Twenty-one days before Montana selects its next U.S. Congressman, the Republican candidate stood among a crowd of more than 100 Christians in a small park in Great Falls, joining a national plea to God.
This gathering outside the civic center downtown is a local observance of the National Day of Prayer. It’s been an annual event since the 1950s, when Congress made a law that the president would set aside a day each year for prayer.
As the crowd in Great Falls listened in scraps of shade, on one of the hottest days so far this year, local pastors lead prayers.
There was a salute and pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible.
Republican Greg Gianforte wasn’t on the agenda but when he showed up, the event organizers gave him a slot to speak near the top of the list, right after the Great Falls mayor. He was introduced as, "a man of faith making a difference in our community."
"Thank you everybody for being here," Gianforte said to the crowd, "it is appropriate that we gather together for prayer."
Gianforte,who entered the U.S. House race with hopes of taking over the seat vacated by now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, spoke for two minutes. He asked those assembled to bow their heads and pray together.
During the governor's race, Gianforte rarely brought up his faith, although it’s an important part of his and his family’s life. Nor has he brought it up much in this campaign, focusing on a platform of high wage jobs and growing the state’s economy.
But Thursday in Great Falls, Gianforte stood in the noon sun, in unfaded dark blue wranglers and with a tucked in collared shirt, talking openly about his spiritual beliefs.
"Heavenly Father we do ask for your blessing," Gianforte said, leading the prayer, "and you teach us in your words, Philippians 4:6 - do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer, and petition, present your request to God. Lord, we have so much to be thankful for."
The neophyte politician prayed for his family, the Constitutional freedoms, veterans, and for well being of the United States.
“In particular the divisiveness we see, Lord, we pray for unity," he said. "We know you are a great God, we know that all good things come from your hands. And we thank you for that. We praise you for your faithfulness to each one of us, and we pray for your continued protection. In Jesus name we pray these things, amen.”
Gianforte’s expressions of faith through donations made by his charitable family foundation, have been criticized by some of his opponents as he’s run for public office.
The Gianforte Family Foundation has given millions to Christian organizations, educators, and conservative policy groups, including some who oppose same sex marriage and abortion. Gianforte has also supported the creationist museum in Glendive, which some critics portray as anti-science.
But as the hour of worship began for the National Day of Prayer in Great Falls, the software entrepreneur turned Republican politician was not among his critics.
As music played some people in the crowd swayed in their shoes, others held their hands up into the air as if they were trying to feel the presence of something holy. Gianforte stood with his camouflage ball cap removed, tucked into the back of his pants, with his arms crossed neatly in front of him.
The event cycled through prayers for the government, the military, family, and then to the media. Gianforte left as it wound down. It was just one stop, with more than 400 miles left in the day, with stops in Helena, Bozeman and Missoula ahead.
Gianforte’s staff said he didn’t have time for an interview right then, but maybe at the next stop.
So, that’s where I went.
A few hours later, I caught up with Gianforte in the shade next to the welding shop at Capitol High School in Helena, where he was dropping off books he wrote about growing a successful company.
Gianforte told me he thought it was important to attend the National Day of Prayer, talking about the historical roots of faith in this country. He says his Christian faith is integral part of who he is and will shape his decisions if elected to the House of Representatives.
“I think it is extremely important for me as a Christian to humble myself in front of God and ask for his guidance, in this," he said. "Because we’re human. We’re prone to failure and mistakes, and I want the benefit of his wisdom in my life. I will couple that by saying that by saying the First Amendment, is the First Amendment, you know, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble. I’m not running to force my views on anyone, but the First Amendment guarantees anyone the right to believe whatever they want to believe.”
To people who question whether Gianforte can represent them because of his evangelical faith, he says we’re each entitled to our own views, and belief systems should be things that bring people together.
The National Day of Prayer brought together Christians concerned about many facets of their world - huddling in small groups and praying as a whole - in a nationwide, and local, appeal to a higher power to help guide the future this country.
It was also a campaign stop.
The American and Christian flags blew in the spring wind, on either side of the Republican candidate, as he spoke before a crowd of bowed heads.