BIG CYPRESS — When hands were laid on the shoulders of elected Tribal officials April 7 in the sanctuary of Big Cypress New Testament Baptist Church, a communion of people put trust in an even higher authority.
“We are only human and that is why we need prayer. We have to ask the Lord to guide us,” said President Mitchell Cypress seconds before he was joined at the altar by Hollywood Board Rep. Steve Osceola and Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank.
Nearly 100 members, guests and clergy from Tribal community churches gathered for the latest Intercessory Prayer Gathering event to pray for many needs but especially for tribal leaders. The Rev. Matt Tiger, pastor of First Indian Baptist Church of Brighton, led the service.
“We look to our pastors to lead us spiritually, but some things we need from our elected officials. Let us pray to God for their protection, wisdom and knowledge to go on with their duties,” Pastor Tiger said.
Intercessory prayer is the act of prayer on behalf of others, Pastor Tiger said. Supported throughout the Bible from the first chapter of Genesis through the last chapter of Revelations, the Tribe’s all-church prayer gatherings started in 2008 by Pastor Tiger’s predecessor, the late Pastor Wonder Johns, during President Cypress’ second term as Chairman.
President Cypress said the idea was sparked during an extraordinary time when the Tribe suffered an alarming spike in deaths due to alcohol and drug abuse.
“I called Pastor Wonder and I said our youth are dying. Maybe all of our ministers can get together and have a prayer meeting. He organized it to include everyone,” Cypress said.
Grassroots events were held quarterly throughout the years at different hostchurches until Pastor Johns passed in 2012. Prayer services have been offered intermittently for the faithful to gather under one roof and pray.
The recent gathering, hosted by Big Cypress New Testament Baptist Church Pastor Arlen Payne, welcomed congregants from First Seminole Baptist Church (Pastor Paul Buster) and Chickee Baptist Church in Hollywood, Big Cypress First Baptist Church (Pastor Salaw Hummingbird), Bible Baptist Church (Pastor Clay Jones), All Families Baptist Church (Pastor Bill Blomberg) and Immokalee First Seminole Baptist Church (Pastor Josh Leadingfox).
Prayers and scripture readings were interspersed throughout the two-hour event that began in the church hall with catered and pot luck dinner.
In the sanctuary, Jonah Cypress led rousing Christian spirituals that included “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” and “Victory in Jesus.” Pastor Tiger sung the lead in several traditional Creek hymns.
The evening’s sermon, provided by the newly certified Rev. Fred Phillips from the Big Cypress First Baptist Church, was directed toward inspiring daily prayer for leaders in government, the military, public safety and churches so that they can serve in good health and spirit.
Before the crowd dispersed, congregants formed a human chain around President Cypress, Rep. Osceola and Rep. Frank. Laying hands on the officials, they prayed aloud for their well-being.
Rep. Osceola said he was “humbled” by the experience.
“Prayer really does help us. I can feel it,” Rep Osceola said. “It’s a hard job we do; something I never thought would be so hard. When people say ‘we are praying for you’ it means a lot to us.”
“It’s amazing how God makes things happen,” Pastor Tiger said.