On a postcard-perfect, blue-sky Monday, two bombs rocked downtown Boston, ripping through the fabric of Americans’ collective conscious and staining the sidewalks red. But instead of tearing the country apart, many say it drew them closer together — a nation brought to its knees, not by violence but by faith.
Thursday, at noon in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse, area residents will gather to observe the 61st annual National Day of Prayer. Last year’s observance brought nearly 500 people to downtown Columbus, and organizers are hoping to see a similar turnout this year.
Though the Boston bombings and other recent events will likely be foremost on many people’s minds, the hour-long format requires local leaders to be brief and specific, praying for the government, military, churches, families, educators, businesses and the media.
At the opening of the service, attendees will pray for repentance, which Canaan Baptist Church Pastor Danny Avery says is an important part of preparing the mind and spirit for fellowship with God.
“I think in many circles, prayer is relegated to a lesser position, a formality or something tacked on, but it should be treated on an equal basis with the teaching and preaching of the word of God,” he says.
It is a sentiment shared by many Mississippians. Statistics from a 2007 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicate that 77 percent of the state’s believers pray at least once a day — well above the 58 percent national average.
For people like Nell Bateman, one of the event’s organizers, prayer is a source of peace and comfort in times of fear and anxiety. And just as she prays for the victims of violence, she prays too for the perpetrators. Forgiveness, she says, is part of being a Christian.
“We’re called on to forgive because we have been forgiven,” Bateman says. “We can’t condemn anyone. That’s not our job. That’s God’s business, not ours.”
Prayer reminds her when she is overwhelmed that though evil still exists, through prayer it is not as dark.
“We have hope,” she says. “There’s so much about prayer that we can’t understand. I do believe every prayer is heard, though every prayer is not answered.”
Through prayer, she says, she finds not only comfort and solace but also answers to the questions she asks of herself and others.
She feels the National Day of Prayer — and the local observance — is a good way for people to come together, setting aside denominations, races and political agendas for the common goal of holding hands and asking for God’s guidance and blessings upon the nation. Bateman referred to the local observance as a “Christian event” Monday.
Asked to clarify if Bateman’s views were representative of the entire organizing committee, the committee’s publicity chairman Glenn Lautzenhiser said, “This is the Christian Community and Prayer Committee — it is strictly the Christian community and National Day of Prayer committee.”
In today’s politically-charged climate, not everyone feels comfortable taking such a public stand, Avery acknowledges. But he feels it is imperative for believers to be prepared to weather criticism, encouraging others to be strong in their faith as well.
Avery participates in the service every year, but he says even if people are unable to attend, they can still bow their heads at noon and pray. The service is expected to conclude at 12:45 p.m.
Speakers will include Avery, county administrator Ralph Billingsley, Golden Triangle Regional Airport Executive Director Mike Hainsey, Father’s Child Ministries Director Edward Yeates, Fairview Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Breck Ladd, Beth Jeffers from Fitness Factor, Immanuel Christian School student Mary Katherine Good, WCBI television anchor and reporter Aundrea Self, Annunciation Catholic Church’s Father Robert Dore and Fitness Factor owner Beth Jeffers.
The National Day of Prayer was designated by Congress in 1952 and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. Historical records indicate President George Washington held a day of prayer in 1775, and President John Adams one in 1798.
It is held every year on the first Thursday in May.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.