Today, many women and some men in over 120 countries around the globe join in an ecumenical initiative of prayer that was begun a century ago by women in North America. The initiative links women around the globe in a shared worship service, rooted in the same prayer texts, prepared each year by a different group of women from countries around the globe. Today, we join in prayer with prayer texts prepared by the women of Suriname.
The history of this day of prayer on the first Friday in March reaches back into the 19th century. Toward the end of the 19th century, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist women in the United States and Canada initiated days of prayer for missions, both “home” and “foreign.” For some, this was an act of defiance: women had not been allowed to become missionaries without a husband-missionary at their side. After World War I, women united concerns for peace with this prayer initiative for missions, and the “World Day of Prayer” as a worldwide ecumenical initiative was born.
In many countries, this day of prayer continues to be known as the Women’s World Day of Prayer, although in the United States, that identifier was dropped. Nevertheless, the day remains very much a women’s day of prayer. Growing up in post-World War II Germany, and in the German Catholic “diaspora” no less, this women’s world day of prayer always fascinated me, and that on several counts. For one, the different churches in our city chosen for the worship service each year were always packed, and packed almost exclusively with women for that matter. Moreover, these women came from all walks of life and witnessed to the diverse Christian communities in our city in ways I never saw at any other point of the year. There were women from the different Catholic ethnic parishes, from affluent and working-class parishes, there were Lutheran and Reformed women, and there were the smaller Christian communities we only knew as “sects” as I grew up, e.g., Methodists, Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists. And the worship services were so startling; there never was room for liturgical boredom [which I suffered under mightily the rest of the year]. In this service, women always presided, led the prayers, did the readings, spoke and sang, and that from beginning to end. And each year, we prayed with another order of worship prepared by women from one of the countries around the globe who belonged to the World Day of Prayer movement. (I was quite disappointed when, many years later, I came to the United States and realized that this movement seemed to be weak in the very location in which it had originated.)
This year, women from Surinam have written the order of worship, with the theme “All God’s Creation is Very Good!” For more information and to join in prayer, take a look here.