The keys on the piano in the elegant lobby move on their own, and their tranquil sound wafts over the airy dining area where something is about to end.
It is a sad day for the 11 men who have gathered for the Last Breakfast.
This is the final meeting of the Men’s Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast, which started in November 1963 at First & Calvary Presbyterian Church.
Ecumenical means all Christians, regardless of denomination.
“It has been one of the great blessings of my life to come to this group,” says Troy Compton, 92.
“It is both a sad day and a happy day — being together, great memories and terrific times.”
The first and last meeting at the Preston
Compton uses a cane and lives here at the The Preston Senior Living facility at 3810 S. Weller Ave. In fact, Compton was resident No. 1.
It opened in September and every aspect exudes a freshness like that of spring.
Compton invited the prayer group to his home for its final meeting. It is the first time and the last time they will meet here.
In its heyday in the 1970s, the prayer group met at about 7 a.m. every Wednesday.
Over 100 men from various Christian denominations attended. They met at the church, which has a kitchen. The program included a devotional speaker. Sometimes it was one of the regular members; other times it was an outside, invited speaker.
Over the years, attendance always soared near elections, Les Mace says. That’s when the politicians showed up like swallows returning to Capistrano to pray and press the flesh.
The event at one time was so big that teams of 10 men took turns preparing the breakfasts. They arrived at 5 a.m., breakfast was at 7 a.m., and everybody was at work by 8 a.m.
They have prayed for each other many times
“It kind of focuses my life a little more,” says Jim Wilson, 87.
I ask what the breakfast has meant to him and suddenly he can no longer go on with our conversation.
There’s been a recent tragedy in his life; his daughter has died. Years ago, his son died. He tells me that, yes, it’s OK to mention this in what I write.
Later, the men pray for him.
They have prayed for each other many times over the years. They know the losses that come with age. They know each other’s valleys. Through it all, they remain steadfast in their belief that prayers matter.
Barry Rothrock, 85, first attended in 2007 or maybe 2008.
“It’s the camaraderie of the men, the fellowship,” he says. “It’s another chance — other than a Sunday — to thank the Lord for everything that you have.”
COVID interruption didn’t help
Prior to COVID, about 30 men attended the church breakfast every Wednesday. Then the church shut down during the pandemic, and when breakfast prayer meetings resumed, it was at Jimmy’s Egg and there were about 15 men in attendance.
Mace, 87, has been looking for someone to replace him as leader. There were no takers.
After 60 years, dissolution came officially at 9:16 a.m. Monday, March 6, on a unanimous voice vote.
“I will miss it tremendously,” says William Forman, 86.
He suggests a more informal gathering where men can gather to talk about their favorite passages from the Bible and why they find them meaningful.
The general consensus seems to be — maybe.
The ranks have not been replenished
The Rev. Curtis A. March created the ecumenical men’s prayer breakfast. He was the associate pastor of evangelism and pastoral care First & Calvary.
The men at the Last Breakfast describe him as a kind soul with an uncanny ability to remember your name and the details of your life. He retired from the ministry in 1989 and died in 2009 at 81.
The breakfast is no more because the ranks have not been replenished.
You can pick a theory as to why that is.
For Norvert Laengrich, 85, it’s that men in their 40s are no longer joiners.
“Kiwanis, Rotary — they are all having trouble. You try to get the next generation involved, but they don’t join,” he tells me.
I ask if anyone considered adding women.
No, says David Eslick, 82. “But we have had women speakers.”
Dave Yancey, 75, says it is the right time to give up the ghost.
“It is sad, but I think it has gotten to the point,” he says. “We came to the right decision.”
Adds Wilson: “We are all getting old, and we are fading away.”
This is Pokin Around Column No. 101.