Gathering together in prayer. It is something that conjures up images of Sunday morning church or group Bible studies. But the National Day of Prayer, observed the first Thursday in May, offers a unique opportunity for people across all religions to gather for one common purpose.
While gatherings are held throughout the country, Sandpoint’s has grown significantly over the last decade, rivaling that of many large cities. According to one of the organizers, Sharlene Wright, locals Ross and Leslie Hall attended a National Day of Prayer in Sandpoint and found that it was not well attended, so they decided to take action.
“Being a businessman, Ross used his business skills for the next year and got the pastors and churches involved,” said Wright. “We had radio and newspaper advertising as well as flyers all over Sandpoint, Ponderay, Kootenai and Sagle, and gave out brochures to the churches involved.”
That fall, Wright and two others from Sandpoint, including Pastor Ken Lawrence, attended the national conference for the National Day of Prayer in Colorado Springs. “We were excited to come home and be a part of bringing all the churches together to pray for our community and watch God move,” said Wright. “We spent a lot of time just praying for the event before it ever happened.”
Pastor Lawrence shares that the conference was held at the headquarters of Focus on the Family. “They hold the conference each year to get pastors and leaders more involved,” he said.
In prior years, Pastor Lawrence said there had been a small group who would gather at the courthouse steps for the National Day of Prayer, but with the encouragement they received at the conference and with the help of the Halls, they were able to increase it by at least 10 times the number of previous attendees. “We have had several hundred, anywhere from 500 to 700 people, attend for at least the last five or six years,” said Lawrence, adding that relocating the event from the courthouse to Farmin Park also helped to accommodate more people.
There are typically about 25 pastors in attendance, all of whom are invited to the platform. And for those pastors who cannot attend, they do their best to encourage others to do so.
Janine Shepard has been involved in the planning of Sandpoint’s National Day of Prayer event for the last four years; it is something about which she is passionate. She and the others on the organizing committee have turned that passion into something they love to share with all faiths. “My understanding is that our gathering is the largest in the state,” said Shepard, adding that she was not aware of other locations in North Idaho that host a National Day of Prayer.
Pastor Lawrence echoes Shepard’s enthusiasm about the wonderful turnout for the event. “In a town with a population of less than 10,000, it’s great to have 500 to 700 people attend,” he said. “In fact, there are state capitols [that host the event] that only have a couple hundred.”
The event takes place at Farmin Park in Downtown Sandpoint and begins with worship and a multi-church band from 11:30am to noon. “Then we do a flag salute, the national anthem and sing God Bless America,” said Shepard.
Pastors from area churches then come forward and lead the group in prayer. There are usually seven of the pastors who have been assigned to pray for a specific area including media, education, government, family, church, arts and entertainment, and business.
“We spend time in prayer for each of these areas, blessing them,” said Shepard, adding that they end the event in worship.
There are many moving moments during the event, and Shepard finds them inspiring and memorable. “Having the multi-church band each year and pastors showing unity as brothers is always moving to me,” she shared. “God is so pleased when Christians work together and build bridges.”
Wright agrees. “My heart is to raise up people to pray for North Idaho, the pastors, Sheriff Wheeler and law enforcement officers. I love North Idaho and want to see families built and God’s kingdom established here,” she said.
“All of the volunteers who help are from different churches, just wanting to give God praise and serve. We are unified behind this single purpose,” added Shepard. “I love unity in the Body of Christ. I love working alongside of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love seeing all of the people who come and pray. We love our God, our community and our nation. One Nation Under God.”
No matter what your faith, all are welcome to attend the National Day of Prayer, and Shepard encourages people to do so.
“Prayer changes things. It changes the spiritual climate,” she said. “So imagine if the enemy was ruling here in Sandpoint, and we wanted to change that. Prayer is the key to that change. We need to be united as believers. We need to rise up. We cannot be silent anymore. This is a great way to unite and make a positive change.”