The Commencement Exercises for the Jacob Gunther Elementary School were held on June 24, 1992 with this chaplain’s name (mine!) listed after the word, “Invocation.” Anyone going to the files in that school can still find that program and see my name printed in it – and perhaps never realize that I never got to say a word… or even attend! The poor principal, in some embarrassment, phoned me at 2:00 p.m. that June afternoon and shared the news that the school was now expected to follow the Supreme Court’s recent ruling forbidding prayer at a school ceremony and that I should not come to that place at 7:00!
It seems that a certain Daniel and Deborah Weisman of Rhode Island had brought a case against prayer in school to court… and it made it all the way to Washington where the Supreme Court upheld the ban in Lee v. Weisman, making it the law of the land to exclude the prayers.
I recall writing a newsletter article for the congregation I served at the time, explaining that it might be a good thing to spare people from the unwelcome presence of such a thing that sets some of them at odds with others who pray. I shared my experience of prayers attempted at other ceremonies in which the high school graduates made no attempt to hide the beer bottles from which they were drinking (in caps and gowns!) and no disguising their inattention to the words being spoken or to the spirit of respect and consideration. Such deportment troubled, disappointed, and even shocked some standing with dignity while others of the opposite spirit raised a din, while no one in authority ever said or did a thing.
So in this season of the year, when many people of faith remember with thanksgiving the freedoms we enjoy in this nation, where stories of faith can be told without threat of hindrance. There is feasting in the retelling of powerful deliverance from long-term abuse in Egypt (with miraculous establishment of a special people, God’s own people – through the sea and into the Promised Land) and the assurance that the Mighty One displays authority that conquers the very fear and sting of death itself in a surprise Third Day that changed defeated and sorrowing followers into bold and confident celebrants of the power of love and new life. How appropriate to pause… and pray.
I marvel that, in this world of so much coarseness and mockery, every meeting of the Long Island Shields includes some moments… of prayer. How unlike so many other groups we are – that we pause in our busy lives and – as a group of friends – share in reflective moments of attention of a Power greater than ourselves. It makes me feel so honored to be included in such a worthy tradition!