WEST FRANKFORT — Over the past 10 to 12 weeks, a group of people have traveled into Marion from throughout Illinois, meeting in rented space at 1301 Enterprise Way for prayer and worship to God.
Just as it has for a great number of people in Southern Illinois, Monday's total solar eclipse has been heavy on their minds and hearts. In fact, it's what they've been praying about.
They have been praying for the hundreds and thousands of people expected to come into Southern Illinois for the eclipse weekend festivities and actual viewing experience, and plan to continue doing that throughout the eclipse weekend celebrations.
Their gathering-meeting is billed as "Thunder In the Heartland," "a Christian response to the eclipse," organized by the Southern Illinois Intercessors, which includes four different Christian groups. Registration is free, but required; there is a cost for the meals.
"We’re praying for peace, we’re praying for grace, we’re praying for the civil servants, we’re praying for God to touch His people … in response to half a million coming into a little area," said the Rev. Cheryl Weaver, of There's More Ministries, and the appointed spokeswoman for the event.
Their charge is to pray for and worship in Southern Illinois, Weaver said, after some in the groups heard apostolic and prophetic teachers Chuck Pierce and Dutch Sheets speak in Springfield on June 30. Both men have written extensively about prophecy and Pierce heads Glory Spheres Inc. and Glory of Zion International Ministries, while Sheets is author of the best-selling book "Intercessory Prayer."
Thunder In The Heartland started Friday evening and runs through Monday, the day of the eclipse, at Southern Illinois Church of God Campground in West Frankfort. The call to worship times are set for 7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Monday. Housing is available, but on a first-come, first-served basis at the site.
Those attending are asked to bring their tools of worship — drums, guitars, flutes, worship flags and the like for the four days.
The worshipers are not planning to move out into the areas where eclipse-themed events and viewing parties have been planned, but to stay at the campground. During the time that the eclipse is actually expected to be visible, participants plans to use those minutes to partake of communion, a symbolic representation of the Lord's blood and broken body, she said.
In addition to Weaver and Prophetess Brenda Evans of There's More Ministries, the Southern Illinois Intercessors are led by Ministers Rita Carlton and Jeff and Tina McCluskie.
Not anti-eclipse at all
Weaver explains that the group is not anti-eclipse, nor does it see Monday's predicted event as some sort of negative message from God — in fact, quite the opposite.
"The eclipse is one of the signs and wonders that scripture talks about …," Weaver said. "The Lord shows his signs and wonders through the heavens. …The eclipse is a sign of the times that God is still on the throne and that He wants people to acknowledge that he is still on the throne."
“It's just prophetic worship and there will be bands playing and everyone is going to be worshiping and praying.”
Moving on prophecy
In promotional material, organizers quote Pierce as saying in June: "If Illinois will come together and worship quarterly over the next year, God will come and uproot the stronghold over this state."
Weaver said the stronghold represents the physical, health, spiritual and other challenges.
She noted that the men spoke in Springfield, a few days before the State Legislature finally moved to adopt a state budget, just as the state was entering into its third year without an official spending plan.
“The spiritual climate of its people determines the stewardship of where the region is at, the condition … ,” Weaver said.
"We’d love to see all the statistics change … in Southern Illinois and work our way up the state," she said. "We want to see lives changed and people transformed.
"I want to see society change for the glory of God. We want to see the light of Christ come into a region where that changes crime statistics and changes health statistics and that lowers suicide rates and reduces abortion …"
She said the organizers are committing to holding three other worship events — at places and times to be determined — across the state.
This faith community is looking to attract more worshipers; for more information, call 314-433-5755.