by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection
The National Day of Prayer is an annual day of observance on the first Thursday of May designated by the U.S. Congress, when people are asked to turn to God in prayer and meditation. On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a Congressional bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer be declared by each president at a date of his choice. On June 17, 1952, Pres. Truman issued a proclamation for the first Day of Prayer to be held on July 4, 1952. The law was later amended so the day would be on the first Thursday in May as it still continues.
Increasingly, The National Day of Prayer (NDP) is being observed in schools and workplaces not only by Christians, but by people of many other faiths as well. Many are now seeing the NDP as an opportunity to build bridges while maintaining fidelity to their particular faith. The NDP illustrates some of the ways that freedom of religion and belief enables meaningful connection and flourishing in the workplace.
Prayer is a profoundly personal and intimate practice, often reserved for individuals in solitude or groups of like-minded people in dedicated settings. So for many, multi-faith NDP events stretch the boundaries of traditional prayer. Yet, done sensitively, they can be conducted in ways that are fully consistent with the diverse participants’ practices and beliefs; and in ways that free participants to live out their faith openly in the workplace.
As people across the religious and ideological spectrum gather voluntarily on the first Thursday in May to express goodwill toward one another and toward their companies and the world, they recognize that their prayers – and their gods – are different. For example:
- – Many Jews, Christians and Muslims direct their prayers to the one they consider the creator and sustainer of all things.
- – For many Hindus, prayers can be directed to various gods.
- – For many Buddhists, prayer isn’t seen as a petition addressed to any god or other being; rather, it’s intended to awaken a spiritual awareness or strength within.
- – For many atheists, the dedicated time of reflection provides occasion for a sincere exploration and expression of heart-felt ideas.
Where various faiths and belief systems are represented in the group, it’s important to clarify at the start the intent behind the gathering; including what it IS, and what it is NOT.
- – This IS an event where attendees should feel free to pray authentically, as they normally do in other settings, in accordance with the practices of their faith and culture.
- – Attendees are NOT, simply by their presence, necessarily joining in or agreeing with the prayers of people whose faiths differ from their own; nor are they affirming the efficacy or appropriateness of prayers given by people of other faiths.
- – Attendees are asked to listen to the prayers of others; and, in the silence of their own hearts, to affirm any sentiments and ideas that they personally identify with, in whatever way they consider appropriate and consistent with their personal beliefs.
In our many years of experience with this kind of public multi-faith prayer event, we’ve seen some important commonalities, despite the significant differences in belief:
- – The people who attend such an event are sincere. Their prayers come from the heart. Even those who come simply because they’re curious are sincere in wanting to learn something about others’ prayer practices and beliefs.
- – The prayers and meditations reflect participants’ earnest desire to connect with the divine or with ultimate reality.
- – The prayers reflect goodwill toward others, and toward the company.
- – The event creates opportunities for deeper, warmer and more personal connections among participants, as they experience one others’ sincere, selfless prayers on their behalf, for their flourishing.
There have been isolated instances where particular vocalized prayers at these multi-faith workplace events were interpreted by some as judgmental and negative. But that’s a very rare exception.
The National Day of Prayer is just one small sphere in which freedom of religion and belief is bearing fruit in workplaces; but it’s a particularly poignant one. The fact that it’s possible to engage meaningfully and positively with one another in this very personal activity of prayer illustrates that we can build bridges of understanding and compassion in many other ways as well.
That’s something to pray for.
The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, together with faith-and-belief Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders from Walmart and Intel will hold a National Prayer Day event open for employees of companies from all faiths and beliefs to join on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at 1pm Eastern Time.