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It's also brought the members of the Clergy Council closer, says Roxane White. Now Hickenlooper's chief of staff, White was formerly manager of the city's Department of Human Services and chairwoman of Denver's Road Home, the mayor's ten-year plan to end homelessness, of which FSHI is a part. The sixteen Clergy Council members serve as point people for their denominations, recruiting churches to participate in the program.
At first, says White of the council, "we were all a little skeptical of each other. When it was offered to us to go up in the helicopter, it was like, 'Maybe this could be team-building, maybe this will be a waste of time.'"
But up in the air, something clicked. "We took turns talking about what we were seeing, starting with affluent households, and then we came around Sun Valley and saw households that were very poor. We all talked about issues of poverty. We all prayed," says White, who has a degree in religious studies from Oregon's Lewis & Clark College. "And each person put up a prayer to their particular god and their particular faith. We were coming together to solve a problem we all unequivocally agreed on, which was homelessness."
"You've found my soft spot," she says about Prayer One. "It was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had in my life."
Hopkins was also on that flight. He says the sensation of flying over the city was "almost like angels or something": "The thing I saw is the inter-connectedness and interdependency we have in the city, no matter who you are or what your background or beliefs are. We all need each other to be successful as a society."
Up in the air, the football player, the seminary student, the ministry leader and the pastor stare out the big windows of the Bell 407. The sun is shining, and it's hot inside the helicopter. Outside, the view resembles the city-building video game SimCity. It's as if the windows are a computer or television screen, taking the passengers on an unfamiliar tour of their familiar city. There are recognizable landmarks: the colorful roller coasters of Elitch Gardens, the Macy's sign at the Cherry Creek mall, the towering downtown Qwest building. But much of what they see feels new, even though they've walked and driven those streets countless times.
At first, the houses below are gorgeous. There are clear, blue swimming pools and well-trimmed bushes that look like green gumdrops. The suburban streets are freshly paved and black. There is grass everywhere. But as the helicopter flies north, houses give way to apartment buildings, roofs look more weathered, the paint peeling and discolored. Grass appears more patchy, like a threadbare rug, and there is concrete everywhere — in schoolyards dotted with four-square courts, in endless parking lots and between houses. The roads are gray and full of cracks.
Kito Hicks, a tall, 33-year-old black North Carolina native who played for the Colorado Crush Arena Football League team and is now negotiating with an NFL team, is the first to pray. He'd been invited on Prayer One because of his fledgling business, Field of Visions, which will paint people's spiritual visions so they can hang them on the wall as a reminder. "Heavenly Father," he says into his microphone, "we are grateful to have the opportunity to be in fellowship this morning."
Chris Chancey, the 23-year-old seminary student — a thin white man in Nikes, who captures the view with a Sony camcorder — speaks next: "We pray that you raise up Christian leaders who live their lives promoting justice, mercy and love."
Christian Rubi is last. In a voice accented by his upbringing in Mexico, the thirty-year-old founder of the Conquistando Las Montañas ministry prays for single people to find love and for families to maintain it. He prays for "every teacher and every school."
Pastor Ron Johnson, who, at 47, is the eldest of the group, is mostly quiet. He jokes with Puckett and points out his house below. When Prayer One circles around the vivid green grass and steep bleachers of Coors Field, a grin spreads over his face. It's the sort of grin that you can't help, a grin so wide it's almost embarrassing.
"I often don't experience God in vision," he says later, after the ride is over. "I just don't experience God that way. But I did today."
While Puckett doesn't like the attention — "The Prayer One thing isn't about Jeff Puckett," he says — friends and family agree that without him, it would be impossible.
First, there's the cost. Though Puckett shies away from conversations about money, he says the cost to rent a helicopter for a day is $1,200 to $1,500. And while he claims his costs are lower, if you multiply that by 52 weeks per year and then by five — for the number of years he's been flying — it's at least $312,000.
But it takes more than money to fly Prayer One. It also takes heart, which friends say Puckett has in spades. "Here's a guy who doesn't have to do this," says Puckett's brother-in-law, Scott Southworth, who is also a pilot and has helped out with Prayer One since the beginning, loading passengers in and out of the helicopter. "He could just be a guy who keeps his toys to himself. And he feels absolutely the other way around. He feels he has a responsibility to take these gifts and use them and share them."