SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns from across the religious spectrum will gather Thursday at various locations to participate in the National Day of Prayer, uniting their faith in supplication to God on behalf of their communities and their country.
“Prayer is what links us to each other despite our differences,” said Jim Harris, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel of Salt Lake, which is hosting its annual National Day of Prayer breakfast and prayer service from 8-10 a.m. “It is through prayer that all faith groups communicate to God. And when we join forces to reach out and pray for God’s hand to be upon our nation, I really believe it makes a difference.”
Thousands of like-minded believers will be participating in similar services around the country as part of the annual National Day of Prayer, an observance designated by Congress as a day for Americans “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”
In proclaiming Thursday, May 2, 2013, to be a National Day of Prayer, President Barack Obama called on citizens to give thanks, “in accordance with our own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings” and to ask “for God’s continued guidance, mercy and protection.”
Especially, Obama said, “let us remember in our thoughts and prayers all those affected by recent events, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, the Newtown, Conn., shootings, and the explosion in West, Texas.
“Let us pray for the police officers, firefighters and other first responders who put themselves in harm's way to protect their fellow Americans,” he continued. “Let us also pray for the safety of our brave men and women in uniform and their families who serve and sacrifice for our country.”
Obama urged Americans to “come together to pray for peace and goodwill today and in the days ahead as we work to meet the great challenges of our time."
And that is exactly what the Rev. Harris and the Calvary Chapel team have in mind for their Day of Prayer observance, which is free to the public.
“We just want to bring the community together to pray for our nation, our military, our families,” he said. “We’re going to fly the banner of faith and prayer because prayer makes a difference. I see it every day.”
Featured speaker at the Calvary Chapel prayer breakfast will be the Rev. Michael J. Imperiale, senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City. The Rev. Imperiale said Wednesday that he will be using the Lord’s Prayer from the New Testament as a model for the way we should pray in order to invoke God’s blessings on us as a people.
“It isn’t the words of the Lord’s Prayer that are important as much as it is the concepts,” he said. “So often we just ask God for his blessings. But we also need to give thanks and praise him for all that he has already done for us.”
Such prayers, the Rev. Imperiale said, don’t change God as much as they change us.
“That’s the value of having community prayer,” he said. “Bringing people together like this expands your vision and broadens your perspective. And something special happens when people from different faith traditions focus their prayers together. It not only brings you closer to God, but it also brings you closer to each other.
“The differences don’t go away,” the Rev. Imperiale said, “but they seem to matter less.”
Especially when National Day of Prayer observances emphasize things that are shared. “We really try to focus on what we can agree on,” said Rob Harter, executive director of the Christian Center of Park City, which is hosting its annual National Day of Prayer Community Breakfast Thursday morning from 7:30 to 9.
“What do people of faith do in a world that seems to be more chaotic, more out of control than ever?” Harter asked. “It seems to me that the best thing we can do is come together, support each other, pray for each other and focus on what we can agree on.”
In his mind, this extends beyond those who are gathering in Park City. “This is a national event,” he said. “At the same time we are meeting, people are gathering in other locations all around the country. We’re all kind of doing this together even though we’re not in the same geographic place. We’re connected to each other through our prayers. And I think that means something — to us, and to God.”
One unusual element of the Park City observance is the participation of local law enforcement and fire officials, as well as local legislators.
“We tell them, ‘Thanks for what you do for us. Now, what can we do for you? How can we support you with our prayers?’ ” Harter said. “Then after they tell us, we say, ‘OK, you’ve heard what the needs are. Let’s get together and pray.’ And we pray for everything and everyone we’ve been asked to pray for. We have a list and we pray for each name and challenge on the list.
“I think there’s something really powerful in that,” Harter concluded. “It’s like we’re saying to these public servants, ‘We may disagree on some things, but we can come together as one to pray for you.’ ”
In Provo, the Utah Valley Ministerial Association is holding its annual National Day of Prayer observance at 7 p.m. at the Heritage School Auditorium. In addition to it being a spiritual experience, UVMA chairwoman Linda Walton sees the event as an opportunity for education and the enhancement of interfaith understanding.
“Much of religion is culture,” said Walton, who is a chaplain at Utah Valley University. “There are diverse rituals, all kinds of symbolism and different ways of praying. Events like this give you an opportunity to experience those differences in a non-threatening way. And once you get past the different forms of prayer, you realize that it doesn’t matter if you kneel or stand or lay prone on your stomach. What matters is, what am I really thankful for? What am I scared about? What am I worried about? And you focus on that instead of a form of prayer that may be different from your own.”
Not all local churches are involved in National Day of Prayer observances. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t participate officially, although individual Latter-day Saints may choose to take part in local services (Scott Palmer, president of the LDS Church’s Park City Utah Stake, will present a New Testament reading during the Park City service, for example).
“The National Day of Prayer is not widely observed in the Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, executive officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. “But there may be local churches that choose to participate, and that is fine with us. We certainly have no problem with it.”
That is because “praying for our country and for our leaders is part of our liturgical tradition.”
“We pray for our leaders and for our government as part of our worship,” the Rev. Nestler said. She pointed out passages in “The Book of Common Prayer” that invoke prayers for “our president, for the leaders of the nation and for all in authority,” as well as “for this city, for every city and community, for those who live in them.”
“Every day there’s a service at one of our churches where those prayers for the nation are given,” the Rev. Nestler said. “So every day is a Day of Prayer for us.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company