Category: Reflections

A Baptist Contribution to the National Day of Prayer

May 2024

Recently, I co-led an observance of the National Day of Prayer. I did this as a Baptist. Let me explain.

The NDP is a tradition that, per a website ( devoted to this cause, began as an annual observance in 1952 in a congressional bill initiated by Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas and signed by President Harry Truman. Public Law 82-234, Sec. 119 mandated:

“The President shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”

One of the initiators of this 1952 law, along with Senator Carlson, reportedly was Mr. Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels (

Baptists in particular might question such a practice as one that potentially crosses the boundary separating Church and State. Yet another red flag for this Baptist was the NDP website itself on which is found a webstore of resources for purchase, including National Day of Prayer t-shirts, tote bags, water bottles, balloons, pens, banners, decals—even NDP socks. Such commercialization of prayer might have a justification, I suppose, but upon first noting it I was reminded of the story of Jesus “cleansing the Temple.” Jesus turns over tables and scatters the ill-gotten gain of temple marketers, saying: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, NRSV).

I didn’t order anything from the NDP webstore. But I did ponder the ethics of participation, much less leadership as a Baptist clergy ethicist, in a National Day of Prayer. Doing so might have crossed a line. However, the theme that had been chosen for this year’s NDP was one that fostered global concern rather than something akin to Christian Nationalism. That much was good. It seemed to me that even Baptists could get behind “Lift Up and Light Up the World.” So I did.

The venue for our May 2, 2024 observance of the National Day of Prayer was a newly opened center for diverse practices of faith and spirituality located on the campus of a state university’s medical center. My co-leader is a psychologist and ordained African Methodist Episcopal pastor. Her husband and co-pastor is an alumnus of Central Seminary where I teach. With two Christian Protestants leading an interfaith prayer service, we invited participants from other faith traditions as well. Not all invitees showed up, but those who did each spoke briefly about prayer as conceptualized and practiced within their faith tradition. We each then led in prayer, doing so in ways that were inclusive, yet utilizing those particular concepts and practices.

I spoke and prayed from my perspective as an ordained clergyperson in the American Baptist Churches for the past 40+ years, but also as one having been raised and initially educated in a conservative Evangelical Protestant Christian home, congregation, college and seminary. What I shared is something of what I have learned about prayer over the decades.

What I know now is that prayer in Christian traditions is not just one thing, but many.

Prayer is for most Christians, but not all, the act of speaking to deity in the expectation that God is a personal being, one who is listening and will answer our spoken prayers. Those spoken prayers, I was taught as a child, should involve four types of prayers utilizing the acronym “ACTS”: Adoration of God, Confession to God, Thanksgiving, and Supplication or intercession.

Spoken prayer can be simply spoken, but also sung or chanted. It can be done privately or corporately, alone or together. It can be spoken, sung, or chanted by a clergy leader or by a lay cantor. It depends on what is customary within the diversity of Christian faith communities.

In Pentecostal churches, spoken prayers might be “in tongues”, or glossolalia. Some of my Korean Christian friends have taken on a tradition of praying aloud together but all speaking different prayers, simultaneously and extemporaneously. And yes, prayers in Christian faith traditions can be written and read or made up on the spot, extemporaneous.

Prayer in Christian traditions can also happen without words. The Society of Friends, Quakers, might practice corporate prayer in silence, with no words spoken. For some Christians, silent prayer is done as meditation, pondering the words of others perhaps, but not contributing much or any of our own.

Prayer without words can be understood as a practice carried out in the presence of God. Yet it might be done without imagining a personal deity whatsoever, much less one who, like a genie, engages in supernatural acts in response to our petitionary prayers. Belief in an impersonal deity is also one of the Christian theological traditions. In panentheistic Christianity, God is imagined as that in whom “we live and move and have our being”—quoting the Apostle Paul in his speech to Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:28).

Panentheistic prayer entails a form somewhat like what I wrote in an essay many years ago while camping with my family in the mountains of Colorado:

The Christian panentheist does not find gods everywhere nor God in everything. All is not God nor is God all that is. I look at the enormous craggy rock jutting out from the earth above my campsite, at the snowcapped mountains off in the distance, and it is not deity that I see. We use the descriptor “majestic” for such a scene as this and it is apt, as much so as when this term is sung in praise of the mountains` Creator. But I rather easily make the distinction between the majesty of creation and the majestic all-encompassing One who “made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). Too easily, I forget about both when confined to home, office, classroom, or the relatively low roof of a church building. . . .

I think such God-thoughts when gazing in wonder at paintbrush and bluebells, big horn sheep on a hillside, a herd of elk grazing the tundra at 12,000 feet above sea level, a pair of coyotes darting across the valley below, and rainbow trout swimming or jumping upstream so as to spawn in still waters from whence they came. Even cawing crows at dawn, tiny chipmunks scurrying to and fro upon this Colorado earth, and the abundance of ants instill respect for all that is. These are not-so-subtle reminders of our creaturely status together as living co-inhabitors of the divine.

(Excerpts taken from “Camping Theology: Panentheistic Meditations”, Dec 2010.)

In Christian traditions, prayer is not one thing, but many concepts and practices.

The National Day of Prayer theme was “Lift Up and Light Up the World,” and indeed many Christians speak of prayer as “lifting up” to God our concerns or gratitude or petitions. A prayerful Baptist contribution to an NDP interfaith observance—one inclusive of those not Baptist or even Christian, whether lifted up to a deity construed in personal or panentheistic terms, and without violating separation of Church and State—is what I offered at that interfaith prayer meeting.

We lift up today in interfaith prayers not just our own concerns or gratitude or petitions, but prayers on behalf of the world—for our world is in great need of prayer.

Many of us are concerned for a world at war in Israel and Gaza, in Ukraine and Russia, in Myanmar or Burma, and elsewhere. And so we pray for peace with justice.

Many of us share a perspective on the world that is one of awe and wonder. We are grateful for the Earth, this amazing natural world. So we lift up prayers of gratitude—as my people sing—“for the Beauty of the Earth, for the glory of the skies . . . . LORD of all, to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise!”   

Many of us are concerned also for destructive disrespect of the natural world, for human abuse and over-use that has led to a growing climate crisis. We then lift up prayers of petition on behalf of Mother Earth, even while petitioning polluters and politicians to take immediate meaningful actions so as to prevent further environmental degradation.

May light shine in the world wherever darkness still is found.

And so we pray. Amen.

Rev Tarris Rosell, PhD, DMin, HEC-C
Professor of Pastoral Theology—Ethics & Ministry Praxis

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.