A National Holiday for Prayer
Just when you think that you are familiar with all of our national holidays, you find out about one that you never heard of before. So it probably is for many of you when it comes to the National Day of Prayer. That’s right – the United States of America actually has an official national holiday dedicated to prayer! If falls on the first Thursday of May.
The history of this holiday is interesting. It was officially designated by Congress as a national holiday in 1952, as a day when the American people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.” Each year, the President signs a proclamation in which he reaffirms the purpose of this holiday. However, its historical roots sink far deeper into the American tradition. The first proclamation calling for a National Day of Prayer was issued by the Continental Congress, in which it declared July 20, 1775 to be “a day of publick humiliation, fasting, and prayer.” Subsequent declarations for individual National Days of Prayer were issued by Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln. But it was not until 1952 that it became an annual event.
In my community of the Quad Cities, which straddles the Mississippi River uniting Iowa and Illinois, for several years now, there has been a group which has sponsored an annual National Day of Prayer breakfast. Not surprisingly, the organizers of this breakfast are exclusively Christian. Therefore, the tone of this event also has been exclusively Christian. A little over four years ago, Rev. Ron Quay, the Executive Director of Churches United of the Quad Cities Area, approached these organizers and proposed that they broaden the religious base of their event by inviting non-Christian faith groups to participate in it as well. After some deliberation, their response to Rev. Quay’s request was that while non-Christians are always welcome to attend, the nature of their event will continue to remain exclusively Christian.
Upon receiving that response, Rev. Quay approached Rev. Roger Butts (then minister of the Unitarian Church) and me to consider joining with him in organizing an interfaith National Day of Prayer event. And so we did. For the last three years, Temple Emanuel has hosted an Interfaith National Day of Prayer luncheon which was primarily targeted toward community clergy. We chose to do this as a luncheon because, while we wished to provide an interfaith alternative to the exclusively Christian event, we were not interested in competing with it.
This year, the sponsorship for this event has been taken up by our newly formed Interfaith Clergy Caucus. Yet once again, Temple Emanuel will be the host institution. However, this year we are instituting a significant change. Instead of restricting the event to clergy, we are opening it up to the general public.
In the beginning, why did Rev. Quay, Rev. Butts, and I feel that organizing such an event was so important? Why have the members of the Interfaith Clergy Caucus decided that it was important to sponsor such an event? It is because we believe that the National Day of Prayer does not belong to any one faith group exclusively. It belongs to all people of faith who enjoy the blessings of living in this American democracy. Indeed, it is a time for us of many faiths to come together to thank God or the Divine Powers, whatever our beliefs, in our many ways for the blessing we share in this land. It is a time to celebrate the wonder and the beauty of the religious diversity of America. That is what it was ALWAYS intended to be. In fact both John Adams and Abraham Lincoln said as much in their particular proclamations for the day. To quote Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:
“Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.”
“All the people… at their several places of worship.” This day was never meant to be the exclusive domain of one faith or another but is the possession of all people of all faiths.
While Americans today do not face as great a crisis as we did in 1863, still there is ample call for praying for our country; praying for justice, praying for equality, praying for peace, praying for prosperity. Let us pray that no America need ever go homeless or hungry or jobless. Let us pray that no American ever need suffer from discrimination, hatred and intolerance. Let us pray that no American ever be denied health care or education. Let us pray that the day will soon arrive when no longer will we need to sacrifice the lives of our sons and our daughters on the battlefields of this planet.
On May 3, 2012, let us as a nation composed of many people of varied faiths once again raise our voices in prayer as we rededicate ourselves to building a better tomorrow for all.
Tags: Christianity, Churches United of the Quad Cities, Clergy, Holidays, Interfaith Clergy Caucus, Interfaith National Day of Prayer, Interfaith Relations, National Day of Prayer, Quad Cities, Rev. Roger Butts, Rev. Ron Quay, Temple Emanuel of Davenport, Unitarian ChurchYou can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.