The Cathedral of St. Philip - Atlanta, GA

Why I Bless The Peachtree Road Race In Atlanta

I am resending this article from last year.

This year, however, I urge you to follow this link to a video of the actual blessings on July 4, 2009! Great fun!
Dean Sam Candler Blesses July 4 Runners

Here is why I do what I do on the Fourth of July. A lot of us say "God Bless America," but the Fourth of July Peachtree Road Race actually gives us a chance to do that - to bless America.

On this day, more than 55,000 people run and jog and traipse and walk by our church. I see all sorts and conditions of humanity. I see all shapes and sizes, all ilks and opinions. In fact, I see a true and beautiful representation of America itself. And I bless all these sorts and conditions of humanity. That way, I believe, God is blessing America. God bless America!

Some have asked exactly what values I am blessing. Well, I am blessing perseverance and endurance, and I am blessing training and exercise and good health. I am also blessing fun and frolic. I am blessing the life and liberty that come to us through the celebration of Independence Day.

Here is some history. Ever since the great Peachtree Road Race occurred on a Sunday, in 1999, the Cathedral of St. Philip has been gathering a community at 6:30 am. While others were cursing the interruption and disruption of Sunday services, we decided to welcome the runners and bless them. The result was such a blessing, not only to runners but also to us, that we have done it every Fourth of July since then.

By now, it looks to me like thousands of runners expect that blessing. They swerve over to the right to soak up the water and the good words. They are all shapes and sizes, and they are all sorts and conditions of humanity. It is absolutely amazing what our Cathedral community sees go by on that morning.

Whatever it is, we bless it. Superman and Batman dart by. Brides and grooms romp on. Slow walkers, fleet athletes, entirely obese folks, young people as skinny as a rail. One group marched mischievously with a sign declaring, "Beer = Good, Water = Bad." Well, I certainly disagreed with half of that sentiment, but I blessed them saying, "This water is good! This water is holy!" They laughed.

Folks ask if they can receive the blessing if they are Jewish or Muslim. Of course, we say! Some people say that they have not had a blessing for years. Some cross themselves. Some kneel and kiss my hand. Mayor Shirley Franklin comes by. Congressman John Lewis has stopped for a blessing. One man said he had received a blessing last year, and his wife had had twins. Another person said he had been healed, and this past year was the best of his life. One man said the blessing had been part of his performing CPR on a fallen runner several years ago (I actually remember that one).

One year, a woman showed up, rather sheepishly, and she removed her hat. She confessed, "I just called someone a $%&*!$." I told her she was forgiven. Yes, her blessing had evoked actual repentance on her part. Such is the power of God. Blessing is not just a "feel good" event. Holy blessing can actually produce repentance, when repentance is necessary.

I believe that God wants to bless us, and that God created us for blessing. I know that sometimes the way we bless, and what we bless, upsets folks. But I would always rather err on the side of blessing than on the side of condemnation. As for me and mine, we will speak good words to people; we will bless.

Our world needs God's blessing. And God has empowered each of us to deliver it. Consider, this summer, whom you need to bless. Consider all the folks who are running the race with you. They are right beside you. Maybe you don't agree with everything they say or do. Maybe they don't agree with you. But God has placed us on this grand road of life together. Don't miss the blessing! [2 July 2008]

Sam Candler
6 July 2009

Sam Candler is Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia. Contact him at