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At steps of state Capitol, Perdue prays for rain

    ATLANTA — As a choir’s hymn died down, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue marched to a podium in the shadows of the state Capitol Tuesday to offer a plea to the heavens.
    ‘‘We’ve come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm,’’ Perdue said.
    The state’s appeal to God for rain showers came as Georgia is mired in a historic drought that threatens the region’s water supply. To cope with the conditions, Perdue has ordered water restrictions, launched a legal battle and appealed to President Bush.
    Now he is calling on a higher power.
    ‘‘It’s time to appeal to Him who can and will make a difference,’’ Perdue said to a crowd of about 300.
    It was the start of an hourlong ceremony that transformed the Capitol steps into a religious setting, with three Protestant ministers joining Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in appealing to the heavens for rain.
    Choruses of ‘‘amen’’ and ‘‘that’s right’’ followed short sermons from the preachers. Some in the crowd held their hands aloft and swayed silently as they spoke.
    ‘‘Georgians, we don’t need to wring our hands,’’ said the Rev. Bennie Tate. ‘‘We need to bend our knees.’’
    It was a head-scratching experience for some observers, as state Rep. Melvin Everson noted.
    ‘‘I know we’re on the Capitol steps,’’ he told the crowd. ‘‘And it’s quite all right.’’
    With rivers and reservoirs dropping to dangerously low levels around the Southeast, churches and communities across Georgia have held prayer rallies and vigils begging for rain. Perdue, a Baptist, has several times mentioned the need for prayer, but Tuesday’s event was the first public prayer for rain led by the governor at the statehouse.
    ‘‘This isn’t the first day he’s been on his knees in prayer for rain,’’ Cagle said of Perdue. ‘‘This is not a ceremony. It’s an action of calling the entire state to pray.’’
    The event was billed as an interfaith ceremony, but only Protestant ministers spoke.
    Nearby some 20 demonstrators from the Atlanta Freethought Society protested against holding a prayer vigil at the seat of state government. Police moved them when they cordoned off the streets before the event’s start, and none were in sight at the end of the service, when Perdue led a prayer himself.
    ‘‘We acknowledge our wastefulness,’’ said Perdue, his eyes cast downward. ‘‘We acknowledge that we haven’t done the things we need to do.
    ‘‘Father, forgive us and lead us to honor you as you honor us with the showers of blessing. Thank you, Lord, for the showers that come.’’
    Forecasters said earlier this week there was a slight possibility of rain Tuesday, with some more rain in the forecast Wednesday. After that, little rain was predicted the rest of the week. Still, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of some worshippers.
    ‘‘I believe in miracles,’’ declared Pastor Maurice Watson of Beulahland Bible Church in Macon. ‘‘How about you?’’

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