As gas prices soared, he filled up with prayer

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Times Staff Writer

Forget Congress. Forget President Bush. About four months ago, frustrated by the apparently immutable laws of supply and demand, Rocky Twyman turned to a higher authority in his quest for cheaper gasoline.

The recent dip in prices, he says, is proof of divine intervention.

“Prayer is the answer to every problem in life,” said Twyman, founder of the Pray at the Pump movement, whose members huddle around gas pumps and ask the Almighty to lower gasoline prices.

“If the whole country keeps on praying, we can bring down prices even more, to even less than $2,” Twyman said.


On Wednesday, at a Shell station in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood, Twyman and eight others linked hands and sang, changing the words of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” to “We’ll have lower gas prices.” They prayed for prices to come down -- and for comedian Jay Leno, who joked about them in a monologue last month.

According to AAA, which tracks such matters, the average nationwide price for a gallon of gas Wednesday was $3.78 -- down from $4.10 a month ago, but still 25 cents higher than on April 23.

The prayer group’s efforts began that day just a few blocks away, at the soup kitchen of First Seventh-day Adventist Church. When the soup kitchen’s volunteers, many of them senior citizens, began talking about cutting back their time because they couldn’t afford to drive, Twyman said, “God just impressed me to take them over to the pump, and the rest is history.”

Since then Twyman, 59, has crisscrossed the country, praying at pumps from Baltimore to San Francisco and several points in between. His movement has been featured in articles by Agence France-Presse and London’s Sunday Telegraph, and he’s been interviewed by reporters from Ukraine, Colombia and South Africa, to name a few.

On Wednesday, as Twyman’s group sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” Edwin Jones, 50, held $9 in cash -- a five-dollar bill, three ones, three quarters, two dimes and a nickel -- to pay for his gasoline. Jones said he worked about 50 hours a week as a tutor and aquarium maintenance man, driving as much as 95 miles a day, six days a week, and spent about $20 on gas every day.

“I like their idea,” Jones said. “Congress, as usual, is divided. Lord, what else can we do?”


Several drivers in the rundown neighborhood -- where there’s “a church on every corner,” as Twyman put it -- were receptive to the power-of-prayer message, but others remained skeptical.

“I’m not one to criticize anyone’s faith, and I applaud everyone who has strong faith in anything. However, I think this is absurd,” said Mauri Systo, 25, as she pumped $35 worth of gas into her 1995 Dodge Spirit.

Why the prayer for Leno? Twyman, a freelance public relations consultant from nearby Rockville, Md., said the “Tonight Show” host irked him by making a joke that “kind of made us political.”

During his July 29 monologue, Leno said: “Hey, have you heard about this group called Prayer at the Pump? They’re a prayer group that sprang up, and they go to gas stations and they hold hands and they pray for lower gas prices. Otherwise known as the Bush energy plan.”

The quip, Twyman acknowledged, was “somewhat funny.” But, he added, “this isn’t political at all. There are people here for McCain, for Obama, there are people who are Libertarian.”

In these times, he said, faith can’t be put in politicians: “It’s better to trust in God than to trust in princes.”


That goes for Saudi princes in particular. Twyman is circulating a petition asking Saudi Arabia to release an additional 1.2 million barrels of oil a day, an amount he believes would help lower gasoline prices. But his track record with petitions isn’t great: In 2005, he organized a petition drive to nominate Oprah Winfrey for the Nobel Peace Prize. She didn’t make it to Oslo.

At another Shell station a block away, Leroy Taylor, 56, who stopped to fill his tank, said he had never heard of Pray at the Pump, but supported the concept. He has faith, he said, that the Big Guy considers everyone’s prayers.

“Even oil executives’,” Taylor said. “He’s been answering theirs a lot lately.”