The first was small. There were only about half a dozen people, led by newly elected town council member and fellow Ashland Arts Alliance member Steve Trivett. It occurred at 12:15. The group consisted mostly of local church pastors. It was a serene experience, led by heartfelt prayers by those present who wished to speak out loud. Steve made some opening remarks that have stuck with me all day... that in countries where you can be arrested, beaten, and tortured for practicing your religion, the one thing they can't take away from you is prayer. It also put me to mind that the freedom we had to stand there and gather on the lawn was something not everyone in the world has.
At 7pm, there was a much larger event. There was some wonderful music by a talented quartet, the "4 The Lord Quartet". These guys could put American Idol contestants to shame. Pastor Michael Shannon of Shiloh Baptist Church delivered a moving old time gospel solo. Later the Ashland Vineyard Church Praise Band led the group in "They Will Know We are Christians by our Love", "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands", and "God Bless America".
A few things struck me about the event. First, that this is one of the few times I've seen black and white people gathered together in Ashland. Ashland tends to be very visually segregated. The crowd was universally warm and welcoming.
I was also struck by the political tone of the event. Virginia District 55 Republican delegate John Cox delivered "thoughts". His thoughts were mainly quotes by the founding fathers in relation to religion. He addressed the entire crowd as fellow Christians. There was some denigration of the idea of "Freedom from Religion". There was some mention that our currency says "In God We Trust", but no mention that it was added in 1957, nor that it was added in response to the Red Scare. It sounded like something scripted from Focus on the Family.
Conspicuously absent was any display of non-Christian presence. No Rabbis, or Imams. No Shamans or Priestesses or any other forms of worship. Doing a little bit of amateur online research, I find something that says that 29% of county residents are "Other". (I'm tempted to link to my X post for the April A to Z challenge, but I'll refrain).
Personally, I know Jewish people, Buddhist members of the SGI, Metaphysicists, someone who was adopted into the Lakota tribe and practices their ways, and quite a few Pagans. And then there are the atheists and "naturalists".
It will be interesting to see how the public celebration of this day changes over time in Ashland. The President's proclamation reads:
On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 3, 2012, as a National Day of Prayer. I invite all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I call upon individuals of all faiths to pray for guidance, grace, and protection for our great Nation as we address the challenges of our time.
I'd like to hear some of that language locally. I'd like to see diversity and inclusion in the guest speakers and musicians. How was YOUR National Day of Prayer?