JEFFERSON CITY — Hundreds of Christians gathered Monday at the Missouri Capitol to pray that God would grant wisdom to public officials dealing with a budget shortfall.
Evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, led the crowd in a call to personal repentance and encouraged them that God would answer their pleas to help the governor and lawmakers solve Missouri's budget crisis.
"If we pray for them, God can impart wisdom to them to show them how to solve this," Lotz told reporters after the prayer service. "I wouldn't ever attempt to tell you how it's going to be solved. ...
"But I know God has the wisdom, I know he can give us ways to get out of this. He is very creative," Lotz said.
Like many states, Missouri faces both immediate and future financial problems. Gov. Jay Nixon already has vetoed or cut more than $850 million from this year's $23.7 billion budget for state operations and capital improvements. Nixon has said an additional $500 million must be trimmed from the $23.9 billion budget he proposed for next year.
Budget forecasters say an even larger shortfall could be looming for the 2012 fiscal year, when federal stimulus money used to plug financial holes runs out.
The prayer service drew more than 500 people to the Capitol, including dozens who peered over railings from the second or third floors of the Rotunda to watch the event below. It was one of the largest gatherings of the year at the Capitol, which hosts nearly daily rallies of people advocating for particular causes.
Unlike most Capitol rallies, the politicians were kept out of the spotlight. There was no mention of Republicans or Democrats, nor of any specific government programs and services for which participants ought to pray.
As part of a 90-minute revival-style service, people held hands in small groups to pray. Then some participants walked through the Capitol, pausing to pray outside office doors that God would grant unity, pure motives, wisdom, patience, humility and solutions for public officials working on the state budget.
Monday's event was intended to kick off 40 days of prayer and fasting, leading up to the May 7 deadline for the Legislature to pass the state budget.
Patrick Crommett, 59, of Moberly, drove about an hour to attend the event and planned to join others in a prayer walk through the Capitol.
"I'd love to see unity in their decisions and prudence in their spending," Crommett said. "I think God will still provide enough to supply the basic needs of the state."
Organizers of the event said lawmakers intentionally kept a low profile during it so as not to make it political. Kerry Messer, of the Missouri Family Network, said several lawmakers had asked him to put together a prayer network concerning Missouri's budget problems. Messer got in touch with the coordinators of the National Day of Prayer, which helped organize the event and invited Lotz as the keynote speaker.
The Missouri Constitution requires a balanced budget, meaning that if lawmakers don't close a shortfall, the governor must do so with midyear spending cuts. Although political stalemates sometimes stall the process, Missouri's budget eventually ends up in balance.