Representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the annual White House National Day of Prayer service in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 7, Debbie Marriott Harrison said she felt honored to be a part of the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“With the pandemic going on, this was a special day because we’re all turning to a higher power, to the Lord, for divine help to get rid of this sickness and pandemic that is shutting down the world,” she said. “I think many more people were paying attention because we are all turning our hearts and our voices to the Lord. It doesn’t matter what faith you are.”
Harrison, a member of the Church’s Public Affairs Advisory Council in Washington, D.C., and global cultural ambassador at Marriott International, was one of the seven faith representatives invited to say a prayer during the traditional 68-year-old event in the Rose Garden. But this year’s ceremony looked a bit different than previous years.
Social-distancing precautions, due to concerns over the coronavirus, limited the number of attendees and participants at this year’s prayer service, and heartfelt pleas for relief from the pandemic filled most of the prayers shared.
During the ceremony, President Donald J. Trump thanked the “many faith leaders who are helping to care for our neighbors in their hour of need” and for the work they are doing to provide food, medical supplies and spiritual strength during this unprecedented time. He was joined by first lady Melania Trump, who gave an introductory prayer, and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, who also offered a prayer.
During her prayer at the event, Harrison expressed gratitude for a country in which all individuals have the right to exercise their religious beliefs. She then turned her focus to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are united in prayer today, to ask a special blessing of deliverance, deliverance from this pandemic that has covered the earth in a devastating sickness,” said. “We love Thee, Heavenly Father, and call down the powers of Heaven to help us, unite us and deliver us from these troubled times.”
Harrison also asked for blessings to be poured out on the medical workers, scientists and government leaders as they work to address the problems of the pandemic.
Joining Harrison in representing their faiths and offering prayers were Pastor Brittany Akinsola, a nurse at Samaritan’s Purse; Sister Eneyda Martinez from Poor Sisters of St. Joseph; Pujari Harish Brahmbhatt from BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey; Bishop Dwight Green, a member of the Board of Bishops of the Church of God in Christ; U.S. Army Chaplain Ibraheem A. Raheem from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; and Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, executive director of the Agudath Israel of Maryland — Mid-Atlantic Region.
“With the other great faiths represented, I felt our hearts were knit together in unity,” Harrison said following the event. “It was powerful to be with these other leaders, and we are happy to continue to partner with them in doing good in our communities.”
Prior to the event, the participants were all subjected to rapid COVID-19 testing and had the opportunity to mingle — at a distance — with one another for several hours, Harrison said. During that time, she said she was amazed to learn of the wonderful things many of the other participants and their faith communities have been doing to help alleviate suffering caused by the pandemic.
Harrison said she particularly connected with Pastor Akinsola who has been working continuously in New York with the Samaritan’s Purse organization.
“We had a real emotional connection,” Harrison said. “It was so touching to me because she had so much faith and she’s so articulate and she has sacrificed so much.”
Another person who stood out to Harrison was Mario Salerno, a landlord whom President Trump honored for waiving rent for his 200 tenants.
“I think it is really great that there are people out there who have sacrificed their incomes, especially during this time, to help others,” Harrison said. “For him to forgive his renters’ rent for a few months was really something because landlords have to live, too. They have to pay their bills and their mortgages, so I thought that was very unselfish.”
Although Harrison said she was very nervous to participate in the day of prayer when she received the invitation from Elder Ronald A. Rasband on behalf of the First Presidency, she said she was truly honored to do so.
Harrison explained that for her, the whole process was a faith-building experience. On Tuesday morning, prior to the event, Harrison said she woke with very clear thoughts and impressions of what she should say and immediately went to write them down.
“I really felt the Spirit present when I was writing, and in our Church, we really don’t write our prayers down,” she said. “But I knew that the White House needed a copy for their archives, and I wanted to get my thoughts clear anyway, but I really felt that the Lord guided me to say what I needed to say.”
She looked at her prayer not only as an opportunity to call on God during this time of trouble but also as an opportunity to teach those of other faiths a bit more about the Church.
“I really didn’t want to leave any doubt in anybody’s mind that we are Christians and that we worship our Savior,” she said. “It was such a great privilege to represent the Church.”