One early morning, in the minutes between sleep and consciousness, James Wiley could see it.
Wiley could see an assembly of folks at Centennial Park in Port St. Joe, surrounding the monument that commemorates the signing of Florida’s Constitution in December 1838.
Wiley could see microphones and speakers and songs of patriotism and faith. He could see the possibilities in a community communing in a spirit of restoring faith to country.
“It just would not go away,” Wiley said of what he could only describe as his brain manifesting what was in his heart and soul. “I felt like I was being directed.
“I thought about those men gathering to sign the Florida Constitution and I wondered what we would do to honor God around that same time.”
That thought gave birth to the “Day of Declaration”, which will be held at Constitution Park beginning at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 1.
The date does not exactly coincide with the signing of Florida’s Constitution, which occurred Dec. 3, but the weekend allowed greater flexibility in scheduling.
Specifically, for Congressman Steve Southerland who will be among the speakers. There remains hope that Gov. Rick Scott will also be able to attend, but Scott could not give a definitive answer until after the election, at the earliest, Wiley said.
There is also an effort to bring in a personality, say a Bobby Bowden or Mike Huckabee.
The Port St. Joe High School NJROTC program will present the colors and a community choir comprised of choir members in churches around the community will be singing patriotic and spiritual songs.
“This is not an Oak Grove thing,” Wiley said of Oak Grove Community Church, of which he is pastor. “This is something that believers across the board will be coming together.”
In addition, while Wiley emphasizes that this is not a revival, not an event at which religion will be pushed. It is, Wiley said, a day to refortify a central theme of the Founding Fathers, not just of the state of Florida but of the United States of America.
“This has nothing to do with politics,” Wiley said. “People of faith are still here. We need to come together and show people that there are people of faith here.”
In the formulations of his ideas on the event, Wiley focused on two written passages.
One came from the Florida Constitution, the first paragraph of which states that the delegates, “Being grateful to Almighty God” for the inalienable rights and liberties, a passage nearly identical to the U.S. Constitution.
The other written passage comes from the Bible and Psalms 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
The two, Wiley said, combine to demonstrate the link between faith and the rights and liberties enjoyed by citizens of the United States. That is why the “Day of Declaration” is also about patriotism while celebrating faith.
“I don’t think you can truly be patriotic without faith,” Wiley said. “And if you are of faith, you have to be patriotic. If we remove faith from our society, we don’t have a country.”
Wiley said his idea for a day to celebrate faith and country sprang from an event he observed in Orlando last year, a day in which people of faith gathered to help the homeless of the city.
He took the concept, once he had it formulated, to Mayor Mel Magidson – who will also speak during the event – and to the local Ministerial Association.
“Everywhere I went, people said, ‘Yeah, I identify with that,’” Wiley said.
After Dec. 3 was scrapped as a date, the decision was made to tie the 90-minute event into other festivities that day, such as the Junior Service League’s annual Chili Cook-Off and Christmas on the Coast.
“What I hope is there will be such an overwhelming response,” Wiley said. “People have assumed faith was diminishing. But coming together, it sends a message.
“It is a celebration. We want it to be celebratory. It is a celebration of who we really are.”
Those wishing to donate to the event may contact Father Tommy Dwyer with the Ministerial Alliance. Dwyer can be contacted at St. James’ Episcopal Church at 227-1845.