Residents of all ages and different walks of life gathered in downtown Aiken, held hands – whether they knew the person beside them or not and, together, united through prayer on Thursday afternoon.

Those residents participated in one of two local National Day of Prayer events held on Thursday. Several dozen people came together in front of the City of Aiken Administration and Finance Building on the corner of Laurens Street and Hayne Avenue for an hour to participate in the annual observance.

Another service was held later that evening at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center.

“It's a time when people from all across the country get together and pray,” said Roger Rollins, who is on the committee that organized these local events. “We're experiencing challenging times in our country. God's the one who's going to make a difference in our nation.”

Some prayed silently, and others took turns to say a prayer aloud. For a moment, the group prayed in unison.

Some participants had tears rolling down their faces as certain prayers personally touched them. Warm smiles from the group greeted pedestrians stopping by to join in for a moment.

The group prayed for many things including the protection of the military, police, teachers, government leaders and many more. They prayed for peace, spiritual guidance and the continued protection of what they were practicing at that moment – the freedom of religion.

Bill Granade said he attended the event because it was an opportunity to focus on “keeping God in the center.”

“(There's) concern for our country and concern about the direction it has taken,” Granade said.

Charleen Parrish agreed, saying that prayer can help restore the glory that this country has experienced before.

“It's realizing that prayer and calling the name of the Lord is the only hope of revival in this land,” Parrish said.

The hour of prayer concluded with the group singing Irving Berlin's “God Bless America.”

According to the National Day of Prayer website, this is an observance held on the first Thursday of May every year since 1952 after a joint resolution by the U.S. Congress was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. The website reads that the day is for all faiths to come together and pray for the nation.

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• Amy Banton is the city beat reporter and has been with the Aiken Standard since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph Macon Woman's College.