On this National Day of Prayer, a survey finds that Jehovah's Witnesses are the most likely Americans to pray daily, Catholics are just below average and 5 percent of atheists claim to pray daily.
"It's more likely [atheists] enjoy messing with the people doing the survey," said Stuart Bechman, president of the Atheist Alliance International. "Maybe they are talking about grace at dinner with a religious family."
In the survey of 35,000 Americans from the Pew Research Center, Jews pray the least among faith groups, with 26 percent of its members praying once a day.
Many Jews wouldn't count the mealtime blessing over bread, since prayer requires a minyan, or gathering of 10 adults, said Rabbi Art Donsky of Temple Ohav Shalom, McCandless. Since the survey question was about prayer outside of services, that may explain the low number.
"For the average Jewish person, prayer is an organized minyan in a synagogue," he said.
Ernie Frederick, 75, of Kennedy, is director of the Pittsburgh Prayer Network, which encourages people to pray for their community. People often give up because they don't understand prayer, he said.
"People tend to think of prayer as a candy machine, where I put the right God words in and pull the lever and God gives us his goodies. They think of answers to prayer as objects rather than as expressions of his will and purpose for us," he said.
He organized a two-hour National Day of Prayer observance in Market Square, beginning at 11:30 a.m. today. Nationally, the day's activities tend to be dominated by white evangelicals.
Two groups that are outside the evangelical category due to doctrinal differences pray the most. Eighty-nine percent of Jehovah's Witnesses and 82 percent of Mormons say they pray daily. Among members of historically black Protestant churches, 80 percent said they pray daily.
Those are followed, in order, by white evangelicals, Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox Christians and Catholics. Among those who pray the least, 53 percent of mainline Protestants, 45 percent of Buddhists, and 26 percent of Jews said they pray at least once a day.
The survey found that daily prayer increases with age, decreases with income and that women are more likely than men to pray daily.
None of that surprises the Rev. Lorraine Williams, pastor of Stanton Heights United Methodist Church and founder of Intercessors of Pittsburgh. As a black pastor in a mainline Protestant church with strong ties to the white evangelical community, she's part of many Christian cultures.
The poor, the aged and women pray more because "these are people who can sense their need for strength and Christ more than others," she said.
Historically black churches have a culture of praising God at all times, she said.
"They thank God every day for waking them up in the morning," she said. "Even when there is injustice, they bring God into it and trust in him."
White evangelicals may pray less than black Protestants because their approach to prayer is more formal, she said. She suspects that mainline Protestants pray less because they tend to pray from written texts and their churches are less likely to encourage a personal relationship with God.
Jehovah's Witnesses pray more because their faith teaches them to do everything with prayer, said J.R. Brown, director of public information for the Watchtower Society, an organization for Jehovah's Witnesses.
"It isn't just something we resort to when there is some problem in life, but is part of our life," he said.
Prayer is strongly encouraged in Mormon homes, and members are called on to offer public prayer in services, said Brennen Murray, president of the Pittsburgh stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church's own survey of young people found that "while prayer in the family was good, the sign of true devotion in which people followed more closely the tenets of the church was if they were having their own personal prayers," he said.
A stake president is similar to a bishop in other traditions, but is unpaid. Mr. Murray earns his living as a representative of the Ford Motor Company to franchise owners. Susan Muto, a Catholic and executive director of Epiphany Academy in Beechview, which teaches Christian spiritual practices, was disappointed that Catholics were just average.
"If you do not pray, you risk dying spiritually," she said.
Although the Catholic Church offers many prayer techniques, such as the rosary, she warned against using those without an awareness of God's presence.
"If you start praying the techniques of prayer in a vacuum, they can just become routine vocal prayer and never get to the deep relationship with God," she said
Ann Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.