By C.B. Hanif
How prayer would manifest in a municipal setting was my question when I learned that Delray Beach would host a National Day of Prayer observance in front of City Hall. The event, celebrated nationwide on the first Thursday each May, was established by Congress to encourage Americans to pray for our nation, its people and its leaders.
Delray’s announcement of two “interdenominational” public prayer events resonated with me. For the first, citizens gathered at City Hall at noon on a chamber of commerce day as they have for more than a decade. And that’s the problem, said Geoff Kashdan.
I had just finished telling two city commissioners of my appreciation for the city’s support of the event when he strolled up to greet me. The self-described “progressive activist” stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, or the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for which he has advocated in the past. But he said there’s a concern “when public property such as city hall is used. Especially if it’s used by one religion, which gives the appearance of municipal or governmental sponsorship of that one religion. So I’m just here to watch, learn, listen and monitor.”
I understand that slippery slope, and the influences that want to define America as a Christian nation. It is that, of course. But also, as our praying president has said, a nation of many faiths and home to people of no particular faith.
Two later events I attended better lived up to the interdenominational billing. I left a joyous musical prayer circle, on Lake Worth’s beach, to head to Delray’s Duncan Conference Center for “Many Paths — One God: Celebrating our Unity in Diversity.” Smiles and hugs were even more in abundance at that gathering, sponsored by the Delray Beach Interfaith Clergy Association. The warmth was even more encouraging given the diversity: prayers in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, African-American, Christian Science, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions. Benedictions in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Creole and Spanish.
Throughout the day, one could imagine scoffing from the haters of religion, and haters in the name of religion. They should talk to Addie Lee Hudson.
“It brings us closer together as a people,” the retired educator told me after she had delivered the “Prayer For Our Schools” at City Hall. “And it reaffirms our belief that there is a God. Not a God for one group of people, but a God for all of us.”
Her focus on unity underscores why those who trust in prayer should trust that we can’t pray enough.
C.B. Hanif, former news ombudsman and editorial columnist for The Palm Beach Post, is a freelance writer, editor, media and interreligious affairs consultant. His blog, InterFaith21.com debuts soon. Look for more insights as he visits or speaks at synagogues, churches and mosques from here to infinity, connecting with folks who are making the Golden Rule real, not just an ideal. C.B. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org