When then-State Senator Mike Parson and wife, Teresa, stopped by The Pathway office to introduce themselves during his 2016 campaign to become lieutenant governor, it did not take long to realize that their faith in Christ was important to them. They made it clear that their faith is a priority, freely sharing with me their beliefs. Nothing has changed for them since he has become governor.
Both have been front row attendees to the annual Legislative Prayer Service held at Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City on the first day of each new legislative session. They have hosted uplifting events like the annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. They were featured at last year’s National Day of Prayer service held at the State Capitol.
It has been a privilege to serve the governor as a coordinator of his monthly clergy luncheons which he and the First Lady have hosted from nearly the first day he took office. Held in the main dining room at the governor’s mansion, the governor looks forward to sharing his heart with Missouri pastors, whom he rightly views as leaders in their communities. The luncheons are not political. They are held so clergy can hear whatever is on his mind, giving them an idea of how they can pray for him. He covets their prayers and it is always a special moment when we gather around the governor and First Lady and pray for them.
The Parson family are long-time members of First Baptist Church, Bolivar. The importance of the church to the Parsons was made clear when he was inaugurated governor. His pastor, Billy Russell, preached at the chapel service on inauguration day, and it was attended by his entire Sunday school class. His brother, Kent Parson, pastor, Elkton Baptist Church, north of Bolivar, also preached that day.
I’m reminded of all this during these challenging days. Parson understands the divine nature of his appointment. His love and concern for Missourians is genuine and bountiful.
It came as no surprise when his office called to tell me he wanted to speak with Missouri pastors on a conference call Sunday afternoon (March 22). This is consistent with what this governor believes. He views Missouri pastors with particular importance and made that clear in his appeal for help.
The weight of the moment became clear well into the phone call. At one point he became emotional when asked by a pastor how we might pray for him. Choking-up before quickly gathering himself he answered: for strength and wisdom.
“I’ll take all the prayer I can get right now,” he said. “I know if there was ever a time to keep up our faith, it’s now. Pray for me that I find solutions” during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Everywhere I go, people are telling us they are praying for us. I appreciate it. At the end of the day, this is how we will get through this, through our faith.”
But Parson did not allow the focus to remain on him.
“It is important to me that the churches are involved to make sure we win this battle against the virus,” he said, urging clergy to creatively communicate with their congregations about the importance of adhering to the limit of no more than 10 in a group and to exercise the six-foot range on social distancing if we leave our homes. He challenged youth pastors to communicate the danger associated with the virus to young people.
“I can make all the executive orders in the world, but they do no good if people do not take the responsibility to model the guidance we’re providing.
“We have to figure out how to take care of everybody,” Parson said, expressing gratitude to doctors and medical researchers at the University of Missouri and Washington University who are helping with statewide testing.
“Let’s give people hope,” he said. “Things will get better. Fear is not good for any of us. Concern we should all have. Take care of your people, whether it is a phone call, a meal or a prayer.
“There is so much misinformation, … but people will listen to you,” Parson told the pastors. “I will be transparent as I possibly can,” he added, warning that the pandemic is likely to worsen and social distancing guidelines could remain in place, perhaps into late April or May. He invited pastors to listen and watch his daily, 3 p.m., press conference on his Facebook page.
“We must work together,” Parson said. “If ever there were a time for us to unite in our faith it is now. Government is not going to be able to do everything needed. We need the churches. God bless you all.”