WASHINGTON – Faith and political leaders are preparing to gather in the nation's capital Thursday for the 67th National Prayer Breakfast.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first US president to attend the prayer gathering back in 1953. Sixty-six years later, the event now draws around 3,500 people from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.
In addition to US presidents, leaders from around the world and of various faiths are also invited to attend the breakfast.
"It is a moment that's been set aside for decades to pause, to pray, to reflect and to be able to challenge each other," Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said. "And as in most events, it's not just the event itself; it's all the dialogue around it that makes a lasting impact."
"When I talk to skeptics, and there are many, I had some conversations with some folks in my caucus about this yesterday. I say just give it a try. Come and listen," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).
And while the breakfast falls during a tense political time, the senators say they don't plan to focus on any single issue.
"I don't think we'll have any specific prayers about border security, border wall," Sen. Coons told CBN News. "Look, at the end of the day, part of why the National Prayer Breakfast has been an enduring institution in Washington is that despite the changes from Republican to Democrat, presidents' control of Washington or the issue of the day, it draws us towards the eternal, towards those things that uplift and inspire all of us."
Sen. Chris Coons, D-DE, and Sen. James Lankford, R-OK, co-chairs of the National Prayer Breakfast (Photo: CBN News)
Throughout the year, the two senators lead a weekly prayer breakfast with about two dozen members.
"When we stop and pray for each other and share our spiritual stories with each other of our own journey of faith, it is very moving and, quite frankly, it's encouraging," Sen. Lankford said. "And it's one of those foundational things that's in our democracy that I think people lose track of."
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Coons agreed, saying, "I think the hour that we spend every week here in prayer together is one of the most important moments of a week here in the Senate."
President Donald Trump has also publicly praised Sen. Coons and mentioned how he and the Delaware lawmaker pray together.
"Sen. Chris Coons, who on occasion we disagree, but I actually like him," the president said. "We pray together right; that's a good step."
Coons described to CBN News a moment when the two men were in Delaware to greet the family of a fallen American serviceman.
"That, I could tell, was a very challenging and powerful moment for him," Coons said of the president. "The first time you are present with a family that has just lost their husband or their son is very difficult and very powerful."
He prayed with the president that day and encourages others to do so even if they disagree politically.
"I'm glad that he remembers that I'm someone who prays for him," Coons told CBN News. "We have very strong policy differences, but that doesn't mean that I can't see him as someone deserving of and needing prayer."
Both senators are pleased to see candidates already in the running for president talking about their faith, whatever it might be.
"I'm proud of all of our presidential candidates that speak openly about their faith because that demonstrates to America, 'I have a faith; I can choose to live my faith,'" Sen. Lankford said. "You have a faith; you can choose to live yours because that's the nature of the country that we're in."
Coons suggested that lately, members of his party may have dropped the ball on this issue.
"I do think Democrats – I'm a Democrat – have not told the story of how their faith inspires their public life as much as I would hope in recent years," he said. "I think for us to expect that candidates will conceal whatever their faith views or traditions are is a disservice both to those of us who try to serve our public and to our traditions as a nation."
Coons and Lankford say they hope that as national and world leaders gather in prayer Thursday, there will be unity in focusing on what God leads them to do.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier versions of this story included promotions for LIVE coverage of the National Prayer Breakfast on our CBN News YouTube channel. Our LIVE feed of the event suffered technical difficulties shortly after the event began, forcing us to drop the coverage. We apologize for the inconvenience.