A young, dark-haired woman smiles at the guard as she passes through the metal-detector checkpoint and quietly takes a seat in the visitor's gallery of the U.S. Senate. In hushed tones, her guide hands her a list of some of the key issues being debated.
The young prayer warrior goes to work. Silently, but passionately, she prays for God's blessing to overtake these leaders, for Him to give them wisdom in their decisions, and for righteousness to prevail in our nation's capital. She is part of an organization of on-site intercessors who have been praying undercover in the U.S. Senate, House and various committee rooms since 1994.
Later that night at one of many prayer houses in Washington, several people make their way into the small room filled almost to capacity. Some are dressed in business suits, others in jeans and sweatshirts. The group has assembled for one purpose.
"Lord, we've come to seek Your face for this city and this nation," cries a young man seated on the floor. Others join in with similar petitions. This meeting and others like it are evidence, some Christians say, that the Holy Spirit is moving.
To those who have been praying undercover in Washington for the last several years, it seems the windows of heaven have recently been opened and that a spirit of refreshment has descended on Capitol Hill. As one who says he has "learned the power of prayer," President Bush joins the front line of those who believe prayer can make a difference in the capital.
"While there hasn't been much encouragement for a strong culture of faith on Capitol Hill in the last few years, that is changing," says Frank Wright, director of the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship. "If you ask any long-term staffers who have been on the Hill for the last 10 to 15 years, they will tell you that there is indeed a kind of spiritual revival taking place. I would say there has been at least a tenfold increase in spiritual interest in the last 15 years."
That interest can be seen in the proliferation of Bible study and prayer groups on Capitol Hill led by various ministries, staffers and members of Congress themselves. Lloyd Ogilvie, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, says he has seen an authentic renewal of personal prayer as well as Bible study and prayer groups throughout the Senate staff.
"I'm encouraged by the fact that leaders in government are recognizing their need for supernatural wisdom, discernment, vision and strength," Ogilvie told Charisma.
Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., meets every Wednesday morning with a group of six other congressmen for fellowship and prayer in one of their offices. His wife, Anne, believes prayer is essential for their survival in Washington.
Anne attends a weekly Bible study for congressional wives sponsored by the Christian Embassy, a group founded by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright in 1975 to minister to leaders in government and their families.
Anne says that serving in Washington is a 24-hour-a-day job. "No one understands the life [of a public servant] except those who are living it with you." Kimberly Genau, who serves as Capitol Hill liaison for the D. James Kennedy Center, comes closest to knowing what Anne means. She spends her day ministering and praying with staffers, interns and wives of congressmen and senators.
"The level of warfare is very different here than anywhere else," Genau says. "There are many strongholds that come against our leaders in the form of power, pride and immorality. They need our prayers daily."
Many leaders are now boldly asking for prayer support from other Christians. At a recent pro-life breakfast in Kansas, Rep. Ryun told supporters, "We're willing to fight, if you're willing to pray."
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has echoed Ryun's call: "I don' mind being on the front lines, but I need your prayers," he says.
The recognition of the need to uphold leaders in prayer and to support them through various ministries has birthed more than a dozen spiritual organizations that target Capitol Hill and the city of Washington.
One example is a town house behind the Supreme Court that has been the site of weekly prayer for those serving in government since 1991, when Harry Valentine invited friends to pray during the Senate battle to confirm Clarence Thomas. Rob Schenck, co-founder of Faith and Action ministry, purchased the town house in 1999. Those who pass by can't miss the prominent sign in the front yard displaying the Ten Commandments.
Arriving in Washington in 1994 with a call from God to minister to government officials, Schenck quickly learned that those who work on Capitol Hill are well-insulated from the public. "I began riding the elevators in the various government buildings early in the mornings and late at night," Schenck remembers. "I'd be standing there, and the doors would open, and inside would be a senator or another official with whom I had sought unsuccessfully to get an appointment. Those elevators became a virtual "vertical chapel" where God provided opportunities for me to share and pray with many leaders."
In addition to the group's ministry to people one-on-one, Faith in Action has presented more than 300 stone tablets of the Ten Commandments to officials and asked them to display and obey them.
"I'll never forget the day I ran into Sen. Joseph Lieberman while riding the underground subway between the Senate offices and the Capitol," Schenck recalls. "I had the opportunity to speak to him about several issues. He later became the first senator to accept and display the Ten Commandments plaque in his office. He even asked for one in Hebrew for his home office."
Operation Higher Court, a third outreach of Faith and Action, offers prayer and ministry to the Supreme Court justices. "The Supreme Court is the most insulated and isolated branch of the U.S. government," Schenck says. "They do not interface with the public, so we've literally had to pray our way in there each step of the way."
Just 24 hours after the historic Supreme Court ruling in the Bush vs. Gore election decision, Schenck attended a private reception hosted by Justice Antonin Scalia. Schenck reports that during a one-on-one conversation, Scalia asked for his prayers and the prayers of the people.
"I was taken aback by his humility and sincerity," Schenck says. "I could tell he meant it. It was not just a platitude, but a genuine appeal for intercession on his behalf."
"When I first started praying in the city, I hardly saw anyone else here praying," Grady remembers. "But now people come to our nation's capital all the time just to pray on-site. Recently, I was in front of the Supreme Court building and overheard two people sitting on the steps quietly praying. I introduced myself and found out they were both airline employees from Fort Worth, who felt led to come to D.C. for the day and to pray in front of the Supreme Court."
Ken Wilde, pastor of Capital Christian Center in Boise, Idaho, has been bringing groups of intercessors to Washington to pray on-site for the last five years. Boosted by the fact that his church is home to former Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage, Wilde speaks to pastors and churches across the nation, encouraging them to pray for our leaders.
Just last year Wilde's church founded the National Prayer Center in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of on-site prayer. Forty groups of intercessors from various churches are scheduled to come to the center in 2001.
Other prayer houses remain hidden throughout the city, hosting local and out-of-town guests who come to pray. Many, like Hanna Ness, 20, say that coming to Washington to pray has given them a new passion and love for the country. "I believe God loves this nation and that He isn't going to let it go," Ness says. Many local church groups and ministries also regularly pray at various sites in the District. Intercessory groups from churches in Maryland and Virginia have networked together and often prayer-walked Capitol Hill and other areas of the city.
Pastors Dennis and Donna Pisani of Glory Tabernacle Church in Washington have made prayer a priority since they established their church in 1992. "From the very beginning we felt God say that He was going to move from the streets of D.C. to the corridors of the Capitol," Donna says.
Art and Sharon Snow, pastors of Brentwood Foursquare Church in Bladensburg, Maryland, are helping churches encircle the city in prayer with their Prayer Around the Beltway guide. Art says the impetus behind this prayer guide came from a historic battle in the War of 1812 that was fought in his backyard. During this battle, American troops retreated and opened up the corridor into Washington, allowing the British to enter and burn the city. Believing that God wanted to change this corridor from a place of retreat to a place of advance, Snow drove the entire 64-mile beltway around the city, recording specific prayer focuses for each of the 38 exits.
Intercession leaders say it was an answer to prayer when bad weather prompted the use of a Bush family Bible at the recent presidential inauguration rather than a 1767 King James edition used by George Washington and several other presidents. Several ministries had issued prayer alerts about the Masonic Bible--the one traditionally used when a new president is sworn into office--warning that it could have spiritual consequences because of the movement's secret rituals linked to the occult. But just before the ceremony began, representatives of the New York Masonic Lodge that owns the Bible decided it was too fragile to be exposed to the inclement weather. Intercessory prayer teams view the incident as evidence that prayer is bringing change in the spiritual climate of the capital.
The spiritual landscape in Washington has not always been as fertile as it is today. Ruth Cox Mizell remembers it being a desert 20 years ago. When former President George H.W. Bush ran for the Senate in 1964 in Texas, Mizell served as his campaign manager. "Those were very lonely years back then," Mizell says, "with not a lot of prayer going on in the capital."
Later, when Bush won his vice-presidential election, he asked Mizell what she would like to do in Washington. "I'd just like to pray for you," she told Bush.