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60 years of bowed heads, lifted voices
Gainesville Prayer Band marks anniversary at Antioch Baptist Church
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Yvonne Dorsey welcomes the congregation Saturday at Antioch Baptist Church to the Gainesville Prayer Band's 60th anniversary program.

Antioch Baptist Church in Gainesville may have only been half occupied Saturday afternoon, but when voices were raised in prayer and worship, the place was nearly bursting at the seams with life.

Fittingly, attendees were gathered for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Gainesville Prayer Band, a local prayer group.

"The prayer band was organized in 1950 by Blanche Alexander. At that time, the group met in different homes on Saturday nights," said Peggy Johnson, the group's secretary.

"As the group grew, they began visiting different churches for their meetings on the first Sunday of every month."

Now, the group rotates between 12 different Gainesville churches, including Central Baptist Church, St. Michael's Catholic Church and Grace Episcopal Church.

Although Alexander passed away in 1983 - a candle was lit during the ceremony in her honor - her hand-picked successor, Ruby Brawner, has been leading the group for the last 27 years.

As was Brawner's vision, the prayer band's church memberships have grown to include both black and white places of worship.

"I believe that Gainesville is better off because once a month the prayer band prays for us," said the Rev. Bill Coates, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Each month, group members rise before the sun to fellowship for an hour.

"What is so unique about (the prayer band) is that while others are sleeping, they are meeting at these churches at 6 in the morning to pray," said the Rev. Sean Gray of Bethel Church of the Nazarene.

In honor of its 60th anniversary, the group opted to move its usual early morning meeting to a midafternoon celebration at Antioch. As with its regular meetings, Saturday's celebrations included singing, prayer and testimonials.

"You are in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, doing the right thing,'" Gray said.

"Prayer not only changes things, it has changed some of us."

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