Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Proud to pray

Radford High students join
a national day of observance

It was one thing to stand on Sept. 11 with head bowed in a moment of silence before God and everyone. It was the norm of conduct that day at a lot of schools and workplaces.

It was quite another thing to stand last Wednesday, heads bowed, in a prayer circle around the school flagpole while hundreds of your peers stared. To stand out from the crowd is a risk that isn't easy for teenagers, nor for many adults, for that matter.

About 40 Radford High School students gathered before class at the Moanalua campus entrance to observe "See You at the Pole" day. A similar scene was under way at most other Hawaii public high schools and intermediate schools, as well as some private schools.

Students and a teacher from Radford High School prayed Wednesday by the school flagpole as part of the national event "See You at the Pole."

See You at the Pole is a nationwide observance staged on the third Wednesday of September. It grew from a 1990 Christian youth crusade in Texas and is now promoted by dozens of supporting Christian organizations.

The movement's Web site claims that more than 3 million American students gathered last year, a week after the terrorist attacks. The movement has spread to a dozen other countries, according to

Hawaii Youth for Christ volunteer Rowen Monroe said there were 1,300 Hawaii participants in 2001. The tally for this year had reached 700 by yesterday, with a few campus leaders not yet reporting in.

Hawaii Youth for Christ conducts a rally and training session each year to prepare students for the event. One thing they are told is, "You don't need permission" but it would be cool to give the school administration advance notice.


Because it is student-led, not imposed by the school system, and occurs outside of school hours without state financial support, this prayer on government property comes under the mantle of constitutional free expression, apparently not threatened by imposition of the principle of "separation of church and state."

"Thank you for the people bold enough to come and do this," prayed sophomore Lasha Harris. She led the Radford session, which began with a dozen kids at 7 a.m., expanded as school buses arrived from military bases and continued until the ROTC team arrived to raise the flag at 8 a.m.

Meanwhile, the other 1,400 Radford students arrived and clustered under covered walkways a few feet away. Many stood staring at the demonstration of Christianity and prayer. There were a couple of jeering remarks, but in general the praying seemed to subdue conduct among the onlookers.

It was not an in-your-face demonstration. No amplifier. No bullhorn. Even when the teenagers joined impromptu song-leader Gwynne Tialavea in renditions of "God Bless America" and "Amazing Grace," they could hardly be heard by the sideline gawkers.

"The point is to get Christians together in a secular setting to show we are strong enough to believe in God and are not ashamed of it," said Seth Osenkarski. The senior did double duty, stepping out from the circle to take photographs for the school yearbook.

"Thank you for helping us today and all the people around the world wherever they need you ... whether it be stopping bullets in Afghanistan, comfort them and grant them protection," prayed Osenkarski, reflecting the consciousness of many Radford students who are children of military personnel.

"Help us to live out what we believe, to be in that leadership role to serve you as we should," was senior Charity Cawley's petition.

"Let us know how important it is to touch other people's lives," asked junior Omar Garnica.

One girl who stayed the hour was oblivious of the counterpoint message on her T-shirt, "I'm the evil twin."

Students and a teacher held hands praying at Radford High School on Wednesday. About 40 people participated as part of the national event.

"Thank you for the freedom in this country to worship," said Janet Orcutt. "Our country has been disobedient, and we stand here for the people to pray for forgiveness." Orcutt, a substitute teacher and mother of six children, was one of only two adults to participate, joining after invitations from two youngsters, she said. Her prayers displayed an adult view of the world, recalling the school violence at Columbine and calling for God's help to guide President Bush and to "mute the voices that are not telling him the truth."

Harris said afterward that a lot of other youths asked what was going on. "It gave us a chance to minister to people, to get people to come to Christ." It was her fourth year at it; as a seventh- and eighth-grader at Ilima Intermediate School in Ewa Beach, she stood by herself at the pole, she said. "Last year, there were a lot more people because it was right after Sept. 11."

Monroe said that no school has ever balked at the pre-school prayer project.

But there was an inkling that not everyone is comfortable with it.

McKinley High School administrators waved off a newspaper photographer when he arrived to cover the scene there. Perhaps it reflected the school's sensitivity about the "separation" issue, having been sued over the inclusion of "love for God" in the school's 1927 vintage code of conduct. According to the tally, 45 students gathered at the McKinley flagpole.

A footnote: Though many of the students mentioned school support in general, no one specifically called on God to help the Radford Rams improve their not-so-blessed record on the football field. Or maybe that would be an alumni prayer?


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at

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