Nearly 150 people of faith gathered in Washington, D.C. on Monday to offer prayers for the needy in America who could be negatively affected by proposed federal budget cuts.
The prayer vigil, held just outside of Capitol Hill at noon time, was led by an inter-denominational group of faith leaders from the United Church of Christ, the Lutheran Church, the Mennonite Church and the National Council of Churches (NCC) – an association that represents some 45 million Christians across the nation.
"In this land of plenty many live in scarcity. Countless have no work and many of those who do, still live with anxiety and need. We lay before you their concerns as we pray for those who are able to address them. Hear the cry of the poor Oh God!" prayed Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, director of the Mennonite Central Committee's Washington Office.
"We pray for those who have power; may they have compassion as well," prayed Michael Livingston, director of the NCC's Poverty Initiative.
A number of the gathering's participants had also partaken in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) three-day event held in Arlington, Va., which gathered around 700 faithful to consider development, security and economic justice, and especially the role that women play in those issues. The vigil was scheduled as the EAD's closing event.
"We urge the U.S. Congress to recognize that we have a moral obligation, in a time when more persons are suffering than ever before, to protect and strengthen the health, well-being, and security of women and families," the event's organizers say on their website.
"We cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable who are already burdened," a flier for the prayer vigil reads.
Also among the vigil leaders was the Rev. David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, who on Monday committed to a week-long water-only fast in light of the issues surrounding the budget.
"I usually fast in private, but I am provoked to make a public stand as Congress has proposed massive budgets cuts to programs that disproportionately affect the neediest among us," Beckman wrote in a blog entry on his group's website.
Beckman noted that the bill that passed that House of Representatives last month makes large cuts into federal nutrition programs such as reduced-price lunches and food stamps, which make up about 22 percent of the budget, while leaving untouched the 78 percent of the budget containing defense, Social Security, Medicare, and tax breaks to the wealthy.
"I'm a Lutheran pastor, and I have not come across any biblical injunction against taxing the wealthy. Yet the Bible constantly reminds us to take care of the least of our brethren," Beckman wrote. "If our representatives and senators are unwilling to listen to the needs of hungry and poor people, maybe they will listen to God."
"Our prayer is simple: We invite God to reshape our personal priorities and the priorities of our nation, and we call on God to help us form a circle of protection around programs that are needed by the most vulnerable among us. Amen," he said.
So far, over 4,000 activists and 38 heads of anti-hunger organizations have reportedly joined Beckman in his fast.