This post has been updated with information gleaned from federal nonprofit filings. Scroll down.
On Friday, when I learned that Mayor Eric Johnson had issued a proclamation calling for August 19 to be a day of prayer to eradicate the coronavirus from the city of Dallas, I dashed off a satirical piece reporting that he’d called for the sacrifice of a virgin to save the city from the pandemic. Some of the comments on that post are deliciously nutty.
For those who don’t dig satire, let me state it plainly: the mayor has not distinguished himself as a clear-eyed leader during this crisis. He has tried to start a beef with County Judge Clay Jenkins. He has alienated his colleagues on the Council. And I’ve lost count of the number of COVID-19 committees and task forces he has created.
So now he wants us to pray. If prayer is a good strategy to eradicate the coronavirus, why wasn’t this proclamation issued in April? If prayer is a good strategy to eradicate the coronavirus, why don’t the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ever mention it? If prayer is a good strategy to eradicate the coronavirus, will Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, join us in this effort so that his company can get back on track with its Deep Ellum Campus? If prayer is a good strategy to eradicate the coronavirus, will it also stop climate change, which is actually a bigger existential threat to Dallas?
I’ve got a lot of questions. Here’s one that has an actual answer I can’t track down: did the mayor of a major American city call on its citizens to pray away a pandemic because God spoke in a dream to a home improvement contractor in The Colony and told him this would work? It seems that way.
The Pray Dallas site is operated by a fellow named Tom Altemus and his wife, Julie. On the “vision” section of the site, it says: “The Mayor of Dallas has proclaimed a Day of Prayer and Fasting on August 19, 2020 for the eradication of the Coronavirus Plague from Dallas. It began with a dream and vision given to home improvement contractor Tom Altemus.” So they appear to be taking credit for the idea.
The Altemuses run a home remodeling outfit called Elegant Renovations that is registered with the state of Texas at an address in The Colony but does not have a website that I can find. Tom over the years has registered a slew of DBAs with the state that are no longer active: Back to Acts Community Fellowship, New Day Ministries, Thomas R. Altemus Ministries, all tied to what look like residential addresses. Tom was a debtor on an IRS tax lien that was released in 1996, by the way.
Pray Dallas appears to have been in existence since 2007. That’s the first year the Internet Archive has a record of it. According to a copy of the site saved in 2015, the Pray Dallas group was meeting at that time in a room above the old Weir’s outlet on Knox Street.
That’s all I can tell you about Pray Dallas and the Altemuses. I called their Elegant Renovations and left a message. I’ve yet to get a response. I texted and called Tristan Hallman, the mayor’s chief of policy and communications, asking him whether the mayor’s Pray Dallas day is the same thing as Tom Altemus’ Pray Dallas. Hallman hasn’t responded either. I’ll update this post if necessary.
Meantime, here’s Tom Altemus in his own words, describing how God came to him in a dream and told him that August 19 is the day we can beat the virus with prayer:
UPDATE (3:53 p.m.) I don’t know why I didn’t initially think to look up the 990 nonprofit tax filings. Before I get to those, let me draw your attention to a note on the Pray Dallas site. Beneath a picture of two men holding a fancy copy of the mayor’s proclamation, it reads: “Special thank you to our director Ron Allen and Bishop Slater and others who helped expand the Pray Dallas movement to a city-wide event with the proclamation from the mayor’s office.” Another indication that Pray Dallas started with Tom Altemus’ dream.
Bishop Slater is Bishop J. Lee Slater of the New Millennium Bible Fellowship Praise Center. Makes sense. But who is this Ron Allen fellow? Hang with me for a second.
On the Pray Dallas site, every page features a big “donate” button. If the Altemuses are asking for donations, I figured, they must have a nonprofit. Sure enough, Thomas R. Altemus Ministries last filed a 990 in 2007. That year, the organization brought in a little over $35,000. As the president, Tom was paid $570. A trustee named Jennifer Altemus, who shared an address with Tom, was paid nothing. Other expenses were $3,990 for travel and $3,916 for “benevolence for non-members.” One more thing: the phone number listed on the 990 for Thomas R. Altemus Ministries in 2007 is the same phone number currently used by Elegant Renovations, the one where I left the message about my questions concerning Pray Dallas.
Under the 990 section “Statement of Program Service Accomplishments,” wherein nonprofits are instructed to “describe their exempt purpose achievements in a clear and concise manner” and “state the number of clients served,” the organization entered: “Thomas R. Altemus Ministries Inc. organized a group called Pray Dallas, a group of ministers from both large established churches and small house churches in the Dallas Metroplex to pray and take other action to propagate the gospel of Jesus Christ particularly to inner city people of all ages.” I’ll let you decide if that is clear and concise. In any case, here we seem to have the origins of Pray Dallas.
But wait. When you click the “donate” button on the Pray Dallas site, you’ll be taken to PayPal, where you can give money to Corporate Prayer Resources Inc., not Thomas R. Altemus Ministries or Pray Dallas. Corporate Prayer Resources calls itself “a Christian Ministry Promoting intercessory prayer and Christ-Centered Unity in Churches, cities, states and nations.” Those are their capitalizations, not mine, just so you know. Further, “CPR began in 1999 as the vision of Pat Allen to help Christians pray more effectively for personal, family, church, city, national and international issues. She has promoted the ‘demystifying’ of prayer to bring prayer into the practical, everyday experience of Christians.” Got that?
For whatever reason, CPR is not current with their 990 tax forms. Tsk, tsk. The most recent one on file is from 2010. The organization brought in $226,036 that year. It spent $238,501 on “programs for the advancement of Christian corporate prayer,” $200,000 of which went toward a “prayer garden project.” No further details given. Pat Allen, of course, is the president. Her vice president: Ron Allen.
So riddle solved. Sort of. Until and unless someone calls me back, here is my understanding of this whole deal: a home improvement contractor based in The Colony who is no longer in arrears with the IRS had a dream in which God pointed him to a biblical verse, Joshua 8:19, which reads: “The men in ambush rose quickly from their place, and when he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it, and they quickly set the city on fire.” The home improvement contractor — with help from a Pleasant Grove pastor and a VP of an intercessory prayer group that is into horticulture, people he possibly met in a room above a furniture outlet — prevailed upon the mayor of the ninth-most populous city in America to issue a proclamation in support of a plan to pray away a pandemic on August 19. Because, you know, it’s 8/19, just like the Bible verse with the fire. From the dream.
The coronavirus doesn’t stand a chance.