Americans will be asked this Thursday to take time to pray at least five minutes for what is being called "The Freedom Five," or the "Five Points of Prayer: Government (including the military), media, education, church and family."
From an early morning prayer walk on the state Capitol grounds to rallies outside city halls to rousing patriotic and musical events at churches, many events are being planned for the annual National Day of Prayer here and across the United States.
"I think with the war in Iraq and some of the different things we have been going through, this is an important time to have people praying for the nation," said the Rev. Paul Covert, the prayer pastor at Central Christian Church of the East Valley in Mesa and the East Valley coordinator for Arizona’s Prayer Day.
The major event planned for the area will be at 7 p.m. at Central Christian Church of the East Valley, 933 N. Lindsay Road, Mesa, in collaboration with Word of Grace Church. It will feature video interviews that Covert recently taped with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., asking them what national issues "the church needs to know? What are you doing personally that you would like us to pray about? What is your agenda that you would like us to pray for?"
The pastor said he asked the two lawmakers "how can we pray for you personally so they are not just figures in Washington, that they are actually live people."
Teachers, a firefighter, a police officer, medical personnel, veterans and such officeholders as Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and Mesa City Councilman Rex Griswold also will participate.
The Arizona National Day of Prayer Board, led by Valley sports mogul Jerry Colangelo, has called for communities and congregations to organize prayer events with the vision "to see masses of Christians of all denominations and ethnicity uniting in prayer, praise and worship at numerous events throughout Arizona."
National organizers have chosen Leviticus 25:10 as this year’s theme: " . . . proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants."
By an act of Congress in 1952, the National Day of Prayer was approved, but it was former President Ronald Reagan who, in 1988, signed a bill into law assigning it annually to the first Thursday of May. Its origins go back to 1775, when the Continental Congress designated a time for prayer in the formation of the nation. President Abraham Lincoln set aside a day of "national humiliation, fasting and prayer" amid the Civil War in April 1863. His proclamation called on "all the people to abstain, on this day, from their ordinary secular pursuits and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord . . ."
"Every year, this gets bigger and bigger, which is exciting," said Mike Frisbee of Phoenix, the state coordinator and a Lutheran. "We expect over 25 cities and towns throughout the state to host events." While events at the Capitol, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix, will run from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a noon rally, organizers have changed the evening format to have "six concurrent big church events" like the one in Mesa, instead of a single event in a stadium as in past years.
While National Day of Prayer is billed as a keeping with "Judeo-Christian tradition" and as representing 86 percent of the U.S. population, Frisbee said events clearly will show a Christian emphasis. "The National Day of Prayer is designated by Congress for people of all faiths," he said. "A lot of this effort under the task force leadership is a Christian expression. . . . Events will definitely have a Christian flavor, but everybody is welcome."