May is the fifth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars and in the Southern Hemisphere is the seasonal equivalent of November in the Northern Hemisphere and vice versa. May is named after the Greek goddess Maia, whom the Romans called Bona Dea, goddess of fertility—something quiet common within paganism.
The month of May in many ways stands as the gateway to the summer. But May is not only useful for what it introduces but also for what it promises in terms of various events. In early America and in the best and brightest periods of the history of Christianity, believers have been proactive in integrating their faith into every-day practices, and the month of May offers Christians the opportunity to integrate their faith into private and public observances. Patriotic spirituality should be reflected as the church is called to National Day of Prayer, the role of godly motherhood and womanhood should be celebrated on that special day—Mother’s Day—and the spiritual and intellectual ministry of the Sunday school and other academic interests are observed, while additional national and seasonal events are held in tension with local interests and efforts during this exciting month of the church year.
Table of Contents
Observance: First Thursday of May
The history of America is replete with examples of the way in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has shaped the life of our nation. From the signing of the first civil document in the New World (the Mayflower Compact) until recent decades, the character of America was nurtured by the principles of the Holy Bible. In the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims affirmed their Christian commitment, stating they had come to America, quote, “for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith,” end quote. During the Colonial Era, colonies set aside days for prayer and fasting as well as days of thanksgiving. It is clear from the language of these provisions that prayers were addressed to Jesus Christ and the God of the Bible. What is more, at the time the Constitution was implemented in 1789, eleven of the thirteen states required a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible as qualifications for holding public office, and no attempt was made by the federal government to disband these requirements. Many, many other examples could be offered as evidence of the enormous formative impact that Christianity has had upon America.
In keeping with the religious history of our nation, National Day of Prayer is annually observed on the first Thursday of May. On April 17, 1952, President Truman signed a bill establishing the National Day of Prayer as law. Twenty years later, in 1972, the National Prayer Committee was formed to assist the nation in its observance of the occasion. Subsequently the National Day of Prayer Task Force was formed for the intended purpose of coordinating events for the National Day of Prayer. The exact day to observe was decreed in 1988 when President Reagan signed a bill into law establishing the first Thursday of May as National Day of Prayer.
Given the fact that America has historically been a Christian nation, those not part of the Judeo-Christian tradition have been excluded from the events related to the observance of this day. The irreligious such as freethinkers, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and deists have responded by establishing their own “National Day of Reason,” also held on the first Thursday of May.
Observance: Week of National Day of Prayer
To nurture and encourage the development of prayer within the life of the local church, periodic seasons of prayer should be established within the local church. Though a regular prayer life is encouraged within individual believers and their families, and weekly prayer and fasting is encouraged in the church, a periodic seasonal effort may be undertaken to sustain and further develop these habits. It was the custom of the Church in Early America (and the Continental and Congressional Congresses) to call for days of “public humiliation, fasting and prayer.” To nurture a spirit of dependence upon the Lord, several seasons of prayer and fasting may be established in the calendar year. In the American Church, the first week in January (after the Christmas holidays and the beginning of the year), the first week in May (which may include the last weekend in April and the week of National Day of Prayer), and last week of August (the beginning of the new Sunday School year) provide good opportunities to call the church to prayer. During these weeks, members of the local church are invited to select at least one day (and more if possible) in the designated week for these spiritual disciplines.
Suggested observance: First weeks of January, May, and September
Observance: Second Sunday of May
Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905) was the inspiration behind the establishment of Mother’s Day. Encouraged by the life of her mother, Anna Jarvis pressed the issue of establishing a Mother’s Day in the United States. Two services were convened on May 10, 1908 as services honoring mothers. From this humble beginning arose a great American tradition that has served as the impetus for Mother’s Day observances around the world. As is true of so many other American traditions, Mother’s Day arose out of evangelical Christianity—in particular, the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Observance: On or before May 3 and 14
Often, the high church of the Christian faith has celebrated the lives of early Church leaders, and none have been celebrated more highly than the Apostles. As the Apostles bore testimony to their faith in their Lord Jesus Christ through martyrdom, the Early Church began to observe days of remembrance for their ministries. Unfortunately, the Christian Church began to practice hagiolatry or the worship of the saints. Pagan ideas of prayer being offered to and for the dead became a practice among Christians. Though Christians should never pray or offer veneration and worship to anyone or anything other than God, there is an appropriate place in the life of the Christian Church to remember faithful leaders who have given their strength and lives for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The lives and ministries of James, Son of Alphaeus (or “The Less”), and Philip are remembered on May 3 in the Western Church and later in the year by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas who betrayed Christ. After the account of his selection to the apostolic office (Acts 1:18-26), he is never mentioned again in Scripture. The life and ministry of Matthias is remembered and celebrated in the West on May 14.
Pamphlet to be announced: “The Lives of the Apostles”
Observance: On or before May 24
May 24, 1738 is remembered in Church history as Aldersgate Day or the conversion of John Wesley, founder of Methodism. It was on this date that John Wesley attended a spiritual meeting in London on Aldersgate Street that he felt his heart “strangely warmed” with a living faith in Christ as Savior upon hearing the reading of Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on the book of Romans. Only a few days earlier, his younger brother, Charles, had experienced a similar conversion. For years they had already been priests in the Church of England, but the evangelical conversions of John and Charles Wesley would breath spiritual life into the British Isles and become a source of spiritual renewal and revival in young America. Eventually, Methodism would become the largest Protestant denomination in America before experiencing the withering consequences of theological liberalism in the twentieth century.
Observance: Seven weeks after Easter
Pentecost, according to its Hebrew observance, was the second of three great annual feasts which required all males to be present before the Lord at the national sanctuary—Jerusalem being that place after King David. The first annual feast was Passover and the third was the feast of Tabernacles. Until Pentecost was celebrated, the produce of the new harvest was not to be eaten by the Hebrews. This feast was a dedication of their crops to the Lord. Of secondary importance was the fact that this feast also was an occasion to remember the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
In the New Testament, following the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost receives new importance. It is remembered as the birthday of the Christian Church and represents the great ingathering of souls from every nation that God intended by sending Christ:
And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. (Acts 2:1-6)
Observance: May or June
The months of May and June typically are times of commencement, when scholars in a variety of academic institutions graduate. These months should contain a service in which these academic accomplishments are recognized. No religion should celebrate education and the true search for truth more than Christianity. The world’s most prestigious academic institutions have been established by Christians, and America’s most celebrated schools have nearly all been initiated by ardent followers of Christ. It should be evident by the degree of importance given to academic accomplishment that the Church remains deeply committed to the advancement of truth—not error or half truths. The following excerpt should assist Christian leaders in the local church to be more zealous in advancing the cause of Christ by celebrating academic excellence. One important way of doing that is by observing a promotion Sunday.
Advancement to a new school grade is a significant event for children. They identify themselves with their next grade on the day school closes in the spring. While churches have traditionally promoted children to their new grades in the fall, promotion at the beginning of summer has definite advantages. Promoting children in the spring capitalizes on their excitement about being a grade older and may actually enhance summer attendance. What self-respecting third grader wants to remain in the second-grade class all summer long?
The relaxed, informal activities of summer make it an ideal time to transition your graduating fifth or sixth graders into the youth ministry. Promotion Sunday makes the change an occasion to anticipate rather than something to dread.
Pamphlet to be announced, “The Christian Origin of American Education”
Most of the evangelical denominations in America have been directly or indirectly affected by Methodism. Yet, few are aware of that influence and few still are those who know anything about Methodism and its founder, John Wesley. One of the most significant biographies written about John Wesley is listed below. Biographies of great Christian leaders is one way for Christians to better prepare themselves to “give an answer to every man who asks a reason for the hope that is in them.” Believers of all denominations will be encouraged and greatly edified as they read this book of one of Christianity’s greatest leaders.
July 4, Independence Day
Memorize or review the Jewish feasts during family devotions
1775, May 10: Second Continental Congress convened at Philadelphia’s State House
1787, May 25: Constitutional Convention convenes in Philadelphia. On September 17, Philadelphia Convention adjourns after writing the United States Constitution
Sharon Short, “5 Attendance Boosters,” Children’s Ministry Magazine (May-June, 1996); taken from Group’s Children’s Ministry, http://www.childrensministry.com/backissues/detail.asp?ID=566.
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