The History of Unity World Day of Prayer

The idea for a World Day of Prayer was born out of a class assignment given to ministerial students at Unity Village in 1993. Rev. Earl Anderson asked his Prayer and Meditation class students to bring everyone together at one place on campus for the intention of united prayer.

Unity students and employees indeed gathered for what the students called a “World Day of Prayer.” The group joined hands as they stood around the central courtyard fountain and prayed together.

The following year Unity invited the public to its “WorldWide Day of Prayer” on September 1, 1994. For 24 hours, participants lifted up the following affirmation—God’s healing light and love radiate through me, through all those with whom I pray, and throughout all creation—to be held in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

The event included a 24-hour Prayer Vigil that began at 12:01 a.m., and a Daily Word® service at 7:30 a.m., in the Unity Village Activities Center, where participants completed prayer lists. A 30-minute service at 11 a.m. in the Silent Unity Chapel was followed by a “Hands Around the World” celebration in the central courtyard. 

There was a tour of Silent Unity® at 2 p.m., and a “Special Moment of Reflection” broadcast came on the Unity Village public address system at 3 p.m. A Vespers Service was held at 8:45 p.m. in the Silent Unity Chapel, and the 24-hour Prayer Vigil ended at midnight.

Since that first celebration, World Day of Prayer has grown in popularity as people around the world are able to join in prayer thanks to social media platforms and live-streaming events. This year’s 2017 World Day of Prayer on September 14 will inspire people with the theme: “Peace in the Midst.”

In 1997 World Day of Prayer added international participants, including those in Mexico, Germany, Ghana, France, Romania, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. By 2000, the event was becoming a more interfaith event, and organizers also encouraged people for the first time to send reports of answered prayer.

A 2000 survey indicated a change in the start times of the event. So the September 12, 2001, World Day of Prayer began with an opening service starting at 7 p.m. and the 24-hour Prayer Vigil at 8 p.m., that concluded the next day with a celebration at 8:15 p.m.

In January 2001, Unity received more than 600 reports of testimonials of healings, special insights and guidance, new prosperity, peace of mind, and profound joy.

In honor of the 2002 World Day of Prayer, Unity School of Christianity sponsored a Youth and Teen Peace Essay Contest for ages 8-18 on the theme “Peace Begins With Me.” Winners were awarded $100 savings bonds. Contest activities were held on September 11, the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

The 2003 World Day of Prayer made note of 1.3 million people being acknowledged during the vigil that year. In 2004 the theme was “United in God’s Presence,” with as many as 900 Unity churches and study groups hosting World Day of Prayer events.

Best-selling poet and author Mark Nepo launched the Prayer Vigil for the 2014 World Day of Prayer, held September 11.

In 2015 World Day of Prayer focused on affirmative prayer, and that year the event also commemorated the 125-year anniversary of Silent Unity.

Following the 7 p.m. opening service with Charline E. Manuel, author of Pray Up Your Life (Balboa Press, 2012), congregants joined in a candlelight walk from the Activities Center to the Silent Unity Chapel.

All said, World Day of Prayer stands by the intention of that first event in 1994, when organizers Mary-Alice and Richard Jafolla said, “We believe prayer can raise the consciousness of the world. Prayer changes lives. Prayer heals. Prayer can bring peace to individuals and to nations.”

The Treasures of the Archives series is a regular feature highlighting the extensive digital records, data, and artifacts collection held at Unity Archives, located at Unity World Headquarters.