Coffee cups were filled and Bibles were open on the tables of Wally's Restaurant on McCallie Avenue before the Thursday morning sunrise shifted from orange to yellow.
The weekly routine for the men of the Marion Gaston Prayer Breakfast is one they each followed for years, and some for decades. They gather to read the Bible, have a meal together and share prayer requests or praises with one other.
Nat Hughes joined the group in the 1960s shortly after he moved to Chattanooga and several years after the prayer breakfast began.
"It's the Christian attitude that the group has," Hughes said. "It's good for people, especially Christians, to get together, discuss your problems and study together. Through the years, it's been a real blessing to me."
On Thursday, the group read and discussed the parables of the kingdom discussed in the Book of Matthew. Many of the men read from the same Bible translation and study guide. After each section of Bible verses, the men discussed the lessons and how it applied to their lives.
Sharing takeaways and what is going on in their lives forms strong friendships, said Lauch McKinnon, who joined in the early 1990s.
"We stay with it primarily because of the fellowship," McKinnon said. " Even if we don't see each other during the week, we get to know each other very well with the group."
The prayer breakfast has met at several restaurants since it began in the 1950s, Hughes said. The group is named after Marion Gaston, one of the founding members.
Many of the men are connected to First Presbyterian Church, though some of the men are part of Methodist, Lutheran or Baptist churches in the area. Most of the men got involved because they were invited by someone — some who have since passed away, some who still sit at the Thursday table.
As a group, the men support one another, Doug Craven said. They share ideas or stories of friends and family who faced similar challenges.
"We each struggle with things in common sometimes," he said.
The men share not only serious prayer requests, such as for family members facing medical crises, but praises in their lives, as well. Then, on some weeks, there are other reasons to come, Bill Richards said.
"Personally, the prayer and the fellowship are good, but one of the main things for me is this is the only place where I could get good home fries," Richards said.