By a joint resolution of the US Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952, the first Thursday of May is the official National Day of Prayer. Students of history will realize that was a perilous year in US and world history: WWII had ended and the Cold War had begun just seven years prior; the USSR had exploded its first atomic bomb and China had become Communist just three years before; and the Korean War still raged.
Against that dark backdrop, the legislative and executive branches of the US government called for the establishment of a special date set for prayer for the nation and other needs. This year the National Day of Prayer will be tomorrow, May 5.
As many people experience anxiety at the dangers, tensions and uncertainties facing our country today, history can give us hope as we look to the past to see our forbearers faced daunting challenges too yet managed to get through.
According to the National Day of Prayer Task Force’s website, their mission statement reads: “Centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, the National Day of Prayer Task Force exists to mobilize unified public and personal prayer for America.” The statement continues: “Our Task Force is a privately funded organization whose purpose is to encourage participation on the National Day of Prayer. It exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families. The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.”
Drawing on ample historical quotations from some of our nation’s founders, the Task Force includes this statement dated 1808 from the famous Virginian, William and Mary graduate, author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, third President, and founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson:
Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.
Speaking of the importance of the National Day of Prayer, the Task Force’s website explains:
“The National Day of Prayer has great significance for us as a nation as it enables us to recall and to teach the way in which our founding fathers sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions. It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people. The unanimous passage of the bill establishing the National Day of Prayer as an annual event, signifies that prayer is as important to our nation today as it was in the beginning.”
“Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, this day has become a national observance placed on all Hallmark calendars and observed annually across the nation and in Washington, D.C. Every year, local, state, and federal observances were held from sunrise in Maine to sunset in Hawaii, uniting Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation. It is estimated that over two million people attended more than 30,000 observances – organized by approximately 40,000 volunteers. At state capitols, county court houses, on the steps of city halls, and in schools, businesses, churches and homes, people stopped their activities and gathered for prayer.”
One remarkable aspect of the National Day of Prayer is its grassroots nature. Participation cuts across geographic, racial, educational, socio-economic, and denominational lines, with a variety of houses of worship and ministries large and small getting involved.
Pastor Scott Hamilton from Oakland Baptist in Roanoke is organizing a 24-hour prayer vigil for our community and nation and is sharing this opportunity to get involved wherever you are. Hamilton had this to say:
“We are inviting everyone to be a part of praying for the Roanoke Valley on May 5, 2022. This is the National Day of Prayer. We need volunteers to help by taking one or two 30-minute time slots to cover our Valley in prayer for the entire 24 hours of May 5th. Please go to the following link and sign-up. Together we can achieve this, and watch God work in our area. Please talk with Pastor Scott if you have any questions.”
In addition to this 24-hour prayer vigil, a number of in-person prayer and worship events are being hosted in Roanoke and elsewhere across the State and Nation on May 5. Among them:
- West End United Methodist Church: 12:00 PM – 12:30 PM, Prayer Assembly, Proclamation by Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea, Songs of praise by vocalist, Silent prayer & prayers for world peace. Invocation by Rev. Becky Wheeler-Pastor West End United Methodist, Close with silent prayer. Location: 1221 Campbell Avenue, Roanoke
- First Baptist Church: 12:00-1:00 PM, Location: 321 Marshall Avenue, Roanoke
- Bonsack Baptist Church: 12:00-1:00 PM, The first 30 minutes will be spent praying for our nation, the next 10-15 minutes for the state of Virginia, and the last 10-15 minutes will be spent praying for all other areas laid on the hearts of the people by The Holy Spirit. Prayer will take place that day in the Community Life Center building of the church. The front of this building faces Cloverdale Road. It has large glass windows and some white columns in the upper and lower front of the building with a large portico. We will meet this day in the Roanoke Hall which is the first large room after entering the atrium/foyer of the building. Location: 4845 Cloverdale Road, Roanoke
- EastLake Community Church: 12:00-1:00 PM, Join our National Day of Prayer Gathering. It will be led by Daniel Henderson, president of Strategic Renewal. Location: 1201 Timberwood Lane, Moneta
- Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Plaza: 6:00-7:00 PM, Christian Churches from Christiansburg will gather and pray on the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Plaza for approximately 60 minutes. Local Pastors and leaders will pray and will lead small groups of prayer. Location: One East Main Street, Christiansburg
The site has this page to let participants post or find a nearby event.
Like so many other issues dividing our country today, there is much confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the proper role of faith and prayer in the public square. A recent visit to an antique mall in Lexington, Virginia turned up this postcard marked 1959. That too was in the depths of the Cold War, and WWII hero and general Dwight Eisenhower was president. Note the US Postal Service’s official cancellation stamp: PRAY FOR PEACE.
For those who wish to be involved in an ongoing prayer community after the National Day of Prayer, the members of such a prayer group in Bonsack extend an open invitation. That prayer group meets every Thursday from noon to 1:00 pm in the Community Life Center (CLC) at Bonsack Baptist Church. The CLC faces Cloverdale Road. It has large glass windows and some white columns in the upper and lower front, with a large portico. They meet in the Roanoke Hall which is the first large room after entering the atrium/foyer of the building. Location: 4845 Cloverdale Road, Roanoke. For more information, contact Andrea G. Greene, [email protected].