It’s been an Ellis County tradition for more than 20 years, and overcast skies and a chilly breeze Thursday afternoon didn’t deter nearly 100 people from gathering on the courthouse lawn for the National Day of Prayer.

Church and community leaders led prayers focusing on several areas of society, including government, military, family, education and business. The overall theme of this year’s event — which was observed in all 50 states — was unity, based on Ephesians 4:3.

“If we look around the world, we realize that we live in a broken and fragmented society,” said Kevin Daniels, pastor of Hays Christian Church, as he welcomed everyone to the event. “This event, and events like it, are important because we set aside those things that threaten to tear apart the church and stand together in Christ.”

The event was somber at times, as Daniels specifically asked the community to be in prayer following news Thursday morning of the death of a high school student in Hays.

“As a community of faith, it’s important we surround the family, the students, the teachers, the friends with our love, support and prayers,” he said.

The prayer service was held during the lunch hour and also encouraged those in attendance to break into small groups for prayer in keeping with each of the main themes. A five-person task force does most of the planning for the annual event, and this year’s celebration expanded to include new additions.

A second prayer service was held on the Fort Hays State University campus for the first time Thursday morning.

Breathe Coffee House, 703 B Main, also got involved this year by offering a free community breakfast and an evening worship session with live music. Coffee drinks also were given away throughout the day, with customers only asked to make a free-will donation to support several local Christian missions.

“Once we started doing it, it was like why not, let’s hook it all together and give people something to do,” said Patrick McGinnis, owner of Breathe. “I’ve found, we do a Hays board, just a pay it forward wall. … If you ask people would you be willing to buy a coffee for somebody? 90 percent of people say, ‘Sure.’ ”

McGinnis said during the time the Christian-based business has been open, he’s noticed most people in the community are quick to help others once they have a clear understanding of how they can do so.

The sun was beginning to peak through the clouds by the time the hour-long prayer vigil ended. For many in attendance, including former Hays Fire Chief Gary Brown — who retired from service last week — attending the event long has been an annual tradition.

Brown led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance on Thursday, and also was recognized for his years of public service.

“I would just like to reflect on that one powerful phrase in the middle of the pledge, that we are one nation under God,” he said.