The origins of World Day of Prayer date back to the 19th century when Christian women in the USA and Canada initiated a variety of cooperative activities in support of women’s involvement in mission, at home and abroad. It is from such roots as these that WDP has taken its present shape –
a worldwide ecumenical movement of Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action.
How it started –
Activities centred around the following
Concern for women and children:
In spite of strong opposition from all-male mission boards, from 1861 onwards 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 had encouraged one another to engage in personal prayer and to lead communal prayer within their mission auxiliaries and associations.
This emphasis on prayer led to annual days and weeks of prayers within individual denominations.
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.
1891 – A Baptist day of prayer for foreign missions began.
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
By 1897 the women of six denominations formed a joint committee for a united day of prayer for home missions.
In 1912 The Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions called for a united day of prayer for foreign missions.
Women organised effective and cooperative interdenominational structures
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.
1910-1911 – Women celebrated 50 years of women’s missionary activity by organising a series of talks across the United Stated that provided a powerful experience of ecumenical cooperation, local and global networking, prayer and information sharing and biblical reflection.
Out of this experience many local interdenominational women’s groups were formed
Efforts for unity continued and in 1922 two separate united days of prayer, one in Canada and one in the United States, came together with a common date – the first Friday of Lent.
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 and World Day of Prayer came into being.
World Day of Prayer in the British Isles
It was in 1928, at an international missionary conference in Jerusalem, that Scotswoman Grace Forgan first learned of the world day of prayer and brought the news to these islands. The first services were held:
1930 in Scotland
1932 in England
1933 in Wales
1934 in Ireland
1943 in Northern Ireland
The Second World War was a time of great growth, drawing women together in prayer and fellowship
In 1941 the WDP office in London was bombed and all property and records destroyed. There was no loss of life and minutes recovered from members enabled the bare bones of the first 9 years to be preserved. Often the planning committee in London met in an air-raid shelter but every year Orders of Service were produced and supplied to the rest of the country. This is now part of the work of the National Committee.
It was not until the reforms of the second Vatican Council that Roman Catholic women were able to take a full part in the day of prayer and in 1967 the day was celebrated at a special service in Westminster Cathedral, by invitation of Cardinal Heenan.
In 1969 the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations encouraged Roman Catholic women worldwide to participate in WDP and to make this possible WUCWO moved their own day of prayer from March to May.
In 1982 the service was prepared by the women of Ireland, both north and south.
Our logo was designed for the 1982 service. The design comprises arrows converging from the 4 points of the compass, 4 figures kneeling in prayer, the Celtic cross and a circle representing the world and our unity through all our diversity.
Angela Robinson, our Congregational Federation representative for WDP, has written a personal view on the history of our movement [Jan 2024]. We hope you enjoy the read!