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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

To be honest, I’ve always thought it was a bit of an odd tradition. When I was growing up, each year, on a Wednesday in early March, our church would gather for what was called “Prayer Day.” This day was designated by the denomination to “ask for God’s blessing upon the world, our nations and communities, crops and industry, and the church worldwide.” As a pastor, I’ve served in church settings where this continued to be part of our annual rhythm. But it always seemed like a token gesture. After all, shouldn’t we be praying for such things all the time? Why gather only once a year to offer such prayers?

Over time, I gradually became more interested in the reasons behind this seemingly strange tradition. When did the CRC start celebrating an annual day of prayer, and why? Was it merely, as I’d been told, a nod to our agricultural heritage at the start of the spring planting season? What I found surprised me—and helped me appreciate this strange tradition in a new way.

The first mention of a regularly scheduled “day of prayer” for the CRC is found in the minutes of Classis Holland in 1866, and then again in 1869, where it is said to have been neglected that spring. The young denomination committed then and there to observe this occasion annually on the second Wednesday in March, “in accord with” the custom of the churches in the Netherlands in which most of the CRC members at the time had their roots. Over the years, synod has called for “days of prayer” for other reasons and has granted councils the freedom to shift the observance of the “annual day of prayer” when it is more meaningful for a congregation to gather on a different date (for example, on the National Day of Prayer in the U.S.). But on multiple occasions, synod has asserted the value of this tradition of gathering for the particular purpose of praying as a denomination for crops and industry.

But what especially surprised me in my research was the fact that many of our sister denominations still continue to observe this annual “Day of Prayer” today. The tradition arose from the various “days of prayer” celebrated in medieval Europe, which the Reformed churches adopted as their own in the wake of the Reformation. Gradually the Reformed synods settled on a day of “prayer for crops and industry” in the spring and a day of thanksgiving in the fall. Though the date varies locally, most Reformed denominations in the Netherlands today celebrate the spring day of prayer on the second Wednesday in March. In more traditional communities, some congregations even gather for prayer services twice on this day. The “Day of Prayer” tradition has also extended to other parts of the world, such as South Africa, where Dutch Reformed churches were historically active.

So the CRC’s tradition of “Prayer Day” is not something unique to our denomination. Rather, this observance connects us to other churches worldwide that share our theological and liturgical heritage. And though the CRC has been enriched by its growing connections with Reformed Christians from other traditions and from different parts of the world, the spring day of prayer offers us all an opportunity to remember the heritage that continues to form us in a significant way.

Should we pray more frequently? The answer is probably “yes.” Many churches in our denomination have regular times of prayer. I know of CRC congregations, especially those of Korean heritage, who gather very early every morning to bring their needs and joys to God. We can all be encouraged by this example to spend more time before our Lord. But the annual day of prayer serves as something that can help bind us together, knowing that congregations across the CRC and in our wider Reformed circles also are gathering to bring the needs, concerns, and joys of our work together before the Lord in an intentional way. In this way we can be, as one Dutch church resource puts it, a time of collective awareness of and witness to the necessity of God’s grace in our lives.

So I’ve come to have more appreciation for this annual observance of the Day of Prayer. Rather than a token gesture, synod’s encouragement to the churches should remind us all that Christians are, by nature, called to prayer. And at least once a year, it is fitting for congregations to challenge their members to be intentional about the call to bring our lives and our work together before God in communal prayer as part of the wider body of Christ. Cultivating such humility and dependence on the Lord in all we do personally and as Christian communities seems like a worthy tradition to continue—and perhaps one that encourages all of us to grow as those who “pray continually and groan inwardly” (Q&A 116) as part of the thankfulness God requires of us in Christ.

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