Day to Pray
National event set aside for all, but evangelicals play the lead role
By PAUL ASAY THE GAZETTE
Anyone can pray. And most people do. They pray in gratitude, in pain, in petition. They pray to sink that putt, pass that test, survive this day. Some pray without knowing who they pray to, but they pray all the same. The National Day of Prayer is about all that, but since its inception, it’s become something else, too: It’s now as much about redstate values, about presidential proclamations, about Bible-reading marathons on the Capitol steps. It’s a day where communion wine mingles with apple pie, and some wonder whether the National Day of Prayer really encompasses all Americans. “It’s become an exclusively evangelical event,” said Victoria Heim, who is organizing a local multifaith Day of Prayer observation at Shove Chapel. The National Day of Prayer was officially signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952, and it really took off in 1988, when President Ronald Reagan set aside the first Thursday in May for national prayer. Throughout the past 55 years, the day technically has been interfaith. President George W. Bush’s 2007 Day of Prayer proclamation says as much. “I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for God’s continued guidance, comfort and protection,” Bush’s proclamation reads. “I in-
vite all Americans to join in observing this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.” “This is a day for all to pray,” said Lisa Crump, national coordinator manager for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headquartered in Colorado Springs. Still, there’s no doubt that Crump’s organization is the most visible, most successful manifestation of the Day of Prayer. It’s also unabashedly Christian and largely evangelical: It operates out of offices on the Focus on the Family campus in Colorado Springs and is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus founder James Dobson. That might be one reason the National Day of Prayer has become so closely associated with evangelical Christianity — no other faith can match the task force’s ability to mobilize and organize. In fact, there are few Day of Prayer events across the country that aren’t being run under its auspices. The task force sponsors and helps coordinate most of the estimated 40,000 events taking place nationwide, such as: c A 90-hour Bible-reading marathon on the steps of the U.S. Capitol — an event that begins at 8 p.m. Sunday and runs round the clock until May 3. c A “Pray in the Air” event in Ohio, where several pilots will fly their planes in a cross formation over the state, praying all the while that God will help Ohio schools, churches and homes. c A gingerbread cookie drive in Pasquotank, N.C., where volunteers distribute cookies to civic employees. Volunteers prayed over these cookie plates, and each contains a handwritten prayer note. There are several events going on in Colorado Springs this year, too — a marked contrast from 2006, when no one stepped forward to coordinate local Day of Prayer activities. Some speculate the volunteer hours required to put on such an event scared many away. “Our hearts were broken last year,” said Diane Skinner, a member of the local National Day of Prayer Task Force. “The National Day of Prayer is right here, and we didn’t do anything.” There will be a mayoral proclamation, a prayer-soaked train ride to the top of Pikes Peak and an all-city prayer rally at New Life Church. Volunteers also organized a Spanishspeaking prayer rally, uniting 22 ministers from various local Hispanic churches. “This kind of unity amongst the Hispanic churches has never been seen before in this city,” said Jesus Reyes of the Centro Familiar Nueva Vida, coordinator of the event. Skinner hopes everyone in the local Christian community will support the event, and she sent letters to 650 churches, asking if they’d participate. But some suggestions from the national task force clearly cater to a more conservative base. The task force suggests that people focus their prayers on five hot-button subjects for conservative Christians: the church, family, education, the military and media. Under “education,” for example, the suggested prayer reads “Father God, forgive us for allowing You and Your Word to be thrown out of schools, and for allowing your truth to be replaced with lies.” Skinner and others emphasize that the national task force deals in the Day of Prayer’s Christian manifestation — a point made in a letter to Heim last September when she attempted to become a Day of Prayer coordinator and register for a task force conference. Her request was turned down because she opened her Day of Prayer event last year to people of other faiths. “Although the first Thursday in May is set aside for all people in this nation to observe a national day of prayer for our country, multi- or interfaith activities are not a part of this specific ministry,” the letter read. “Therefore, under the current circumstances, you cannot be affiliated with our organization, or use our materials or in any way represent yourself as a part of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.” Heim, a Christian, said the letter was “a sad thing.” She had attended a task force conference in October 2005 and said it was instrumental in helping her coordinate 2006 Day of Prayer activities at Shove Chapel. She wants to attend other task force conferences so she can both learn and teach others how to put on successful Day of Prayer events. “I certainly hope one day to be included in their conferences, so I can share what I do know,” she said. “It’s all based on what they taught me.” In the meantime, she’ll continue her interfaith gathering this year with speakers from at least four faiths — Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Rabbi Anat Moskowitz, Colorado College’s rabbi on staff, will participate in Heim’s event. She says she doesn’t associate the National Day of Prayer with a particular faith or ideology, and holds to the idea that it truly is a day for all people of faith. “The idea is that we’re all standing on common ground and finding common language together,” she said. “I think that’s an awesome thing.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0367 or firstname.lastname@example.org
DETAILS National Day of Prayer Events, May 3 c Woodmen-Roberts Elementary School Day of Prayer Observation. Students will take part in a voluntary observance before school at the flagpole. When: 7:30 a.m. Where: Woodmen-Roberts Elementary, 8365 Orchard Path Road. Open to public. c Prayer on the Mountain. Seventy-seven participants take a train ride on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. When: 9-11 a.m. Where: Cog Railway. Full. c Mayoral proclamation. Mayor Lionel Rivera will issue an official proclamation honoring the day. Jeannie Lamborn, wife of Congressman Doug Lamborn, will speak. When: 11 a.m. Where: City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. Free and open to the public. c Pre-rally concert. An hourlong youth concert headlined by the band Sonflowerz. When: 6 p.m. Where: New Life Church, 11025 Voyager Parkway. Open to the public c Citywide prayer rally. The rally will feature a number of special guests, including former Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry; former Denver Bronco Randy Gradishar; Mayor Lionel Rivera; author Dean Merrill and Jeannie Lamborn. A citywide choir will perform. When: 7-8:30 p.m. Where: New Life Church, 11025 Voyager Parkway. Open to public. c Hispanic Day of Prayer observance. When: 7 p.m. Where: World Prayer Center, 11005 Voyager Parkway. c Woodmen Valley Chapel observance. Guest speaker John MacArthur, a California pastor, will speak on “Humility. Desperation. Repentance. Prayer.” When: 7 p.m. Where: The worship center on the Rockrimmon Campus, 290 E. Woodmen Road. c Interfaith Day of Prayer. The theme of this event will be “peace between all peoples of faith.” There will be music, dancing and speakers representing several faiths. When: 7 p.m. Where: Colorado College’s Shove Memorial Chapel, 1010 N. Nevada Ave. Open to public.