I’ll never forget when one of my church members compared our worship service to The Phil Donahue Show.
Despite worshiping with close to 300 people, we often share our prayers out-loud, using a microphone, allowing everyone who wants the opportunity to speak what is on their heart. In order to facilitate this, I often have to run/briskly walk around the sanctuary – a la Phil Donahue – to provide said microphone to those with their hand in their air.
Humorous comparisons aside, this practice – while often helpful in sharing pastoral concerns with a large group and allowing worshippers to model prayer for one another – presents some difficulties, too. Chief among them: Sharing joys and concerns is a very extrovert-centered spiritual practice. So for Advent, we decided to do something completely different.
Never did we expect to be transformed by what we encountered.
Advent can be the perfect season to try something different in worship. The welcoming of a new liturgical season itself helps create space for change while the short overall length – four weeks – allows for a quick move away from an unpopular or potentially ill-fitting practice.
The combination of a well-timed Phil Donahue joke and our concerns surrounding the way we prayed together in worship lead us to ask God: “How might we pray differently this Advent season?” Fairly quickly, we decided we would ask the congregation to write their prayers.
Instead of passing the microphone, our music minister played three minutes of beautiful piano music and the congregation wrote their prayers on paper provided in their pews. A brief pastoral prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, and a Taizé song wrapped up our new prayer practice. The congregation was invited to put their prayers in the offering plate as they came around later in worship.
After the first Sunday of Advent we received over 120 written prayers, and each week the number of prayers only grew. On the fourth Sunday of Advent we received almost 150 prayers.
We decided as a staff that we would pray the prayers together, during our weekly staff meeting, giving voice to each and every written prayer. What God managed to do in the intersection of our voices and their prayers was transformational. We were finally able to touch the fears, worries and battles we knew our people were facing but struggled to share with us. While some chose to sign their names – revealing to us very personal things, sometimes for the very first time, which we were able to follow-up about – most prayed anonymously.
Normally we were only able to pray with 5 -10 folks on a given Sunday; Suddenly we were intimately praying with almost half of the worshipping congregation in less time than it took to pray with only a handful.
What began as an attempt to meet the needs of our introverted congregants, grew into a transformational spiritual practice for both our introverts and extroverts, drew our staff closer to the congregation, and reminded us of the deep need in our churches for us to never stop being curious about the journeys of those around us.
What prayers are waiting to be shared with you in your church?