’ve lived in Georgia for most of my 58 years and I can’t remember a dry spell like this one,” Hobgood said, “but I can tell you one thing: It hasn’t taken God by surprise.”
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

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