NASHVILLE, Tenn. Across the nation thousands of students gathered around flagpoles to pray for such things as their schools, their families and the government Sept. 24, marking the annual observance of See You at the Pole, a student-initiated prayer movement.
At Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., about 50 students met in front of the building for small group prayer and then formed a large circle to sing songs and intercede collectively.
"I do it because I love Jesus with all my heart," Colin Horne, a senior, told The Modesto Bee newspaper. "We want people to see that God loves them."
The reporter asked what he would say to people who object to religion on campus, and Horne replied, "God's in our lives all the time. We can separate Him from our curriculum, but He's still in our hearts."
Meaghan Jones, a sophomore, told The Bee she took her spot at the flagpole because she wanted to change the way people at her school think about Jesus, and Jonathan Beckman, another student in Modesto, said, "I believe God wants to change our school, and I wanted to be part of it."
See You at the Pole which typically takes place at 7 a.m. local time started with a group of youth in Burleson, Texas, in 1990. This year's theme was "Connect" as in connecting with God and was based on the story of 1 Samuel 3. Samuel, organizers noted, began his relationship with the Lord as a young person.
"1 Samuel 3:10 ('Speak, for your servant is listening') is the theme of See You at the Pole," Jonathan Falwell wrote Sept. 19 in the Falwell Confidential electronic newsletter. "I believe it is a fitting verse for young Christians seeking to hear from God while they exist in a culture that increasingly promotes immorality, sexual ambivalence and situational ethics.
"I'm sure there are young people who think, I'd like to participate at my school's See You at the Pole meeting, but some kids in my classes will make fun of me," Falwell added. "So what! Seriously, there is no greater privilege than being hassled or made fun of because of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Plus, See You at the Pole is a great way to get to know other Christian kids and become united with them."
Last year more than 2 million American teenagers in all 50 states participated in See You at the Pole gatherings, along with students in Australia and Canada. Reports on this year's event are being collected.
At North Side High School in Jackson, Tenn., Candice Miller, a junior, told The Jackson Sun that God gave her the motivation to get out of bed an hour earlier on Wednesday, and she appreciated the unity the event provided.
"Being here, we all have the school in common," she said. "And now, we can have Jesus in common."
More than 50 students gathered around the flagpole at North Side as students provided worship music on guitar and keyboard, The Sun said.
"I was a little nervous at first because I'm with my peers," Summer Anthony, 16, said after leading a few songs. "But I've been all right.... For the kids at school, this encourages them and shows them that they are not the only ones who are Christian."
Julian Taylor, a senior at North Side, told The Sun he was thrilled to see students shun peer pressure and take a stand for Christ.
"I can't find the words to explain how great this is," Taylor said. "God is moving in people's lives here. We're just trying to show how He works in people's lives and how He changes them."
At Skiatook High School near Tulsa, Okla., about 80 students sang, prayed and ate doughnuts Wednesday morning as a way to kick off the school year with a commitment to their faith. Other events followed, including a Stellar Kart concert at the school in the evening and an outdoor concert with a guest speaker at a local pizza place, according to the Tulsa World.
The flagpole gathering at Skiatook started with the Pledge of Allegiance, and prayer topics included protection for the military, wisdom for the next political leader of the nation and guidance for the school's teachers, the newspaper said. One student prayed that his fellow believers would "do everything we can to help people who are lost."
At Metamora Township High School near Peoria, Ill., about 60 students took time out of their mornings to stand up for their beliefs, the local newspaper said.
"I couldn't sleep last night, I was so excited for this morning," senior Ali Parr, who helped organize her school's event, told the Peoria Journal Star.
Brad Nosbisch, a senior and a leader of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said it didn't matter too much to him how many showed up.
"It wasn't about the numbers," he said. "It was about encouraging other people through prayer. We just wanted to get together and pray for our school, pray for all the students who go here, pray for our teachers and faculty, pray for everyone."