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Viewpoint: Sen. Lankford of OK to keynote DE Prayer Breakfast

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Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

It was an interesting phone call, even unusual, from Pastor Nate early this month.

When you’re a Baptist, and you get a call from the pastor, it fills you up with what I assume my Catholic friends mean when they say “Catholic guilt.”

In the Baptist Church, in fact, you wonder if perhaps you’re being “called out.”

But that wasn’t it at all.

Pastor Nate Keeler of the Brandywine Valley Baptist Church — a rising figure at 37 in Delaware civic life — was researching his next series on work in our culture and our lives. And, perhaps because of my volunteer role in counseling people through work-related issues, he called me as part of his research.

The one-hour call covered issues ranging from the role of work in life and business ethics to work as an expression of God’s will in his gift to us of talent and, one of my favorites, the concept of “tithing your time.”

I wish every day could contain a one-hour call like that one. It also was timely, because next month is the 34th annual Delaware Leadership Foundation Prayer Breakfast, Delaware’s leading prayer breakfast put on — not by clergy — but by Delaware’s civic and business leaders.

It’s 7-9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Chase Center on the Wilmington Riverfront. Tickets are $50, or $500 for a table on 10. Tickets can be purchased online at DelawarePrayerBreakfast.org. Attendance normally approaches 750 people.

While the breakfast is a celebration of what it means to be a Christian in civic and business life, non-Christians are also made to feel welcome. My guests over the nearly 20 years I’ve been involved have included Jewish colleagues as well as people without an active faith, and each always has come away grateful for the opportunity to be there, to be included.

Keynote speaker U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), whose appearance has been arranged by Delaware’s own U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, spent more than 20 years in the ministry before entering congressional politics a decade ago.

Sen. Coons is a graduate of Yale Divinity School although he never has worked in the ministry. To his credit, since his arrival in the Senate in 2010, Sen. Coons has taken a page from his mentor, former VP Joe Biden, about forging consensus in the middle, and he has brought his background in faith, ethics and divinity to the fore to help build those bridges to the Republican side of the aisle.

Both men will be on the dais next month, where speakers in the 33 previous incarnations have included the U.S. Senate Chaplain (twice) and other senators William Armstrong, John Ashcroft and Connie Mack. They are just part of the cast of notables that include “Auntie Anne” Beiler of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, NFL stars Reggie White, Rich Gannon, David Akers and Joe Gibbs, and many more recognizable names,
in business, publishing, medicine and the arts.

The Steering Committee is made up of a cross-section of business and civic leaders, and it’s been stewarded for many years by Beryl Barmore, a retired Wilmington Trust/M&T Bank exec, and Tim Houseal, an attorney with Young Conaway.

I was privileged to join the group at the invitation of Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, who was seeking to replace himself on the steering committee. Skip and I had “shared our faith” on several occasions over the years.

Which brings me back to Pastor Nate. I recalled for Nate in our discussion this month a column I did here some years ago on the topic of “business ethics,” in the context of this annual prayer breakfast. I wrote it, after having sat down with Skip in his last days as chairman of WSFS Bank, where he singularly had led the bank’s survival from near failure a generation ago.

“Business ethics?” Skip questioned me, like a wise professor with a young mentee. “Business ethics? There’s no such thing. Ethics are ethics, in life and in business. The whole idea of ‘business ethics’ — as though they are separate from ethics in general — is just redundant. Ethics are ethics. It’s about what’s right, what’s not right and how we treat people,” he said.

And in Skip’s view, ethics derive from the prescriptive admonitions about how each of us should live that are the bedrock foundations of Christianity — and, frankly, of most faiths! 

Sam Waltz was the founding publisher of the Delaware Business Times.

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