‘Prayer Over the City’ to include 17 churches, faith groups coming together to usher in new year

A man prays at the Prayer Over the City, an annual event that features members of different faiths offering short prayers of hope and unity for the community in the coming year, St. George, Utah, Jan. 1, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Fifteen years ago a small group of local faith leaders and others gathered at Pioneer Park overlooking St. George on New Year’s Day. They offered short prayers and thoughts for blessings of hope and unity for the community, which has since become an annual tradition held at the St. George Tabernacle.

The Rev. Jimi Kestin welcomes the Rev. Alex Wilke, who has served the city’s faith community for over 50 years. Wilke offered the last prayer at the 2016 Prayer Over the City, St. George, Utah, Jan. 1, 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The annual “Prayer Over the City” event returns to the St. George Tabernacle to open a new decade with a diverse mix of faith leaders from Christian, nondenominational and other faith groups offering thoughts and prayers focused on various aspects of the community.

Positive affirmations and calls for blessings from God to be with community members, emergency responders, the military, the homeless and area youth – and the parents and teachers who look after them – will be offered. Prayers for more unity, forgiveness, patience and love also tend to be among the virtues faith leaders petition the divine for.

According to a press release from the St. George Interfaith Council, which helps organize the annual event, there will be 17 churches and faith groups represented this year, including Grace Episcopal Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Good Shepherd Presbyterian, Community of Christ, Bahá’í Fellowship, Shepherd of the Hills Methodist Church, Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, the Beit Chaverim Jewish community and others.

New to the program this year are faith leaders from the area’s Sikh, Islamic and Buddhist communities.

Rev. Jimi Kestin of Solomon’s Porch Four Square Fellowship is one of the original creators of the Prayer Over the City program and called it a wonderful example of people with diverse faiths and backgrounds coming together to share their love for the community.

Rabbi Helene Ainbender of Beit Chaverim Jewish community, speaks at the “Prayer Over the City” event at the St. George Tabernacle, St. George, Utah, Jan. 1, 2019. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Kestin told St. George News that when they first met on New Year’s Day 15 years ago, he had no idea it would become embraced by the community.

“When we began with such a small group on Red Hills Parkway looking over the city, we never anticipated it would grow into such a beloved and honored event,” he said.

The idea of unity has transcended differences, as a mutual love of the community and its general well being are the focus of the one-hour event.

However, while Kestin might not have suspected the growth of the event, he said he really shouldn’t be surprised by the community support for Prayer Over the City, as the sense of fellowship and unity it promotes are “really what the Dixie Spirit is all about.”

Prayer Over the City has created many fond memories for Kestin over the past 15 years. Among them was the last year the event was held outdoors in the St. George Town Square. It was between 12 and 15 degrees at the time, he said, and everyone there was freezing.

Former St. George Mayor Dan McArthur was in attendance at the event. At its conclusion, the mayor went up to Kestin and pointed at the Tabernacle nearby.

(L-R) Mayor-elect Jon Pike standing next to outgoing Mayor Dan McArthur and members of the Interfaith Council, St. George, Utah, Jan. 1, 2014 | photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Kestin said the mayor told him, “You probably have enough connections in this community to get us in there next time.”

Every year since, with the exception of the period of renovation work done on the building, Prayer Over the City has been held at the St. George Tabernacle.

Another memory involving McArthur was in 2014, when he and then St. George Mayor-elect Jon Pike stood side by side at the Tabernacle’s pulpit.

McArthur had been the mayor for 20 years but was beaten by Pike. McArthur welcomed Pike as the new mayor while Pike thanked the former mayor for his many years of service, adding that he had big shoes to fill as the incoming mayor.

“It was a true representation of the spirit of unity that makes this event special,” Kestin said.

Prayer Over the City will take place at noon on Jan. 1 in the St. George Tabernacle on 18 S. Main St. The event is free and open to the public.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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