Sarah Bates // The Post and Courier

Clive D’Vaz prays Tuesday after the noon Mass at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street. Thursday is the National Day of Prayer.

Whether they pray individually or in a group, whether for personal benefit or for the sake of others, many people in the Lowcountry hoping for a better day will communicate their messages skyward on Thursday during the National Day of Prayer.

A number of churches in the region have special Prayer Day events planned, and expect to draw crowds looking for fellowship and an opportunity to express their patriotism, organizers said.

The National Day of Prayer became a formal observance in 1952, after the U.S. Congress enacted a law designating the first Thursday of May as a day "to turn to God in prayer and meditation."

The constitutionality of the law recently has been challenged. Barbara B. Crabb, a federal judge in Wisconsin, ruled in April last year that the government had "taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

"(The law's) sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function," Crabb wrote.

On April 15, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Crabb's objection, declaring that a National Day of Prayer does not obligate anyone to do anything. On Friday, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring May 5 National Day of Prayer:

"Prayer has played an important role in the American story and in shaping our Nation's leaders," the presidential proclamation states. "On this National Day of Prayer, let us follow the example of President Lincoln and Dr. King. Let us be thankful for the liberty that allows people of all faiths to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and let us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted.

As they've done for years, local churches are forging ahead with their plans to gather people together in prayer. The theme of this 60th annual observance, as stated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," the message of Psalm 91.

First Baptist Church in Goose Creek, which has hosted a public Prayer Day gathering for 25 years, will focus on the nation and the flag, according to organizer Barbara Rucker, ministry assistant. "It's going to be patriotic," she said.

But the prayers will extend to the nation's leaders, other churches and many additional concerns, she said.

Rucker's husband, Mike Rucker, is pastor of Carolina Bay Church in West Ashley. The church doors will open at 7 a.m., allowing people to use the sanctuary all day, he said.

After the day-long prayer vigil, he will conduct an evening service, "taking on a pretty much patriotic flare."

Participants will acknowledge the goodness of God and remember the country's religious heritage, Mike Rucker said.

Ken Owens, pastor at First Baptist Church in Bonneau, said his congregation is joining with the people of Bonneau Pentecostal Holiness Church and others outside Town Hall at noon to pray "together for our country and for the leaders and public servants of our community, state and nation."

"Pastor Jimmy Rodgers and I have been bringing our congregations together to pray for our country for many years now on the National Day of Prayer, and we would like to invite any Christians and local church congregations to join us," Owens said. "We will read a few verses of scripture and then we will join hands around the flagpole and spend time praying for our nation and leaders as we ask God to forgive us of our many sins and to heal our land."

Mary Watkins, of River Bluff Church, said the observance she's helped organize includes eight prayer stations and interactive features.

"We will have a station to pray for our nation, and at that station you actually hold American flags that have prayer requests on them, you read off of the flags and then pray as you feel led to pray," Watkins said. "We have a station for the military. At that station you will be led by one of our military families (recorded on DVD) on how to pray."

Other stations are dedicated to the media, business leaders, the education system, families and law enforcement. The general idea this year is to make prayer a more dynamic, participatory experience, Watkins said. "They can spend as much time or as little as they have."

At Gateway Community Church, a small congregation in Moncks Corner, a similar variety of prayers likely will go up to the heavens, according to organizer Marcia Batchelor.

The 7 p.m. gathering will include the singing of the National Anthem and other music, reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and opportunities to pray for "the lost in the area," Batchelor said.

It's the first time the church has organized a formal National Day of Prayer event, she said.

"It's going to be a great night."