WASHINGTON -- Christians across the country gathered throughout the day at churches, city halls, community buildings and even on street corners in recognition of the 61st Annual National Day of Prayer.
The day was set aside by Congress in 1952 to encourage personal thoughts and prayers for the United States and its leaders. President Reagan later designated the first Thursday of May as the annual observance.
"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," President Barack Obama said in his proclamation for the National Day of Prayer this year.
"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," he added.
One Nation Under God
The 2012 National Day of Prayer carries the theme "One Nation Under God." It's aimed at preserving America's Christian heritage and defending religious freedom.
The main event took place in the marble-lined halls of the U.S. Capitol, where people prayed for America, the Church, the military, and the economy.
The event drew lawyers, judges, members of the Armed Forces, lawmakers, and religious leaders from various denominations.
"I hope it expresses unity, that we can come together. And the NDPTF really emphasizes the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of the nation that we live in," Dion Elmore, public relation director for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said.
This year's keynote speaker was Dr. David Jeremiah, National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman and founder of Turning Point television and radio ministry in San Diego, Calif.
Jeremiah used biblical references to demonstrate how God answered prayers in seemingly impossible situations.
He also addressed what critics of the Obama administration describe as attacks on America's religious liberty.
"While the government, the enemy, whoever you may want to call them, while they stretch out their hand especially more so than ever before to try to harass the Church, when we pray, God goes into action and we have nothing to fear," he told the audience.
Attendees like Jamie Farris, were encouraged by what they heard and experienced.
"Let us not give up meeting together and encouraging one another on toward love and spurring on one another toward good deeds and so much the more as we see the day approaching," Farris quoted scripture.
Others were reminded that America's founding is intertwined with its spiritual heritage.
"The move toward the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was an ordained Christian minister - all the great things that have happened in the country started in the church. They started with prayer," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said.
The government-sponsored observance is usually met with protest. To counter prayer events, atheist groups designated Thursday a National Day of Reason.
In 2010, a federal judge in Washington deemed the day of prayer unconstitutional. The Obama administration then appealed the ruling, and a higher court reversed the decision.
Ironically, this year's National Day of Prayer also falls on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ban on public school prayer.
The National Day of Prayer Task Force says 35 percent more events were planned for the holiday this year. To find a prayer gathering near you, visit the National Day of Prayer website.