ZEELAND — Gathering in front of Zeeland’s City Hall, National Day of Prayer local organizer Mary Okkema thanked God for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s religious exemption to the stay-at-home orders, which she cited in allowing the group of 35-40 people to come together on Thursday to pray for the country.


“We are excited to be able to host this live event, Zeeland’s first public event during these unusual times of COVID-19,” Okkema said.


The group gathered, the majority wearing masks, to pray publicly for businesses, public safety workers, pastors and the U.S. as a whole as part of the National Day of Prayer, which is observed annually on the first Thursday of May.


Okkema said until a week or two ago she wasn’t sure if the event would be allowed to happen, but she said she consulted Zeeland’s police chief, Tim Jungel, and got the nod to go ahead.


Okkema also said she weighed whether to advertise the event widely or not, worrying about the risk involved in lots of people attending, but ultimately decided that if people felt at risk, they could choose not to come.


She was overjoyed at having community members together again, even if they had to stay six feet apart.


“We haven’t seen each other in so long. This is just like a celebration, I get to see all these people,” Okkema said.


During the event, Zeeland Mayor Pro Tem Sally Gruppen read a proclamation from Mayor Kevin Klynstra recognizing the observance of the National Day of Prayer in Zeeland.


Out of the Box owner Jeff Rietveld, Pastor Jose Duran of Christ Memorial Church and Ottawa County Jail chaplain Todd Krygsheld offered public prayers.


— Contact reporter Carolyn Muyskens at cmuyskens@hollandsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter at @cjmuyskens.