Praying with Bush on 9/11

Booker Elementary School teacher Celestine Campbell prayed with President George W. Bush just moments after he told the world two planes had flown into the World Trade Center.

Former President George W. Bush is a person of faith. So is Booker Elementary School teacher Celestine Campbell. The two had never met, but 10 years ago on 9/11 the two shared a moment of prayer in one of our nation’s darkest hours.

Bush had just finished telling the world that the nation was under attack from the media center at . As he turned and walked away from the podium, he quickly headed toward the exit. Campbell was standing at the edge of a group of teachers near the front of the stage.

When Bush was passing by Campbell she stuck out her hand, initially to shake his, but her “gift” took over.

“He shook my hand and I said to him, ‘Mr. President may I pray for you?’” Campbell said. “He said yes and gave me the opportunity to pray with him.”

For just a view seconds the two prayed. 

After the brief prayer, Campbell said Bush shook two or three more hands and looked back at her directly in the eye, gave her a hug and said thank you. “The purpose [to pray] was to give him strength in the moment that our nation was facing such a tragic time,” she said. “A lot was going to be riding on his decisions.”

Campbell said she was the last person to hold his hand, the last person he spoke to before he boarded Air Force One.

In the moment after Bush’s speech, her instincts took over when she asked the president for a moment of prayer because she is not only a teacher, but also an ordained elder in Sarasota.

“That was a natural response for me to ask ‘let me pray with you,’ being an elder and a preacher,” she said. “That came naturally for me in the midst of a situation where we had so much death, so many people that were hurt and hurting … Of course I went into my other gift that I have.”

Just like teaching, ministry is a gift, she said

“I went into my other gift at that moment. I took that opportunity to pray for him and with him in hopes that it would lift the burden that was on him at that moment,” Campbell said.

In the 10 years that have past since 9/11, Campbell reflects on that moment often, but not in self-praise or wonder. She knew that she had to do it.

“I offered to him my gift of prayer; to take him to the Lord in prayer at that moment,” she said. “When you have something so precious within you, you have to be willing to give it at no cost and no recognition.”


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