A poignant scene at the memorial service for the late Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery – two powerful men crying throughout the service. One was former President George H. W. Bush. The second was Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton.
I recalled this moment when Congressman Gene Taylor promised he would vote for Skelton, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, for Speaker instead of Nancy Pelosi. Ironically, Skelton was swept out of office by the same anti-big government wave that toppled Taylor.
Republican Bush and Democrat Skelton participated in one of Sonny’s signal accomplishments – the Congressional Prayer Breakfast.
“An island of fellowship in a congressional sea increasingly vexed by partisan rancor and bitterness,” is how former Republican Congressman and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren described the weekly bi-partisan gatherings.
“An oasis for the spirit,” said former Republican Congressman Ed Pease.
Tennessee Congressman Zack Wamp, a Republican, described in 2001 how important relationships could form at these gatherings:
“Each Thursday morning in the House of Representatives, I have the privilege of presiding over the weekly bipartisan Prayer Breakfast Group in the House….It is a time where we come together in respect and love and full appreciation of each other….Relationships are forged for life. I think of one relationship that was forged about 35 years ago in the House. A young congressman from Texas, named George Herbert Walker Bush, a Republican, came to be friends with a young congressman from the state of Mississippi, General Sonny Montgomery. To this very day, they are best of friends, and it all started with that weekly commitment to meet in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
“Sonny nurtured the prayer breakfast like the master gardener his garden,” explained Geren, speaking at Sonny’s memorial service. “It was his ministry to his colleagues in the House.”
Because of his persevering leadership and ministry, members of the House gave Sonny a rare honor in May 2000. They named a room in the U.S. Capitol for him.
“We do not name rooms in this august building lightly or frequently,” said Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, a Democrat also defeated this year. Skelton, who joined with Sonny so many times in support of Veterans, was another friend, patriot, and prayer breakfast member who spoke up for Sonny.
Things change. The breakfast no longer occurs in Sonny’s room. CQ Roll Call reported partisanship has infected the gatherings. Still, many members come to seek that “island of fellowship.” Mississippi Congressman Gregg Harper is one who attends.
Given the nation’s economic and fiscal plights, we should pray for more ministries like Sonny’s that build relationships and foster bi-partisan solutions to our problems.
That’s my prayer for the New Year.