One year since public prayer begins in Scott County, leaders see differences

5:43 PM, May 14, 2012   |    comments
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Scott County has had some troubles in recent years.

"People are losing their jobs every day--they lose their homes, they lose their vehicles," Donna Harness said, thinking about the county's constant high unemployment. Her nephew has been looking for work for months.

P.L. Gibson thought of something else: "The biggest change we've seen is methamphetamine (use)."

Both issues have been under the radar of Scott County leaders for a while, but they have not been able to find a way to nip them.

County trustee Jimmy Byrd says officials had an idea last year.

"The only help that we could get is through God," Byrd said.

From the trustee's office to the sheriff's department, officials organized public prayer in April 2011 at Courthouse Square in Huntsville.

"300-400 people were here in the first prayer and made known of our needs -- one to another -- and took it to God," Byrd added.

For the next 12 months, people would meet at the same spot and pray.

"We are people of a common belief," Sheriff Mike Cross said.

Differences then and now?

Sheriff Mike Cross said the numbers don't lie; the number of drug-related arrests have gone up year-to-year since the prayer started.

"Before the prayers, leading up to April we had taken down 13 meth labs and arrested 26 people," the sheriff added. "After the prayers, leading up to this April, we had taken down 30 meth labs and there have been 69 people arrested."

Economically speaking, there has also been a year-to-year difference. Byrd said prayer is the catalyst for a change in fortunes in the county with one out of five people searching a job.

In April 2011, Scott County had a 22.1% unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In March 2012, unemployment had gone down to 17.1%.

"Tennier Industries got a $98 million contract (recently)," Byrd said. "Takahata Industries has expanded in the last six months and another industry has expanded and hired another 50-75 people."

Leaders say the changes are due to public prayer, but there is still talk of the separation between church and state.

"There has been criticism on the internet, different vocations," Sheriff Cross said. "What would I say to people who say they don't believe in this is... I wouldn't say nothing to them -- this is not their belief; this is our belief."

Belief that's now more deeply woven into the fabric of this community.

"I think it's the most wonderful thing that's ever happened," Donna Harness smiled.

Since Scott County started, other East Tennessee counties have also started their own version of public prayer, including Fentress, Campbell and Cocke counties.

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