Hundreds gathered near the Capitol Thursday to sing, dance and, of course, pray in celebration of the 49th annual National Day of Prayer.
Some danced to gospel music coming from the packed conference room in the Cannon House Office Building, while others were more contemplative during the five-hour meeting to heal cultural differences in America.
Men and women, blacks and whites, the young and the old came together. There were men with earrings and tattoos. Some did not look particularly religious, but their attitude was.
“It is my sincere conviction that only through the power of prayer will our nation return to God and be healed of its many ills,” said Shirley Dobson, chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, whose coordinators organized the conference and about 50,000 similar observances for an estimated 2 million Americans throughout the 50 states.
The Rev. Earl Pickard, of the National Prayer Committee, asked the 300 observers inside the conference room to kneel and “pray that God will turn the nation back to Him … so truth will once again prevail.”
The program inside the conference room was relayed on television screens to observers who waited outside. As the participants inside exited, those who were outside were admitted constantly filling the conference room seats.
There was a Scriptures reading by Rabbi Lyle Fishman. The Rev. Paul Lee gave the opening prayer.
It was during the songs by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers that several women outside the conference room began to dance. Others raised their arms in reverence, and some joined in to sing “I’m So Glad Jesus Kept Me Free,” and “Glory, Hallelujah.”
“This is the most remarkable of days,” said Rep. Helen Chenowith-Hage, Idaho Republican, adding that the day, Pray2K, is America’s hope for the new millennium.
She said America is at the crossroads of a “cultural war without bombs or bloodshed.”
“Let us regain our heritage by prayer,” said Mrs. Chenowith-Hage, deploring “political correctness,” which she said robs America’s leaders of their convictions.
Prayer days have existed since 1775, called for by the First Continental Congress. But the day was not formally cited until Congress and President Truman enacted it in 1952. In 1988, Congress and President Reagan declared that it should be observed on the first Thursday of May.
The day is intended to unite Americans of all socioeconomic, political and ethnic backgrounds to pray for the nation. Although Jews, Muslims, Mormons and those of other faiths are encouraged to observe National Prayer Day, it is primarily celebrated by Christians.
Those in the judicial system should take special note of the day, said New York Judge William J. Ostrowski, pointing out that artwork in the U.S. Supreme Court chambers depicts Moses with the Ten Commandments, the Chinese philosopher Confucius, the Muslims’ Koran and the symbols of other religions.
“And, so here we are, gathered together to pray for our nation,” Jude Ostrowski said.
Thursday evening, those who observed the day ended it by gathering at the west front of the Capitol.