LOWELL- Inside St. John's Evangelical Church in Lowell, more than a dozen people gathered Friday morning to learn of the struggles of France and pray as part of an international prayer event.
"The World Day of Prayer is an annual event and started in the United States in 1884," said Don Hart, pastor of St. John's Evangelical Church. "It's an international and ecumenical movement that started out as a women's organization, but is beginning to incorporate men."
It is celebrated the first Friday of March annually, and is carried out in more than 170 countries. One of the goals of the event is for men and women to affirm that prayer and action are inseparable and both have immeasurable influence in the world, according to the World Day of Prayer International Committee website www.worlddayofprayer.net.
World Day of Prayer is not to be confused with the National Day of Prayer, an event that has been celebrated for more than 60 years.
The National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of every May and was originally created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, according to www.nationaldayofprayer.org.
Each year Marietta has a gathering of people downtown at the courthouse to observe the National Day of Prayer.
The main difference between the two events is that the World Day of Prayer is specific to a different country every year.
"Each year a different theme and country is chosen by the international board," said Hart. "Once these are selected the board makes up a universal program that is sent out, and local churches are then able to adjust the basic structure accordingly to their needs."
Hart has been the pastor of St. John's Evangelical Church for the past three years but this is the first year he has been involved with the event.
"This year the country was France and the theme was, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me,' which was based from Matthew 25 verses 31-46," said Hart. "The service was really effective in bringing out the physical and spiritual needs of France."
Aileene Biehl, of Lowell, agreed that the service was very effective in broadening attendants' horizons.
"We learned a great deal about France in general and what they are dealing with currently," said Biehl.
Naomi Roe, who was also in attendance, said she was surprised to hear about some of the concerns in the European nation.
"One of the main messages was about how France is having trouble with immigrants in their land," she said. "The message was all about the importance of caring for strangers in your land."
The event was an hour long and was similar to a normal church service, just more informal, according to Hart.
"We had a program with parts that were read by members of the church. It almost reads like a play," said Hart. "An offering is collected and all the money goes toward funding potential solutions for the problems of the country."
After the service was over, those in attendance gathered for a potluck downstairs at the church.
The food was provided by those in attendance and almost all of it had a connection to France in some form.
Bob McNabb, 77, of Lowell, said has been attending St. John's Evangelical Church for the past 67 years and he enjoyed his first experience with the event.
"I know they have held it here in the past, but this is the first one that I've attended," he said. "It was a fun event, It's just a shame so many people had to work and couldn't make it."
Flo Parcell, of Lowell, agreed that the experience was great, but the small turnout of 13 people was a bit of a disappointment.
"The service was excellent and the post ceremony was fun because we were able to visit with each other and eat some delicious French food," said Parcell. "I just wish more people could have been here to help eat some of the food."
Hart said the event cycles through churches so it might be quite sometime before St. John's Evangelical hosts the event again.
Regardless of where it's held, Hart said he believes the event is a wonderful tool for building faith.
"It wakes everyone up to the needs of other people rather than just their own needs," he said. "We need to realize that everyone has problems and that we should address them the same we would our own."