Thirty years ago, a hunger began to grow within a rural town in northeast Texas. I was not a Texan at that point, that came much later in my life. However, what happened there had a tremendous impact on me and, eventually, the entire nation. This was during the buildup toward war in the Middle East. That could have added to the weight the youth involved were carrying.
A group of students grew burdened for the world they live in. They became heartbroken for lost souls. They were concerned about the escalating conflict in the world and how our leaders were handling the situation. They came together and began to pray for friends, family, and our leaders.
How it all began
Burleson, TX. Most nowadays know the place as the hometown of American Idol: Season One winner, Kelly Clarkson. But the town of 45,000 people had been known long before she was singing her heart out on stage. Burleson is the birthplace of a youth movement called See You at the Pole (SYATP.) It started in September 1990 when ten students gathered around their school’s flagpole and began to pray.
The group of High School students had attended a discipleship retreat. They had come home carrying a burden for the lost and dying world around them. The only thing they could think about doing is getting together and praying. The students assembled at their high school campuses at night and did just that. They chose to meet at the flagpole. It made sense because every school had one. Everyone knew what it looked like and knew where it was. Although they started their meetings at night, after it caught on, students decided to meet before school and have a brief time of prayer.
How it is received
It really depends on who you ask. If you ask one group of people, they will be for it. They look at student-led prayer as positive because the younger generation is taking an interest in what is going on in the world around them. Some are proud of the stand for Christian values the students take. And others are encouraged to take the stand themselves; I was one of them.
Those who oppose this grassroots movement feel that holding the gathering on school grounds makes it a school-sponsored activity, and school-sponsored prayer is considered unconstitutional. They also feel that it is a distraction and should be stopped. Lawsuits have been filed to try and get this yearly event suspended permanently.
After Christian leaders took notice of what happened in Burleson, they began to organize a much bigger gathering. On September 11, 1991, at 7 AM local time, over one million students gathered around their school flagpole and prayed during the first national See You at the Pole event. I was one of the dozen or so who braved that chilly fall morning at Chaffey High School in Ontario, CA.
Many of us did not know each other, other than faces in a crowd. (My high school had well over 3000 students, just under the size of the entire town where my kids go to High School in now.) By the closing ‘Amen,’ we were all friends, feeling the common bond of collective concern that was flowing at that moment across the nation. This was just months after the First Gulf war. Tensions were still high, and we all felt the need to specifically pray for President Bush and other national and world leaders.
Where it is Going
Thirty years later, we find the world in a much different position than it was when I was 16. Since then, 9/11 occurred. (It was kind of interesting that my first SYATP was on a 9/11.) The world has gotten a healthy dose of patriotism and has long since lost it. Our teens witness so much more than we did growing up. There is so much passiveness and the ever-persistent sense of entitlement flowing through the veins of not only teens but adults.
So, it is refreshing and encouraging to see the growth of movements like SYATP and how a genuine concern for those around us and for our country is still in the hearts of today’s youth. It is that remnant that will change the world. I also find it pretty neat to see my High School age children participating in something I was part of when I was their age.
With the growth of Social Media, it is amazing to see how quick and easy it is to spread the word. When I was young, you only knew about SYATP if you went to a church who was promoting it, or you knew a friend who did. Schools are not allowed to sponsor it, much less advertise it. It is all word of mouth. Now we get to see media posts, ads on Christian radio, even television news stations are admitting to its existence. Even with consistent opposition, the SYATP movement continues to flourish.
This year’s See You at the Pole will be a bit unique. With the threat of COVID still lingering, who knows what schools will allow, or not allow. SYATP is a student-organized and led event, so we will see what districts will attempt to say. This year’s event is next Wednesday, September 23, at 7:30 AM local time.
It is for students only, but that does not mean you cannot pray where you are. Some churches gather at the same time to pray for their students. They will pray for the concerns of those who are gathered: the lost and dying world, our schools, our local, city, state, and national government. With so many schools participating, each area of the country is covered. God Bless America!!
We should be proud of our kids. Again, this gathering is and has always been student-led. There is no pastor, teacher, or organization behind SYATP. It is all initiated and conducted by the students themselves. Often there are one or two student leaders. These students help spread the word, encourage others, and lead the gathering.
My son, Matt, has more than once taken charge of his school’s event. I remember him being a little nervous the first time. Now that he has graduated, this year, I believe his brother Chris is organizing some students. I encouraged them, the same way I’ll encourage you. “Let God lead you. Just pray. Speak from your heart, and the Lord will hear you.” That is how prayer works, whether you are a teen at SYATP or an adult on your knees in prayer for your teen.