homepage logo

Groups gather for Day of Prayer

By Staff | May 11, 2018

Toni Milbourne/Chronicle Members of the Jefferson County community gather outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on Thursday to take part in the National Day of Prayer.

On May 3, crowds around the country gathered in public and private to participate in the annual National Day of Prayer. Such a group gathered in Charles Town on the courthouse lawn. Led by Angela Wood, of Harpers Ferry, the group spent more than 30 minutes lifting up government officials from federal, state and local offices as well as law enforcement, military members and the youth in the community, state and nation.

While the event is an annual tradition for some in the group, others joined in for the first time.

“It was a blessing to be there,” said attendee JoEllen Toothman, of Ranson.

The tradition of the National Day of Prayer goes back hundreds of years, with roots in the Thanksgiving holiday, both of which were set aside as days of prayer. The fall holiday also encompassed giving thanks and was formally designated Thanksgiving by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The spring call for prayer and fasting later evolved into the National Day of Prayer.

On April 17, 1952, President Harry Truman signed the bill proclaiming the National Day of Prayer into law. President Ronald Reagan amended the law in 1988, designating the first Thursday of May as the country’s National Day of Prayer. The designation went through and was approved by Congress to ask people “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

Some presidents since Truman’s time in office have chosen to host National Day of Prayer events at the White House. Among them were Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and current President Donald Trump. While presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama chose not to host such events, both issued proclamations for the day during each year of their respective presidencies.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a legal challenge to the Day of Prayer in October 2008 by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb found in favor of the FFRF; however, the U.S. Department of Justice appealed and a three-judge panel unanimously overruled Crabb’s decision in 2011.

Truman’s official designation of the day in 1952 has been tied to a challenge made at the time, during the Korean War, by Rev. Billy Graham, who said, “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer.”