(Photo: WKUL 92.1 FM)
An estimated combined total of 5,000 people met to pray at all 29 Cullman County School District campuses in Alabama and participate in a prayer caravan Saturday. Hundreds more gathered for a prayer rally at the county fairgrounds in the evening. Spurred on by the threat of legal action from a Wisconsin-based atheists group citing "separation of church and state" to stop the event, the third annual caravan attracted as many as 1,000 people at one high school.
"The great state of Alabama is blessed to have been targeted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation," rally organizer Brent McDonald told The Christian Post Sunday. "By them doing so, it has sparked an awakening like no other and Christians are coming together and standing as one. Thank you FFRF and may every single one of you see God through this."
What may have become an awakening, started as a controversy when the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group focused on wiping out expressions of religion from the public square in the U.S., threatened Cullman County schools and Superintendent Billy Coleman with a letter from its lawyer.
Coleman, who helped organize the caravan, received the complaint from the FFRF for his involvement in the event. His sponsorship, which he and his lawyer say is his right as a private citizen, previously included an announcement on the district's website, which was later taken down.
Speaking as a private citizen, Coleman held a press conference last Tuesday in which he said, "Christians have the same rights as anyone else to publicly express our beliefs on our own time, and to be afforded the same access to announcement channels as anyone else."
During the days leading up to the prayer caravan, the superintendent correctly predicted that the event this year, which in the past would have not many more than a couple dozen participants at a school, would grow exponentially as the result of the atheists group threat. The event is meant to focus on praying for the success and welfare of the district's students, their parents, teachers, and staff on the Saturday before school begins.
McDonald, who also began a Facebook page that recently had more than 6,000 "likes" in support of the caravan, said he was inspired to organize the prayer rally on the same day as this year's caravan "mainly in support of God and prayer and to bring his people together in unity."
"I've been to a lot of Christian concerts and events, and I'm not minimizing anything I've been to, but I have never in my life seen anything in my life like what I saw this morning," McDonald told a local news outlet prior to the rally.
Coleman led the gathering at the county's fairgrounds in prayer in which he said that ultimately, the event was about honoring Jesus Christ.
Cullman County resident Andi Frnka summed up the day on her Facebook page.
"What I saw today is what I think God intended all along," Frnka stated. "Today there was no religion. Today you saw one body of Bible believing, Jesus loving, down home all American folks who love their children and their community! As one man said at the rally, as he looked out at the crowd he was 'overwhelmed by the vision of what heaven would look like ... like one body of Christ all denominations cast aside.' God is bigger."