In an ornate meeting room at the Wyoming Capitol that used to be main state Supreme Court chambers, a group of about 10 state lawmakers gather each morning to pray.
Depending on the early morning meeting lineup, the makeup of the group varies day by day, but its purpose always remains the same.
“I really felt like there was a need for this,” said state Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, founder of the legislative prayer group.
It’s a way of starting each day during the 2023 legislative session with a “conversation of unity and not taking offense and forgiveness and all those things to be brought into the Legislature to understand,” he said.
The group doesn’t discriminate based on party, political ideology or religion.
‘It’s About Blessing’
At a time when it often seems political rhetoric could not be more divisive, the prayer group provides a welcome feeling of unity and possibly greater context to the importance of the work they’re in Cheyenne to do.
“What can we agree on?” Haroldson asked. “And maybe at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter how that all looks. In that room there it isn’t about bills, it isn’t about legislation. It’s about wisdom, it’s about unity, it’s about blessing.
“When we get those things, everything else will fall into place.”
Haroldson said people from all walks of life, backgrounds and faiths have showed up for the prayer services in the first three weeks of the session.
‘We Prayed For Them’
Few people get into politics without a passion for what they do, especially in Wyoming, where most legislators are paid less than minimum wage while in session.
Because of the demanding nature of the job and the passion many lawmakers hold, emotions can sometimes run high at the Capitol.
“We’ve had people who vented frustrations in that room, and we prayed for them,” Haroldson said. “We’ve had people who had broken down and cried in that room, and we prayed for them.”
Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest, spoke during a meeting this week of how the problems of the day can feel overwhelming.
“Your power is perfected in our weakness, it is greater than any situation that we might face,” he said. “Thank you for showing your faithfulness every day.”
Faith Is Motivating
At each prayer session, participants are allowed to deliver their own prayer.
On this morning, Rep. Scott Smith, R-Lingle, issued a blessing for Cody Republican Rep. Sandy Newsome, who recently broke her foot in a horse-riding accident and had a close death in her family over the weekend.
“We just know it’s a trying time for her, so Lord, we just ask for her peace and that you would surround her and that you would comfort her during this time,” Smith said.
Haroldson started the morning prayer group upon taking office in early 2021.
Smith has in many ways has been passed the torch on leading the sessions, as he has no morning committee meetings. He’s with the group each morning.
“My faith was what motivated me to even run,” Smith said about becoming a state lawmaker. “The faith component is most of the doing.”
He also asked for guidance in helping the legislators craft the biennium budget.
‘There’s Power In Prayer’
Rep. Allen Slagle, R-Lusk, asked for wisdom and compassion.
“Lord, I ask that you teach each of us to be kind and considerate,” he said.
Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, said the prayer sessions provide guidance for her legislative decisions.
“There’s power in prayer,” she said. “And politics, we can see, is not always the best.”
On this morning, Smith read Psalm 27:7-14, which speaks to the power of God in protecting those facing enemies or adversity.
“Make it clear for me to understand, for I am surrounded by waiting enemies,” Smith read. “Don’t let them defeat me, Lord. You can’t let me fall into their clutches.”
Build Up, Not Tear Down
When it comes to any challenge in life, it usually takes teamwork and sacrifice to reach a goal, Haroldson said.
“We discuss very heavy subjects on that floor,” he said. “But can we get them outside of that and have relationships with these people where they’re more important for you than the topic?
“Because at the end of the day, we will know each other long beyond the topics and can we actually be friends, or are we going to use those topics to destroy who we are?”