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Prayer at Sunrise: A Favorite Day of Prayer Tradition
Hundreds of students join hands with heads bowed in corporate prayer as the sun rises over the distant mountains, the comforting smell of hot cocoa and donuts drifting through the crowd. Watching the sky change colors as the student body worships together is a moving sight. As students sing, you can hardly hear the guitar player over the swell of voices. This is a favorite part of the campus-wide tradition Day of Prayer—the sunrise worship. However, this tradition has not always been such a mainstay part of Day of Prayer. Some, like Dr. Mike Rulon, can recall how it all began: the golf course, a police encounter, the very first order of donuts, and a few friends tagging along. Now, once a semester, students look forward to waking up while its still dark to drive to Rock City wrapped in blankets to pray together.
First Off-Campus Sunrise Prayer
Since the founding year of the college in 1955, Day of Prayer has been a sanctioned day without classes during which individual departments, athletic teams, and student groups meet for their own times of prayer. Some years ago, a group of students from the psychology department and retired psychology professor Dr. Rulon decided to do a morning prayer off campus. They chose the “sunrise rock” at Lookout Mountain Golf Club to watch the sunrise, but, as the story goes, they only stayed there for a short time. A police officer arrived as they were praying and, though allowing them to finish, asked them to leave the private property and find a different place to pray.
A Gracious Welcome to Rock City
While the group was reprimanded, this first sunrise worship must have been impactful because they didn’t give up on the initial idea. They continued searching for a place to enjoy the sunrise for the next Day of Prayer, and Dr. Rulon contacted Bill Chapin, the owner of Rock City Gardens at the time. According to Dr. Rulon, “He was gracious to open his gates for us before business hours,” with the only requirement being that a student write a letter every semester formally asking permission to come over again. The open gates to the Rock City overlook on early mornings have been a blessing that students for years since have continued to enjoy.
Photos from the first official Day of Prayer Sunrise Service on January 25, 1989
Donuts, Hot Chocolate, and PsiChi
According to Dr. Rulon, on the first morning of prayer at Rock City, a single van brought just a few students and professors—a small beginning to a big tradition. After this first successful trip, the PsiChi honors club took over the planning and began to bring donuts and hot chocolate since it was almost always chilly. Though it began as a PsiChi event, Dr. Rulon comments that, “It was never intended to be exclusive and the students advertised it among their friends.” Word spread, and the next time over 20 students arrived for their first Day of Prayer sunrise on the Rock City overlook. After this, the PsiChi students began to work with the chapel department to invite even more students and eventually arrange with the dining hall to provide the hot water dispensers for the hot cocoa.
A Student-Led Tradition
What makes this tradition so special, according to Dr. Rulon, is that it was orchestrated entirely by students. He watched as it became increasingly important to the students who kept coming. “More and more students found it to be their tradition and did not want to miss going” he says. It was the students organizing the food and drinks, the students inviting more friends to join, and the students working with Bill Chapin, who Dr. Rulon said, “not only allowed them in, but helped provide people in position to give guidance throughout Rock City.” Today, each hall on campus rides together to Rock City, takes memorable group pictures after the time of prayer, and then continues in sweet fellowship by going to eat at Waffle House or cooking a pancake breakfast in their hall commons. Over the years, the sunrise service on Day of Prayer has continued to develop into something unique and meaningful where students can have communion with each other and with many faculty and staff who regularly attend.
Addie Kashmier ’25, a Covenant SMC (Student Ministry Coordinator) who takes part in the planning of Day of Prayer events, including the sunrise prayer time, speaks about the impact it has had on her: “I am always amazed how every semester God displays his faithfulness in using our meager efforts to bless the community. Taking the time to lift one another and the world up in prayer is so refreshing. For me, Day of Prayer has become a time of reflection on the semester and of prayer about how I want to more intentionally pursue the Father in the remaining months.”
One Mind and One Voice
The benediction given in Romans 15:5-6 reads, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is this “one mind” and “one voice” that gets students out of bed and brings them together semester after semester for sunrise prayer.