Prayer proclamation prompts flap

Monday, April 14, 2003

Misunderstanding and a lack of background knowledge has created a division of sorts between the Eureka Springs Ministerial Association and city officials.

At issue is a request from the association for Mayor Kathy Harrison to sign a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer on May 1.

An association member said Monday that Harrison had said, "We don't do that sort of thing in Eureka Springs."

Harrison said that report was not accurate. She stated that the decision was due to concern expressed by the city's attorney, Tom Kieklak, of Springdale.

"I was raised as a speaking-in-tongues laying-on-of-hands holy-roller," Harrison said, "so this does not reflect my personal opinion. They [attorneys] know the law. I don't. That's what they're paid for."

Meanwhile, the association has announced that it will host a National Day of Prayer service at noon on May 1 at the gazebo at Pine Mountain Village, and Assembly of God Pastor Gene Gilmore, president of the association, is awaiting word as to whether he will be on the agenda for Monday's meeting of the Eureka Springs City Council, to renew the request.

This is the first year, at least in recent memory, that the ministerial association has asked for a proclamation by the mayor for the National Day of Prayer. The association president indicated the group sought a proclamation from the mayor this year, largely because of heightened interest in prayer due to the war in Iraq.

The event, however, traces its history in the United States back to 1775, when the Continental Congress designated a time of prayer in forming a new nation.

Abraham Lincoln also called for such a day, and, in 1952, the National Day of Prayer was established as an annual event by a resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S Truman.

In 1988, the law was amended and signed by President Ronald Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May.

Kieklak, Harrison and City Administrator Kim Dickens were not aware of that history.

The city administrator, noting her own religious beliefs, said she posed the question about the resolution to Kieklak. "Although we know certainly that there is 'God' in the Pledge of Allegiance and other things, there's always a difference in the question on state and religion," she explained.

Dickens said that, considering questions about a Christmas nativity in the Basin Park band shell, which is erected annually by a local sorority, "We questioned whether or not it would be legal for the mayor to read a proclamation on camera to the general public regarding a day of prayer."

Kieklak and Dickens said the subject of the proclamation was one of several topics discussed in an informal meeting, apparently held in the first week of April.

"I thought we were talking about adopting some kind of day of prayer ---- a Eureka Springs day of prayer ---- and thought that, especially in Eureka Springs, that would probably draw some fire, and that there were other ways to do that," Kieklak said.

"I had no idea that it dated back to the time of Lincoln," the attorney continued. "I had taken it as something that came up because of the war [in Iraq], that was worthy of prayer. I thought it was something new."

Kieklak said he hoped that someone would get more information, especially about the historic nature of the event, to the mayor.

Gilmore indicated that he hopes to address in more detail the precedence of the National Day of Prayer at Monday's city council meeting. He noted, however, that the agenda for that meeting is closed, and that the only way something can be added is though the mayor. If that doesn't happen, he hopes to be able to say something as public comment.

National Day of Prayer has been enthusiastically observed for many years by churches and ministerial groups in Benton and Washington counties, and in nearby southwest Missouri. In Carroll County, however, more emphasis appears to be placed on the Worldwide Day of Prayer, held in March.

Each year, the president signs a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on that day. Last year, all 50 state governors and several governors of U.S. territories, signed similar proclamations.

Last year, it was estimated that more than 2 million people attended more than 40,000 National Day of Prayer observances. Events may include prayer breakfasts, Bible-reading marathons, concerts of prayer, rallies, church prayer vigils, student flagpole gatherings, and events held in sports stadiums.

This year's theme, "Righteousness Exalts A Nation," is based on Proverbs 14:34 ---- "Righteousness exalts a nation ,but sin is a disgrace to any people."

For the third year in a row, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is asking people to pray the "Prayer for the Nation" at noon, wherever they are, as a sign of unity before God. Honorary Chairman Dr. Luis Palau authored this year's prayer, which conveys the message of the theme.

More information about the National Day of Prayer can be found on the Web site at http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org.

Following is the official prayer for the 2003 National Day of Prayer.

Prayer for the Nation

By Rev. Luis Palau

Our Father and our God,

We thank you for the many blessings You have poured out on America and we praise You for Your mercy.

You have said: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people."

We confess, O Lord, our national and personal sins. We repent and ask forgiveness for all actions that dishonor You.

O God, bless our President and other leaders. Provide them with wisdom and move them to honor You.

Deliver this great nation from all our enemies as we recommit ourselves to trust, serve and obey Your commands.

We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Amen.

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