Words by Stephen W. B. Rizzo | Images by Al Blanton
Each morning for a few minutes just before opening for business, the first floor of Bank of Walker County in Jasper, Alabama, transforms into a prayer chapel.
“The downstairs girls,” as Branch Manager Sheryl Brunner calls them, gather for a devotional and prayer, beginning with a scripture reading led by Stephanie Martin.
On this particular Friday morning, six women, wearing colorful shirts emblazoned with BOWC in large white lettering, listen attentively as Stephanie reads the devotion for the day.
One of the passages is John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”
Several comment on the appropriateness of the Scripture reading, and Sheryl later explains that Fridays are particularly hectic at the bank. After the reading, Stephanie asks for prayer requests.
In fact, praying for others is how this all began.
Seven years ago, Sheryl and her longtime friend and coworker, Rita Burns, began Bible study and prayer together. “In the mornings, I did a Bible study online,” Sheryl explains. “One day we were talking about praying for somebody and said, ‘let’s just pray for them now.’”
“Enough of us wanted to get together in the mornings, so we tried to keep it going,” Rita adds. “It’s just a great way to start your day. When you pray, you might go into prayer angry or upset but come out of it with a different perspective.”
“We just feel like it brings us closer. We have a better day,” Sheryl says. “There are days that we miss, get caught up in everything, and we can really tell the difference.”
“We’re not just coworkers; we’re family,” says Stephanie. “And when you pray for someone, you learn to love.”
On this particular morning, there were prayer requests for personal concerns, and for sick customers. One request was for a missing person. Another was for the Walker County Sheriff’s Department and their efforts in the county. Praise reports for answered prayers were also shared before Stephanie led the women in a final prayer.
After the last ‘Amen,’ Rita added the traditional benediction of the Downstairs Girls: “This is the day that the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!”
In the Old Testament, Elijah prayed and fire rained down from heaven. Elisha prayed and the dead were raised. Moses prayed and the waters of the Red Sea parted. In the New Testament, Peter was delivered from imprisonment while his friends were praying. In fact, church history repeatedly records that the great revival movements of the past began with prayer meetings just like these.
“We’re supposed to bear each other’s burdens,” adds Loretta Diffy. “We are supposed to pray for one another. If I’m going through a really hard time, and I ask you to pray for me, I know that you are going to touch the throne of grace for me. You are going to stand and believe with me.”
Though all of these ladies will admit the transforming effect this time together has had on them both individually and collectively, perhaps the entire county will reap the benefits of the prayers lifted up by them each morning. 78