This past Sunday, several of the prayers to open and close meetings in my ward included mention of United States soldiers. This, of course, was not something new. I’ve heard such particular mentions of the military in every ward I’ve ever attended, and it is especially common here in Virginia, where several members of the local congregation (and many, many more throughout the Newport News Stake) serve(d) in the armed forces. I don’t know why my mind focused on this otherwise routine supplication during yesterday’s service; perhaps it was the juxtaposition of one brother mentioning the armed forces as part of a longer list of individuals needing either God’s blessing or our thanks (they were mentioned right after the missionaries and right before the Pioneers), or perhaps I was struck by the particular language used (“please bless those fighting for our country”). Regardless, it got me thinking about the origin of the practice.
My sense—and I have nothing to base this on other than my own anecdotal evidence and my general sense of Mormonism’s longer historical trajectory—is that this originated in the early to mid twentieth century, very possibly during World War I or World War II. This period marked not only the beginnings of mass enlistment of Mormons in the U.S. military, but also the increasing integration of Mormons (if not Mormonism) into American society more generally. The result, as far as I can tell, was increased patriotism among American Mormons and the mention of the military in Mormon prayers—both public and private—was one expression of that patriotism.
I’m not sure how far I want to pursue this research question, and I’m not at all interested in debating whether or not such expressions are appropriate or not in a church setting. But I am interested in any feedback any readers have on the origins of this practice, it’s prevalence in your respective neck of the woods, and whether this ever happens outside of the good ole’ US of A.
I am also especially interested in the particular forms such mentions take. For example, in my ward yesterday, the Sacrament Meeting invocation—offered by a middle-aged woman—included an expression of gratitude for those “who protect our freedoms” and a plea to “keep them and their families safe.” The prayer offered during opening exercises of Priesthood meeting, by contrast—spoken by a man somewhere around the age of 40—simply asked God “to bless those fighting for our country.” In your experience, what particular form (either along the lines expressed above or any other alternative) is most commonly used? And do such expressions differ based on sex? Setting (sacrament meeting versus priesthood versus Relief Society, etc.)?
And finally, what does this all mean, anyway?