The origins of World Day of Prayer date back to the 19th century when Christian women of the United States and Canada initiated a variety of cooperative activities in support of women's involvement in mission at home and in other parts of the world. These activities related to the following areas:
Concern for women and children
Women had a strong sense of identification with the needs of women and children and searched out ways to provide appropriate support. In spite of strong resistance from all-male mission boards, in 1861 and the following years, women founded numerous and effective women's boards for foreign and home missions whereby they could work directly with and for women and children.
The role of prayer in mission work
Since 1812 women encouraged one another to engage in personal prayer and take leadership in communal prayer within their mission auxiliaries and associations. This emphasis on prayer led to annual days and weeks of prayer. In 1887 Presbyterian women called for a Day of Prayer for Home Missions and Methodist women called for a Week of Prayer and Self-Denial for Foreign Missions. A Baptist Day of Prayer for foreign missions began in 1891. In 1895, a day of corporate intercessions for mission was initiated by the Women's Auxiliary of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Women had a vision of Christian unity
That was seen as essential to their exercise of mission. By 1897 the women of six denominations formed a joint committee for a united day of prayer for home missions. In 1912 the Woman's Boards of Foreign Missions called for a united day of prayer for foreign missions.
Study was everyone's responsibility
Following the Ecumenical Missionary Conference in New York City in 1900, women organized an inter-denominational Central Committee for United Study that prepared publications, summer conferences, study days and courses so that women could become informed about the lives of women in other parts of the world and could study biblical foundations and issues related to mission work.
Women organized interdenominational structures
That were effective and cooperative. For example, in 1908 women founded the Council of Women for Home Missions that took responsibility for joint work with immigrants and other social issues and for preparation of the joint day of prayer.
Women celebrated their commitment
In 1910-1911 women celebrated the 50th Anniversary or Jubilee of women's missionary activity by organizing a series of speaking engagements across the United States that provided women with a powerful experience of what they had achieved in ecumenical cooperation, in local and global linkage, in prayer and information sharing, and in biblical reflection. All of this had been in the hands of women. Out of this experience many local interdenominational women's groups were formed.
Women linked world peace with world mission
After the devastation of World War I, women incorporated the conviction that world peace was intrinsically tied to world mission. Therefore, women renewed their efforts for unity.
Presbyterian women called together representatives of women's missionary societies from five denominations in 1918 for united prayer and action. This committee, which now has expanded into the ecumenical Women's Inter-Church Council of Canada, organized the first national Day of Prayer in Canada on January 9, 1920.
In the United States, the first Friday of Lent was established as a joint day of prayer for missions, beginning on February 20, 1920. Due to the enthusiastic facilitation of local denominational and interdenominational women's groups, the day of prayer spread rapidly throughout the USA. Canadian women took up the same date in 1922.'
World Day of Prayer comes into being
In the second half of 1926 the women of North America distributed the worship service to many countries and partners in mission. The response worldwide was enthusiastic. By the beginning of 1927 the call to prayer that was issued was for a World Day of Prayer for Missions.
In 1928 this statement came from the World Day of Prayer Committee:
It is with deep gratitude that we recognize the growing power inherent in our World Day of Prayer. The circle of prayer has expanded literally around the world. We have learned the great lesson of praying with, rather than for, our sisters of other races and nations, thus enriching our experience and releasing the power which must be ours if we are to accomplish tasks entrusted to us.
In 1928 during the International Missionary Conference in Jerusalem, women delegates from many countries agreed that worldwide participation would be a bond of unity among women. Helen Kim of Korea was chosen to be the first woman outside of the United States to write the order of worship for the World Day of Prayer in 1930.
In 1930 The Federation of Women's Boards of Foreign Missions of North America coopted ten women from all over the world as corresponding members. Plans for a world committee for WDP were proposed for 1932, but depressed economic conditions prevented its implementation.
In 1941 the coordination of World Day of Prayer within the United States became the responsibility of an interdenominational movement now known as Church Women United. Coordination with other countries was carried out by the Foreign Missions Conference of North America.
In 1969 The World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations decided to change their international day of prayer from March to May in order to take part in the World Day of Prayer.
It is from these roots that World Day of Prayer has taken its present shape. World Day of Prayer has moved with women wherever their lives have taken them.
For information on World Day of Prayer goals and the international executive committee, click here.
Themes and Writing Countries: from 1927- 2015
1927: "Pray Ye Therefore" (Mary Hough, USA)
1928: "Breaking Down Barriers (Mrs. M. H. Lichliter, USA)
1929: "That They May All Be One" (Florence G. Tyler, USA)
1930: "That Jesus May Be Lifted Up" (Helen Kim, Korea)
1931: "Ye Shall Be My Witnesses" (K. W. McArthur, Canada)
1932: "Hold Fast in Prayer" (Helen Tupper, India)
1933: "Follow Thou Me" (C.C. Chen, China)
1934: "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem" (Mrs. J.W.L. Hofmeyer, South Africa)
1935: "Bear Ye One Another's Burdens" (Baroness van Boetzelaer Van Dubbeldam,
1936: "On Earth, Peace, Goodwill Toward Men" (Laura Jorquera, Chile)
1937: "Thou Art the Christ, The Son of the Living God" (Mabel Shaw, Missionary)
1938: "The Church, A World Fellowship" (Alice E. Henderson, New Zealand)
1939: "Let Us Put Our Love into Deeds - and Make it Real" (Presbyterian Young Women, USA)
1940: "In Quietness and in Confidance Shall Be Your Strength" (Muriel and Doris Lester, England)
1941: "Thy Kingdom Come" (WDP women of Shanghai, China)
1942: "I Am the Way" (Refugee WDP women in New York City)
1943: "Father, I Prayer That They May All Be One" (Georgia Harkness and Saidie Gray Mays, USA)
1944: "God Wondered That There Was No Intercessor" (From statements of 150 nationals and repatriated missionaries from over 100 countries)
1945: "The Church Universal" (Representatives of Women's WDP Central Committee for England, Wales and Ireland)
1946: "The Things That Make for Our Peace" (Mabel Shaw, Missionary)
1947: "Make Level in the Desert a Highway for Our God" (Isabel Caleb, India)
1948: "The World at Prayer" (Jessie M. Bader, Welthy Honsinger Fisher and Helen Smith Shoemaker, USA)
1949: "The Lord is Thy Keeper" (WDP women of China)
1950: "Faith for Our Time" (Michi Kawai, Japan)
1951: "Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear" (Else Niemoeller and Hildegard Schaeder, Germany)
1952: "Christ, Our Hope" (Migrants, Sharecroppers and Native Americans, USA)
1953: "Walk as Children of Light" (WDP women of Africa)
1954: "That They May Have Life" (Sarah Chakko, India)
1955: "Abide in Me" (Jorgelina Lozada, Argentina)
1956: "One Flock, One Shepherd" (Cook Christian Training School, Phoenix, Arizona, USA)
1957: "Who Shall Separate Us...?" (Serena Vassady, Hungarian in exile)
1959: "Lord, I Believe" (WDP women of Egypt)
1960: "Labourers Together with God" (WDP women of Canada)
1961: "Forward Through the Ages - 75th Anniversary" (Sue Weddell, USA)
1962: "For God So Loved the World" (Violeta Cavallero, Uruguay)
1963: "More Than Conquerors" (WDP women of South Korea)
1964: "Let Us Pray" (Madeleine Barot, France/WCC)
1965: "What Doth the Lord Require?" (Pearl McNeil, USA)
1966: "You Are My Witnesses" (WDP women of Scotland)
1967: "Of His Kingdom There Shall Be No End" (Queen Salote, Tonga Islands)
1968: "Bear Ye One Another's Burdens" (Rathie Selvaratnam, Ceylon)
1969: "Growing Together in Christ" (WDP women of West and Southern Africa)
1970: "Take Courage!" (WDP women from Egypt, India, Jamaica, Philippines and USA)
1971: "A New People for a New Age" (WDP women of the Caribbean)
1972: "All Joy Be Yours" (WDP women of Europe)
1973: "Alert in Our Time" (WDP women of New Zealand)
1974: "Make Us Builders of Peace" (WDP women of Japan)
1975: "Become Perfectly One" (WDP women of Egypt)
1976: "Education for All of Life" (WDP women of Mexico)
1977: "Love in Action" (WDP women of German Democratic Republic)
1978: "Community Spirit in Modern Life" (WDP women of Canada)
1979: "Spiritual Growth" (Women of Africa at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation)
1980: "Responsible Freedom" (WDP women of Thailand)
1981: "The Earth is the Lord's" (Native American women, USA)
1982: "The People of God - Gathered for Worship, Scattered for Service" (WDP women of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland)
1983: "New Persons in Christ" (WDP women of the Caribbean)
1984: "Living Water from Christ Our Hope" (WDP women of Sweden)
1985: "Peace Through Prayer and Action" (WDP women of India)
1986: "Choose Life!" (WDP women of Australia)
1987: "Come and Rejoice! - Centennial Anniversary" (WDPIC Executive Committee)
1988: "Open Doors" (WDP women of Brazil)
1989: "Lord, Teach Us to Pray" (WDP women of Burma/Myanmar)
1990: "A Better Tomorrow, Justice for All" (WDP women of Czechoslovakia)
1991: "On the Journey Together" (WDP women of Kenya)
1992: "Living Wisely with Creation" (WDP women of Austria, Germany-West and Switzerland)
1993: "God's People: Instruments of Healing" (WDP women of Guatemala)
1994: "Go, See and Act" (WDP women of Palestine)
1995: "The Earth is a House for All People" (WDP women of Ghana)
1996: "God Calls Us to Respond" (WDP women of Haiti)
1997: "Like A Seed Which Grows Into A Tree" (WDP women of South Korea)
1998: "Who is My Neighbour?" (WDP women of Madagascar)
1999: "God's Tender Touch" (WDP women of Venezuela)
2000: "Talitha Kumi, Young Woman Stand Up!" (WDP women of Indonesia)
2001: "Informed Prayer - Prayerful Action" (WDP women of Samoa)
2002: "Challenged to Reconcile" (WDP women of Romania)
2003: "Holy Spirit, Fill Us" (WDP women of Lebanon)
2004: "In Faith, Women Shape the Future" (WDP women of Panama)
2005: "Let Our Light Shine" (WDP women of Poland)
2006: "Signs of the Times" (WDP women of South Africa)
2007: "United Under God's Tent" (WDP women of Paraguay)
2008: "God's Wisdom Provides New Understanding" (WDP women of Guyana)
2009: "In Christ There Are Many Members But One Body" (WDP women of Papua New Guinea)
2010: "Let Everything That Has Breath Praise God" (WDP women of Cameroon)
2011: "How Many Loaves Have You?" (WDP women of Chile)
2012: "Let Justice Prevail" (WDP women of Malaysia)
2013: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (WDP women of France)
2014: "Streams in the desert" (WDP women of Egypt)
2015: "Do you know what I have done to you? " (WDP women of The Bahamas)