Greater Boston churches observe National Day of Prayer

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BOSTON – Churches around Boston will commemorate the National Day of Prayer May 5, which takes place annually on the first Thursday in May.

Former president Ronald Reagan signed the law establishing  the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer in 1988. A decade later, President Bill Clinton signed a law requiring each president to issue a proclamation for the day annually.

This year, National Day of Prayer chair Shirley Dobson, author and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, passed the mantle to author Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of famous evangelist Billy Graham, after serving as chairman for 25 years.

On the 65th annual National Day of Prayer, national organizers have adopted the theme of “Wake up America” this year. The theme focuses on the “need for individuals, corporately and individually, to return to God,” according to the website of Unite Boston, an interdenominational group that works to bring together Christian churches.

“In Massachusetts, we are honored to join the millions across our country as we call the citizens of our Great Commonwealth to stand in solidarity as we ‘Raise Our Voices,’ asking God to heal, strengthen and bless Massachusetts and our Country,” the organizer’s website continues.

Events were scheduled across the country, with at least 13 events organized in the Greater Boston area on Thursday. Religious groups and individuals will gather to pray in the Great Hall at the State House Thursday afternoon, and at Jubilee Christian Church in the evening, among others.

“The threats of poverty, violence, and war around the world are all too real. Our faith and our earnest prayers can be cures for the fear we feel as we confront these realities,” President Barack Obama wrote in his annual proclamation. “Helping us resist despair, paralysis, or cynicism, prayer offers a powerful alternative to pessimism.  Through prayer, we often gain the insight to learn from our mistakes, the motivation to always be better, and the courage to stand up for what is right, even when it is not popular.”

Nationwide, the concept of such a prayer day sparked controversy. Portland pastor Chris Nye wrote in the Washington Post Thursday about his concerns over the public spotlight sought by prayer warriors.

“We want people to see our prayers, hear our prayers, and applaud our prayers—and he says we actually can have that if we want it,” Nye wrote. “It just may be at the expense of God hearing us and rewarding us.”

Nick Hall, who leads a prayer advocacy group, disagreed.

“In a time marked by division of politics, race and religion, I can think of no more important call than that of prayer,” he wrote, also in Thursday’s Post. “We need to come together. And in a world marked by exclusivity, prayer offers a place for all.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter at @karabettis.