On the outskirts of Orlando lies the small town of Mount Dora. Often referred to as the New England of the South and famous for its October bike festival and macabre ghost tours, it is also now the scene where a quirky piece of history has allegedly just taken place. The congregation of Cross Church claims its 31-year-old pastor, Zach Zehnder, broke the record for the longest documented marathon speech on Sunday, November 9.
The feat, which began the Friday prior, took two and a half days to accomplish, and Zehnder won the record by preaching through 45 of his sermons and going over 600 PowerPoint slides for 53 hours and 18 minutes. The message began with Genesis and ended with the Book of Revelation and delved on the theme of divine faithfulness.
To comply with Guinness World Record (GWR) rules, Zehnder had to speak before a minimum of ten people the entire time, and there had to be two independent witnesses to sign off on its validity and monitor his break times. To ensure these rules were met, church members formed groups to help out and rotated shifts, moving in and out in groups of ten. Some spectators stayed nearly as long as Pastor Zehnder. Toward the end of the event, hundreds of community members came to see him complete his speech marathon.
Zehnder's speech helped raise money for Powerhouse Recovery, a nonprofit that helps men in Lake County who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction.
"It feels very rewarding and quite honestly very humbling. I'm glad it's over, though," said Zehnder last Friday morning. "There are so many people to thank. This was a major team event. I would love to thank our sponsors, and I would like to thank my church; they were absolutely incredible, and I couldn't have done it without them. Also we had so much community support as well. Lastly I would like to thank all those who gave toward our cause and helped us reach our goal of giving back $100,000 to charity!"
Though the main reason for delivering the epic speech was to raise money for charity, Zehnder also used his record-breaking as a platform to share with others how his religious beliefs helped him accomplish his difficult goal.
"I believe that we are called to challenge ourselves even in our faith, and when we do, we see God show up in ways that otherwise we would miss in this world," said Zehnder. "It's amazing how God shows up in a big way when you put your trust in him!"
David Douglas, 56, who is also executive director of Hand In Hand Lake County, which oversees Powerhouse Recovery, believes that the church's efforts have helped bring attention to the epidemic of homelessness and drug addiction among men in their area.
"We want to help by addressing the underlying addictions that are causing these men to be homeless. Many of them come from abusive families and decades of being homeless and jobless. What Pastor Zach and the church has done in helping to raise the money to put our work into action can't really be repaid," said Douglas. "Breaking a Guinness world record is not easy to do. People were absolutely inspired by Pastor Zach and the way the church worked together to pull this off."
Though Guinness is now following Zehnder on Twitter and is aware of his attempt, Zehnder still has to submit all of the evidence to GWR to be evaluated. If everything checks out, then in six to eight weeks, Zehnder is expected to receive an official certificate in the mail to commemorate his record-breaking achievement.
To learn more about Zehnder's new record or to contribute to Powerhouse Recovery, check out longestspeechever.com.
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