MIDWAY -- They start arriving by the dawn’s early light.
At 7:30 a.m., the dirt parking lot is filled with trucks from Rhine, SUVs from Milan and sedans from down the road in Workmore.
On the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, folks drive over from McRae. They drink coffee and pray for the sick at Midway United Methodist Church’s prayer breakfast.
They jump out of bed before the rooster, travel across Turnpike Creek, past fields and barbed-wire fences to bless and be blessed.
This was Jack Lowery’s vision when he was stirred from his sleep on a cold February night in 1995 and had a heart-to-heart talk with God.
“He told me to start a men’s prayer breakfast,” said Lowery, an 83-year-old retired chicken farmer. “And I said, ‘Lord, I can’t get up and talk in front of people. There are plenty of people in church who can do that.’ But he laid it on my heart to do this. I told him I would get it started and do the best I could. And, when I said that, it was like a light went on inside me. I was eager to go.”
In the beginning, he wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, there were fewer than two dozen members in the congregation, which meets Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m.
But he had faith -- and a list of telephone numbers to call and invite folks. If nobody shows up, he told himself, he would eat breakfast, pray and sing anyway.
Midway has been an important part of Lowery’s life. He grew up in the church and lives less than a mile down Ga. 132, about halfway between McRae and Milan. He has been a member since he was a boy. His grandfather, Andrew Lowery, built a brush arbor church on the property in 1893.
A group of eight men attended that first prayer breakfast on February 18, 1995. They met in a cinder-block room, about the size of a walk-in closet.
But they kept coming back, and others started following them through the door. By the end of the first year, attendance had tripled. “We were stepping all over each other,” Lowery said.
The men of the church knocked out walls to add on to the fellowship hall. By the second year, they began to include women and children from every denomination. When the space was expanded for a third time, it was larger than the church sanctuary.
Today, about 120 folks representing dozens of local churches will gather for the 20th anniversary of the Midway Prayer Breakfast. Every folding metal chair will be filled, and it will be standing room only on the wall by the kitchen.
“I never dreamed it would still be going 20 years later,” said Lowery. “But I will be just as excited as the first one. I am hoping and praying people will come and receive a blessing.”
There is always a short devotion. And the hymn “I Want To Be There at the Roll Call” has been sung at every breakfast since the beginning. Sheet music is passed around, but almost everybody already knows it by heart.
Lowery has invited 94-year-old Ruby White to play the piano for “roll call” during this morning’s anniversary, as she has done so many times in the past.
“If she doesn’t have a way to get here, I told her to just start walking down the road and somebody will stop and pick her up,” he said. There will be intercessory prayers, most of them unscripted and unrehearsed. Folks will pray for those who are ill, lonely and grieving. Prayers will be lifted for teachers, soldiers, missionaries and elected officials. The food will be blessed. Traveling mercies will be asked.
Two weeks ago, the breakfast group prayed for the family of Bud and June Runion, the Marietta couple who were slain in Telfair County last month. There were also prayers for the family of Jay Towns, who has been charged in the killings.
Lowery remembered the time a farmer stood up and prayed for rain during a drought. That prompted another man to issue a dueling request. “Please God,” he prayed. “Hold off on the rain until I can get my hay bailed.”
The breakfast menu never varies. The regulars wouldn’t have it any other way -- scrambled eggs, grits, bacon, sausage and biscuits with red-eye gravy. Although there is no charge for the meal, donations are welcomed in the basket at the end of the serving line. Lowery usually arrives to open up at 4:30 a.m. but he has been known to get there as early as 3 a.m. to start the coffee pot.
In 1999, the prayer breakfast was changed from every Saturday to twice a month -- on the second and fourth weekends. But it wasn’t because of lack of attendance. It just seemed to suit everybody’s schedule better, especially for those who had plans on the weekends.
It also made things easier on Lowery. “By the time I got through cleaning up and bought groceries it was Saturday again,” he said, laughing.
Lowery knows he will one day have to pass the fork to someone younger who can keep the fires burning. In the meantime, he is ready to serve as long as he is able.
“Feed them, love them and leave the rest up to the Lord,” he said.
Contact writer Ed Grisamore at 744-4275.