“Prayer changes things, and our nation and community are in desperate need of change,” Jersey City’s Tapestry Church Pastor Anthony Langston said in front of the Weehawken 9/11 Memorial before the three hour National Day of Prayer vigil began. “Our young people need direction, we’re in a state of financial ruin, our politics make no sense; it’s a cacophony of competition.”
Local pastors, politicians, community and congregation members trickled in the early morning of May 3, serenaded by the soulful vocal-and-guitar of Tapestry Church’s worship pastor Joy Salera, and stood before the two rusted iron beams that used to hold up the World Trade Center in front of an overcast New York City skyline that seemed to beg for prayer.
Event organizer Brian Hernandez from the West New York Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ (OLJC) brought several community church leaders together to pray for government, family, military, media, business, education, church, and the corporate nation, in accordance with the tradition.
“In a world with so much chaos, it always surprises me we seek the answers everywhere except in prayer.” – Saul Gomez
Prayer, attendants and speakers alike concluded, is one way to bring the community together to affect such necessary change, as is a 61-year longstanding national tradition.
History behind the prayer
The National Day of Prayer saw its beginning when the Continental Congress called for colonies to pray for wisdom in the forming of the nation in 1775, and nearly a century later, Abraham Lincoln designated April 30 as a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer.”
In 1952, Harry Truman signed a joint resolution with Congress which declared an official annual National Day of Prayer. Ronald Reagan amended the law in 1988 which designated the first Thursday of May of each year for prayer, and the following year the National Prayer Committee put together an official task force that organizes events across the country.
Every year, the acting president signs a proclamation encouraging all citizens to pray on this day. According to the National Day of Prayer website, in 2011, two million people attended over 30,000 nationwide observances that were organized by around 40,000 volunteers.
“Prayer has always been a part of the American story, and today countless Americans rely on prayer for comfort, direction, and strength, praying not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country, and the world,” President Barack Obama said in this year’s declaration. “On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience.”
Starting a local tradition
“We’ve known about this day each year but have never done an event before,” Hernandez explained. “Many congregations from the area were interested in putting together our own service, and I thought this would be the perfect place. In addition to all of the traditional things, we also honor those who passed in 9/11.”
Hernandez, who works for the city of Weehawken, approached Mayor Richard Turner with the idea, and the waterfront’s first observance of the National Day of Prayer was born.
“Weehawken’s 9/11 Memorial is a fitting location for this national event,” Turner told the crowd. “Today we remember the victims of the tragedy and the rescuers who helped them, as well as those wound up in international conflicts, our veterans, and our active service people.”
Buckley saw the day as a way to bring people of every faith together. “We’re a melting pot, and disagreements are inevitable,” he said. “But I believe the world is coming to a place where those things are just a part of what makes us human. They don’t necessarily have to separate us.”
Saul Gomez represented West New York’s Iglesia Apostolica that day. “We are in a time of economic and moral crisis,” he said. “In a world with so much chaos, it always surprises me we seek the answers everywhere except in prayer. Today I hope will start a new tradition.”
For more information on the National Day of Prayer, visit www.nationaldayofprayer.org.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com