Praying for the Lou on 3.14

March 14, or 3.14, is known by many as Pi Day. In St. Louis, it's also affectionately referred to as #314Day, naturally because of our 314 area code.

But in 2020, conveniently on a Saturday, this date also got a brand new official designation as "Pray for the Lou" day, a God-given vision to simultaneously fill the streets of St. Louis in every one of its 79 neighborhoods with Christians united in prayer for our city. It was incredible to watch the Lord work to make this happen over the past few months, and to be a small part of the fantastic fulfillment of this amazing event, despite some seriously mounting odds.

It seems incredible now that this event took place not quite 2 weeks ago, and just as COVID-19 was knocking on STL's door. Given all that's transpired since (which also lent to a greater delay in posting than I'd hoped), it feels far longer. But the pandemic became yet one more reason to pray for this place we love.

Our own church experience had some unique qualities worth sharing. Chatham Bible Church, now located in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Missouri, has its roots in the city of Wellston, right on the City/County divide. So we chose early on to pick an area right alongside Wellston and pray there.

We were graciously hosted by the New City Fellowship West End Restore St. Louis offices, just south of Hamilton Heights, the neighborhood we designated to pray in and for. After a time of group prayer at New City, and guided by executive director Andrew Stern, we took the bus north to prayer walk in some specific spots.

New City Fellowship Offices in the West End neighborhood
Scripture and prayer before the walk
Our first stop was the former Hempstead School. Now a burnt out shell of a once beautiful building, the campus sits littered and desolate as the structure slowly falls apart, a stark reminder here of what once was and what now is. Andrew requested we break up in groups and circle the school three times to pray. Some of those prayers focused on education and educators, on children in the neighborhood, on area tutoring programs, on safety for these kids, on restoration that only Jesus can bring.

The littered alleyway at the back of the building

Knowledge is Power

Our next stop was at a community garden directly across the street from the home of a just turned 90-year-old woman who is a great witness in her ministry to her neighborhood. We prayed for a neighborhood resident, then circled the block in groups to pray for this woman's ministry, for the community gardens that can be places of gathering and hope, for jobs and wealth to return to a place that clearly once had more robust industry, for leaders and authorities to work together to help the neighborhood, for churches and ministries to be able to serve this area well, and for much more the Lord might do here. We then ended our time here in song back at that community garden.

At the community garden

Praying for a neighbor

As it happens, Hamilton Heights is one of three city areas designated for the new St. Louis Cure Violence program, which is scheduled to start soon if everything can stay on track. It's also no accident that Cure Violence treats violence like a disease—an epidemic—going into neighborhoods with the idea of cutting it off at the source often using individuals with gang-related backgrounds to actively interrupt conflicts before they start or escalate. It seemed a given to pray with this parallel in mind in Hamilton Heights, as we ask the Lord to stop both the far too familiar threat of local violence and the unsettling new threat of a global disease.

After our time in Hamilton Heights, we made a special stop back in Wellston—right on Chatham Avenue and at the very building our church formerly occupied.

The building our church once occupied. I'd only seen it in photos before.
There is no pride in admitting that we are aware that the church body ultimately decided to move out of this area in the 60s due in part to racist motivation, which is clearly documented in old church records. And while none of us was around for those events, we took this opportunity to repent here, to ask forgiveness for the sin of abandonment some of us have felt strongly over the years as this reality came to our attention. We were reminded of our forgiveness in Christ by our gracious guide who joined us for this side excursion. We prayed that the Lord would make Himself known in this place by the church body that now occupies that building and through other believers here. We asked His guidance to know if we should serve in or around this area in the future, not as some attempt to make up for the past, which we certainly cannot do, but to bring glory to God and share His gospel. And we prayed for the Lord's blessing in and hope for this place.

A significant moment for our church
Several of us then headed to Cardinal Ritter College Prep's football field for a prayer rally with anyone who had prayer walked in any of the 79 neighborhoods. Again by no accident, and after months of the organizers trying to work out where this rally would be held, we ended up directly on the infamous Delmar Divide, well known for its overt split of wealth to the south and poverty to the north. The Lord put us in exactly the right position to pray for unity in our city. "What is divided will be united" was one distinct rallying cry.

Delmar runs right up to this field as seen in the background
As the temperature dropped, we had the opportunity to pray in this place together, to worship our Lord united in song and praise, to hear from pastors representing many different City and County churches, and to hear from the leadership of this event, including Kurt Wilson, to whom this vision was initially given, and Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, who also led the summer Fragrance Ferguson prayer event I previously covered.

Pastors gather before the rally
Kurt and J.T. lead in prayer

An enthusiastic crowd in the cold
Each pastor prayed over STL,
as seen led by Pastor Sergei Marchenko in the clip below.
The echoing cry, "For St. Louis' sake we will not keep silent."

Again, it was amazing to be a part of all this, and emotional to see it ultimately come together, especially given our connection to and involvement with those planning. From some small, early prayer gatherings to the closing "against-the-odds" worship rally, the Lord was clearly working.
  • This was a tremendous undertaking in itself, and it was incredible to watch the movement swell. Post last year's 10 Days of Prayer in STL we continue to see churches come together in our region. We saw many new area churches jumping on board, unexpected promotion, and hundreds of Christians who truly cared not only to share about this with others, but to come out on a dreary day when any of us might have otherwise stayed home, and for good reason...
  • The forecast called for a 100% chance of rain, and it was cold and pouring when we left our homes that morning. But we noted on the church bus that by the time we got out to prayer walk, we were experiencing mist at best. During the rally, the Lord kept the rain away until the very end.
  • It's now clear that just a few days later this entire event would have been both prohibited and dangerous. At this stage, all St. Patrick's Day weekend events had cancelled as increased cautions were just beginning. On March 16 gatherings were limited to 50 or fewer. By March 20 meeting sizes were limited to 10 or fewer, and the stay at home order came just 9 days after 3.14. God's perfect timing.
A sincere thanks to Kurt Wilson for being obedient to the Lord in this calling and for pursuing a vision which I know was often surprising even to him all along the way. This was a great blessing to this city and a significant bond to believers and churches at this remarkably crucial time—just before we would be effectively separated. Of course the Lord knew, and He will never cease to amaze us as we trust Him.

Now we wait again to see how our God responds to our cries as we enter a whole new and unexpected crisis through which He is already at work.

And once again I remind you to keep on praying, St. Louis. Keep up with Pray for the Lou and other ongoing area moves of prayer, many of which are now continuing online. Christian, keep praying wherever you are. In an unprecedented time, pray now like never before. Even socially distanced, we remain united in Christ. As He reminds us all of our ultimate need for Him, let's continue to ask and see what our Lord will do.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:4-7

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