Guitars will strum, praise songs will pervade campuses and heart-felt prayers will pour from the mouths of students standing in circles around school flagpoles Wednesday morning.
For the 14th year, Christian students on public and private school grounds will take part in "See You at the Pole," an evolving campus religious tradition, just before school that also has come be to be known as the "National Day of Student Prayer."
Scheduled on the third Wednesday of September, "See You at the Pole," (http://www.syatp.com) last year attracted more than 2.5 million teens on thousands of campuses in all 50 states and on six continents. Holding hands and forming a circle, students spend about a half-hour praying.
"I just think it unifies the school," said 17-year-old Maria Swift, a senior at Mesa’s Dobson High School who will be participating for the third year.
"You realize there are other Christians in the school and that you are not alone. It confirms that you are making an impact," she said. About 25 students have gathered the past two years in "See You at the Pole" at Dobson High.
"It is really cool how we are still standing there when other people are starting to show up at school — kids who have not participated in that — and just to see them kind of look and do a double-take like ‘What are all those kids doing?’ " Swift said. She hopes it leads to students spontaneously joining in or at least ask questions.
Members of the chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a Christian club, Revival, will be among the more than 100 students expected about 7 a.m. Wednesday at the flagpole at Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School.
Organized and led by students, the prayer rallies began in 1990 with a single Christian youth group in Burleson, Texas.
At a weekend retreat one Saturday night, the group decided to go to three schools and pray at their flagpoles. By September, they had persuaded 45,000 kids to hold prayer gatherings around the country. Since then, the National Network of Youth Ministries, based in San Diego, has coordinated the event, provided resource materials and encouraged Christian students on other campuses to stage a "See You at the Pole" prayer morning.
The simple event combines the unity of a circle of people, the kickoff of the school year, prayers to invite God into their midst and the flag, the national symbol.
"It’s just a time to get together with other kids from your school and pray about the school and the nation and what’s going on," said 16-year-old Cameron Quade, a junior at Corona del Sol. Rather than using the national prayer service format, his group has developed its own. Student leaders will step forward to target prayers on behalf of students, teachers, administrators and staff members, parents, the community, the state, nation and world.
"People may pray when they want on whatever," Quade said, noting that Corona’s session will go about 40 minutes, leaving students five minutes to get to class.
"I get a lot of encouragement that that many people from the school are willing to pray for the school and for everything going on," he said.
"It’s good experience," said 16-year-old Zach De Jesus, a junior at Gilbert High School, where as many as 100 students turn out each September.
"One year, someone bought a guitar, and we sang worship songs and praise songs like, ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name On High’ and just a lot of contemporary, modern worship songs," he said.
The activity, he said, creates "a sense of unity. You know that there are others in your school who share the same belief as you, and that is definitely a comforting feeling."
Students are not required to get school permission to hold the event, but "it is wise and courteous to inform the administration about "See You at the Pole," national promotional materials say.
"Consumed" is this year’s theme, based on 1 Kings 18:26-39 and a story about Elijah on Mt. Carmel telling of God’s power.
The national coordinator of "See You at the Pole," David Overstreet, said about three million people are expected this year, including some students at elementary and junior high schools and some on college campuses. Employees of corporations plan to meet before work at flagpoles outside their buildings, he said.
"A lot of campus (religious) clubs get started around ‘See You at the Pole,’ " he said. When students experience the prayer event and see who other Christian students are on campus, they can more easily move to form a Christian club.
"The nucleus for some campus clubs are formed right there," he said. A goal is that students mature spiritually, become "missionaries on campus," perform random acts of kindness and become "lights on the campus," Overstreet said.
With a uniform 7 a.m. starting time, he said, every hour "another wave of prayer rolls across the country" from the East Coast to the West Coast through the time zones.
"We know there will be schools with 600 kids around the flagpole at some schools and some with just 10 or maybe one or two," Overstreet said. "What a lot of kids realize by now is that they are not there by themselves. They are obviously there in unity with kids around the country — and God is there, as well."