CHARLESTON, W.V. -- Just days after the anniversary of civil rights icon John Lewis’ death, faith leaders from across West Virginia held Sweet Hours of Prayer events in defense of American democracy and in support of the For the People Act. The West Virginia conference of the United Methodist Women spearheaded the organizing drive. 

In Charleston, leaders of several local churches began the day with a discussion in the labyrinth at St. Mark's United Methodist Church. Speakers included Rev. Matthew Watts of Grace Bible Church, Rev. Carl “Bo” Terrell of Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church, and Rev. Darick Biondi, a Charleston-based United Methodist pastor. Area residents then held vigil throughout the day in continuous silent prayer for the future of American democracy, before coming together for a joint worship service that evening. 

Sister vigils were held the same day in Beckley, Lewisburg, Gary, and Logan, where faith leaders were joined by local and state elected officials, democracy reform organizations, and other concerned citizens. An additional event is planned for August 15th in Bluefield. 

Faith leaders highlighted the threats to American democracy and called on the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act. Participants support the proposed legislation to protect the sacred right to vote, hold politicians to the highest ethical standards, end partisan gerrymandering, and control the influence of money in politics. The bill is stalled in the Senate after a filibuster prevented debate late last month, but is expected to come up for consideration again in the coming weeks. 

“They say church is the most segregated hour of the week,” said Loretta Young, a lay leader with the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Women. “But here we are, white church leaders, Black church leaders, Protestants and Catholics, all coming together because attacks on voting rights affect our communities so severely. We’re coming together, as we’ve done in times of crisis before, to say ‘Our people matter.’ That’s why we need the For the People Act.”

“Throughout the Hebrew Bible and especially in the Gospels, God clearly listens to the voice of the oppressed, the overlooked, and the forgotten,” said Rev. Darick Biondi, a Charleston-based pastor in the United Methodist Church. “But over the past several months, states around this country have passed laws that make it even more difficult for the oppressed, the overlooked, and the forgotten to vote. We as people of faith are called to protect and empower these individuals, and the For the People Act would go a long way to ensure their rights. Today, we’re calling on the U.S. Senate to pass this pivotal bill.” 

The events were nonpartisan and inclusive, reflecting the overwhelming bipartisan support of the For the People Act in West Virginia and across the country. In a RepresentUs poll, 71 percent of West Virginians supported the For the People Act, including 66 percent of Trump voters.