WASHINGTON (BP)–James Merritt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, delivered a passionate tribute to the life and ministry of evangelist Billy Graham at the Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal on Jan. 19.
“Billy Graham has impacted this nation in a powerful way,” Merritt said. “And we are honored to recognize his achievements as a man who cares deeply about sharing the love of Christ with a lost world.”
More than 1,000 religious leaders from a number of faiths and denominations attended the event sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation and held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.
The prayer luncheon featured a who’s who of religious and political leaders including Dallas pastor Tony Evans, Jerry Falwell, Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Paul Crouch, along with a surprise guest appearance by attorney general designee John Ashcroft.
Ashcroft, who was greeted with two standing ovations from an enthusiastic ballroom audience, expressed his thanks for their support during contentious Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.
“I appreciate so much the kindness and tone of your prayers for me and my family,” Ashcroft said. “Various things have been said about me that haven’t been encouraging lately.”
Ashcroft related a story of how God lifted his spirits recently with the help of a sidewalk musician.
“I was walking along discouraged when I heard that great song, ‘Amazing Grace,’ being played by some guy sitting on a milk crate and a bucket,” he said. “Like many people, I hurried by him and tried not to notice the man. But as soon as I walked by him, he stopped playing and said, ‘Senator Ashcroft!’ Well, we shook hands and he wished me well at the hearings. He said he liked what I stood for.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Ashcroft continued. “So I thanked him and started walking only to hear another familiar hymn — ‘Love Lifted Me.’ I can’t tell you how much that encouraged me. Sometimes, we get inspiration where we weren’t even looking.”
Among the Southern Baptists present at the inaugural prayer luncheon were James and Teresa Merritt, Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Morris H. Chapman and his wife, Jodi; Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land and his wife, Rebekah; Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston; Paul and Nancy Pressler.
The Presslers, who estimate they live about 300 yards from ex-President George and Barbara Bush in Texas, said they were excited to be in Washington for the inauguration festivities.
“I am excited as a Texan, as an American and as a Christian,” Pressler said. “I’ve known George W. Bush since he was a teenager and I believe he is going to make a fine president.”
The Presslers received invitations to two inaugural balls as well as a private prayer service with the first family at St. John Church.
The Merritts received an invitation to attend an inaugural ball held at the Marriott with the Georgia delegation to Washington.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ASHCROFT AMONG WELL-WISHERS, PRESSLERS SPEAK WITH MERRITT, and MERRITT PAYS TRIBUTE TO GRAHAM.