AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday leaned over a table at the bottom of the large staircase outside his office and signed a document titled “A Call to Prayer for Maine.”
More than two dozen legislators, including Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and Speaker of the House Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, and Attorney General William Schneider also signed the paper, designed to resemble the nation’s early documents such as the Declaration of Independence.
By signing the document Tuesday, the public officials and ordinary Mainers declared their support for prayer in the public square and a commitment to see that the motto “In God We Trust” is not just a phrase stamped on currency but words to live by, organizers said.
The event was sponsored by the Maine Legislative Prayer Caucus, which is associated with PrayUSA, a group funded by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation Inc., based in Chesapeake, Va.
The main goal of prayer caucuses at the U.S. Capitol in Washington and six state legislatures, now including Maine’s, is “to preserve the Judeo-Christian heritage of our nation and protect the right of Americans to publicly pray and trust in God,” according to PrayUSA’s website.
PrayUSA’s roots go back to 2005, when members of the U.S. House of Representatives began meeting in Room 219 of the Capitol every week to pray. On Nov. 18, 2005, a bipartisan group of representatives initiated and signed the original Call to Prayer Proclamation and asked Americans to join them and pray for the nation. The state proclamation is similar to the document signed by a group of elected officials in Congress.
“We stand at the threshold of another significant crossroads: either to acknowledge and embrace the vibrant character of our spiritual heritage or to plunge headlong into the postmodern void — a value-neutral and amoral vacuum that endeavors to deconstruct much of what we hold sacred,” the Call to Prayer for Maine states.
“We, the undersigned, who believe in prayer and the Judeo-Christian principles that remind us that our rights come from almighty God, are united in this proclamation,” the document concludes. “Accordingly, this day we respectfully and humbly issue a ‘Call to Prayer’ for the State of Maine and invite Mainers everywhere to pray that God will continue to bless this country, our noble state and the freedom for which they stand.”
There has been an informal prayer group made up of legislators in Augusta for many years, Rep. David C. Burns, R-Whiting, co-chairman of Maine’s prayer caucus with Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, said at the opening of the hourlong event in Augusta. On Tuesday, it became a formal caucus of the Legislature.
The prayer caucus meets at 8 a.m. Tuesdays, and discussion of bills or legislative issues is strictly forbidden, Burns said. As many as 30 lawmakers attend, depending on their schedules.
About 100 people gathered in the Hall of Flags for Tuesday’s ceremony to support the idea of prayer in public and to pledge to pray for lawmakers. There was no organized opposition to the event.
Carrie Pearl of Charleston came to Augusta with other members of the Charleston Pentecostal Church.
“[This event] gives me hope our Legislature is moving on the right path,” she said. “We’re here to show them that being a Christian isn’t a bad thing.”
Bob Garrett of Sidney is a Catholic. He said that he prays every day for elected leaders in Augusta and Washington, D.C.
“We pray for them because we want them to make good decisions,” he said. “As a society we need to come back to prayer. If you take prayer out of our society, things are only going to get worse.”
The Call to Prayer for Maine document also describes what public servants who believe in the power of prayer might pray for: “humility in governance, wisdom in decision-making, courage in times of testing, and providence for God’s favor and blessing.”
Burns and Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, both said they appreciated it when constituents told them that they included them and other legislators in their prayers. Dill was one of a handful of Democrats to attend the event.
She said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon that her schedule does not allow her to attend the prayer caucus but she is there in spirit. Dill is a member of and taught Sunday school for five years at the First Congregational Church in South Portland.
“I am a Christian who believes in same-sex marriage, choice and social justice,” she said. “Clearly my moral compass comes from all the teachings I’ve had in my life, from my parents and my church.”
Dill said she attended Tuesday’s event to support the freedom to worship assured to all Americans in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the recent vote in Congress reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto.
For information on A Call to Prayer for Maine, visit http://calltoprayermaine.org/.