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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson, left, first lady Teresa Parson and St. Louis City Sheriff Vernon Betts bow their heads Thursday during the invocation by Pastor Billy Russell of the First Baptist Church of Bolivar at the annual Governor's Prayer Breakfast at Capitol Plaza Hotel. Betts was the featured speaker. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The dining room was packed for the 2019 Governor's Prayer Breakfast — the first to be hosted by Mike Parson.

And the federal government's partial shutdown kept the advertised keynote speaker — Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who now heads the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — from making the trip.

But there was only one, vague reference to that situation during Thursday morning's Prayer Breakfast — and no mention of Carson by name.

"I wish a lot of the federal government was here this morning," Parson said, calling attention to the large, red banner over the central stage, with the prayer breakfast's theme, "God Is In Control," in big white letters across the top.

"They could look at that banner behind me," the governor continued, "because, regardless of what they're doing, they are not in control."

Both Parson and St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts, the last-minute keynote speaker in Carson's place, focused on that theme of keeping God at the forefront of our lives.

"I am honored to be a participant in the 2019 prayer breakfast," Betts said, reminding the nearly 800 people in the audience that the breakfast "is an interfaith event for all leaders and citizens of our state, with the purpose to seek God's guidance for our political leaders as they begin their legislative session."

Betts, a Democrat, graduated from St. Louis' Beaumont High School in 1971 and earned a bachelor's degree from what was then Harris Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe University), taught for several years in the St. Louis Public Schools, then worked 30 years with AmerenUE, retiring in 2007 as an IT supervisor.

Betts then joined the St. Louis sheriff's office as a deputy.

Parson, a Republican, was raised near Wheatland and is a third-generation farmer with a cow-calf operation near Bolivar. He served six years in the Army, 12 years as Polk County sheriff and 14 years in the Legislature before running for lieutenant governor in 2016.

Betts noted the two men also "really have one thing in common — we both believe in Jesus Christ. Our hearts are fixed, minds made up — Jesus is the center of my joy.

"And, because we have surrendered to his will, we have no worries. We can rest — God is in control."

Betts noted public officials have "grave responsibilities" to serve the public, not to be served by them.

"It is a truth that you were called," Betts said. "Called to serve, called to help, called to give, called to go, called to share, called to listen, called to act when no one else will.

"Called to bear when all of the criticism is falling on you.

"Called to stand, and sometimes you have to stand alone."

Still, he said, those pressures can be handled, and "all of that can be done because God is in control."

Politicians should serve all, whether the people are rich or poor, black or white, Democrat or Republican.

"We must press to serve all in this state," he said.

Success comes from being faithful and praying regularly, Betts said, reading the Bible regularly and worshiping God, both personally and in public with others.

Betts, who was elected sheriff in 2016, at the same time Parson was elected lieutenant governor, recalled making several trips in 2017 to Jefferson City to lobby against some legislation affecting his office.

He said he would stop at the lieutenant governor's office and be invited in for a visit.

"He didn't know me from Adam's house cat, but he's that kind of guy — friendly, a real heart and a stance. This man is a godly man," Betts said of Parson. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to line up behind the godly man."

Parson noted one of the morning's scriptures was the Christian story of the Good Samaritan who helped care for a robbery victim when others walked past the wounded man.

"And the point is, what are you going to do?" the governor asked. "Are you going to be a Good Samaritan?

"Or, are you going to let all these distractions (help you) not be focused, and walk on by?"

Parson said: "We should be driven by our faith every day, and we should put everybody in front of us.

"And we should put God at the front of the line.

"We should wear our faith. And we should let other people know where we stand on that as we go through this session."

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