Valedictorian Roy Costner IV chose to say The Lord’s Prayer in lieu of his pre-approved speech at his high school graduation on Saturday, taking a stand for the importance of prayer. The Pickens County School District in South Carolina recently decided against including public communion with God at graduation ceremonies after being lobbied by atheist groups to forbid prayer at school events.
The Liberty High School commencement ceremony began with a moment of silence instead of the traditional opening prayer. Costner, whose father is a Youth Pastor at a church in Liberty, began his speech by telling the audience that he was so thankful to have been raised in the Lord by his parents. He then proceeded to recite The Lord’s Prayer, and his words were met by cheers of support and applause from those in the auditorium.
The young man said he had planned beforehand to tear up his speech, which was approved by his school, to instead recite The Lord’s Prayer. Costner, who plans to go pursue a computer science degree at Clemson University, has been lauded by many for his courageous stand for the freedom of religion.
School board meetings in the Pickens County School District had regularly begun with prayer until the recent ban. The announcement page on the district’s website has several references to prayer, including a request that staff members be kept in the “thoughts and prayers” of many when staff reductions in the district were immanent in 2010. An atheist group threatened to sue the district because of the freedom it allowed students and staff members in the community, and the district proceeded to vote against including prayer in school and at school events.
The young man’s speech followed Matthew 6:10-13, where Jesus taught His disciples how to pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (English Standard Version).
Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, also emphasized the importance of prayer in a tweet on Thursday. He pointed followers to a sermon clip on prayer, explaining why it is miraculous - “physical beings communicate with the invisible infinite God,” he said.
Driscoll explains that men are separated from God, as by a veil between the spiritual and physical worlds, because they have sinned against Him. “God - in His grace - He passes through that veil,” he says of the incarnation, where Jesus first came into the physical world to die for the sins of men and to forgive those who would call upon His name. The pastor explains that when Jesus died, the veil in the tabernacle tore from top to bottom, signifying the access to God that believers have; “God is welcoming us into His presence,” he says – “if you’ve prayed, you’ve participated in [a miracle].”
Driscoll says he is blessed by the fact that he is able to communicate his fears and desires to a loving God. He explains that this miracle is made possible through Jesus alone, Who is the Mediator between God and man. “He’s available, and He is willing to hear and answer [the church’s] prayers,” he says.
Roy Costner was moved to tears over the response he received from his community. He says of his speech, “We serve an amazing God … and without His courage, I don’t think I could have made it through His prayer.”