It was still early in the morning when crowds gather at Grayson County Court House Thursday. With people sitting on long wooden benches and bowing their heads in prayer, it was more like a scene from a house of worship than a court of law.

(Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.) 

It was still early in the morning when crowds gather at the Grayson County Courthouse Thursday. With people sitting on long wooden benches and bowing their heads in prayer, it was more like a scene from a house of worship than a court of law.

The event was one of many that took place on Thursday as the U.S. recognized National Day of Prayer — an annual day when people of all faiths can come together in united prayer. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill creating a National Day of Prayer, and the event has taken place on the first Thursday of May since 1988.

County Commissioner Phyllis James was the organizer for the local event for county staff in the courthouse’s east courtroom. James said she has organized the event at the courthouse since she took office five years ago. For this year’s event, about 40 officials — ranging from judges to attorneys and other public servants — took part.

In her opening to the event, James read from a proclamation made by President Abraham Lincoln on the need for prayer and unity as a nation. In 2017, James said, the nation has turned away from its religious traditions and convictions.

“I think that everyone should start every day with prayer to the Lord,” James said, following the 7:30 a.m. ceremony. “Our nation is a divided nation. There is no doubt. You can look on Facebook today and see that.”

James said she was pleased with the turnout, noting that she has seen both higher and lower attendance for the event. James referred to Matthew 18:20, which reads, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The event featured readings from scripture and music and prayers lead by leaders and county officials. Among those who spoke Thursday morning was Assistant District Attorney Britton Brooks, who prayed for law enforcement officers and for the strength to “stay tall against evil” while working in the courtroom.

“When their shift comes to an end then let them come home safe just as you allow us to,” Brooks said in prayer, referring to law enforcement and first responders.

Waterloo Lake Regional Park in Denison, roughly 70 people gathered around noon for another National Day of Prayer event. Those in attendance sat at the park’s picnic tables and bowed their heads in prayer before sharing lunch together and listening to scripture readings and a choral performance. The prayer meeting was sponsored by the Denison Ministerial Alliance and brought together the leaders of seven area churches.

Event organizer and attorney Thomas Redwine said he hoped this year’s National Day of Prayer would unite both the community and the country as a whole.

“Prayer is a common bond for the whole community,” Redwine said. “And we need to be praying for America, for our president, our leaders and for our Congress. That will give us unity and allow us to to make forward progress as a nation.”

But Patricia Hunt said progress through prayer doesn’t necessarily happen right away. Known to members of her congregation as the “First Lady” of Greater Coffee Memorial Church, Hunt said prayers aren’t always answered immediately and there is a good reason for that.

“Sometimes God wants you to stay in a certain place, so that you can grow,” Hunt said. “He may not answer your prayer instantly, but he will answer your prayer if you just keep believing. It’s your faith that will get your prayers answered and lead you to a place of peace.”

And while many of Thursday’s prayers referenced Christian figures, Hunt said followers of all faiths were welcome and would be considered brothers and sisters.

“You don’t have to be a Christian to come and pray,” Hunt said. “Just come join us. The fellowship means a lot.”