Prayer Practices for Congregations

Happy Resurrection Monday!

After a wonderful Easter yesterday, I have a bit of a church-y post today.

As you probably know by now, I am big into prayer practices.  I have my own spiritual director whom I talk with monthly (going Wednesday!).  I spend time in centering/silent meditation and prayer almost every day.  For several months now I have been chanting psalms, finding that there really is a different and powerful experience when they are heard aloud and not simply read silently.

I love lectio divina, or spiritual reading.  I sometimes color my prayers with markers, crayons and colored pencils. I walked the labyrinth before worship the other day at a friend’s church. And I always return to my favorite: spiritual autobiography or memoir when I know I need some real discernment.

God’s gift of contemplation – a sense of being directly in the presence of the Divine – can change my whole experience of a day. But I never recognized it until I learned to open myself to noticing God in the world around me.  As a seminary student more than a dozen years ago, I latched on to ancient prayer practices and new twists on traditions that I had never learned in the Presbyterian churches where I grew up.  In school learned to pray, tucked away from the world, opening myself to a new, and for me, a better relationship with God.

But Easter reminds me that the power of prayer practices is not meant to be felt and used in isolation. In the gospel passage I preached on yesterday, Mary Magdalene rushes to the disciples to share: “I have seen the Lord!” after he was raised from the dead.  Yes, she prays and weeps by herself at the empty tomb.  Yes, she experiences Jesus’ risen and very much alive presence on her own.  But she is commanded by Christ himself to share it with the group that will soon become the foundation of his Church.  We don’t keep prayer to ourselves.

Most of the churches I have attended have been pretty good about incorporating vocal prayer and some music into their worship, business, and fellowship together.  A few have found powerful ways to intercede for one another and ask for help and healing for their community and the world.  But time for silence in a worship service is almost certain to cause fidgeting. Eager to be on with the business at hand, church governance committees keep opening prayers to a minimum.  And communal discernment – time to try to catch where the Spirit might be blowing a congregation in a particular time and place—is virtually absent.

My colleague, Chrissy Ruehl, and I were thinking about classes we wished we had in seminary to prepare us to be leaders in our congregations. We both focused on prayer practices and spiritual formation in our elective work, but I found those courses emphasized “extra-church” activities – things that people could do on their own, outside the bounds of non-monastic Christian communities.  Great, we thought – but where was the class on how to bring the prayer practices, the silence, and the meditation that we cherish into our church communities?

We didn’t find it, so we are creating it.  In just a few weeks, April 20-21 at the historic New Ebenezer Retreat Center in Rincon, GA we will be exploring “Prayer Practices for Congregations.”  This is certainly for clergy and people who have been to seminary, but it is also for people who have never been to seminary, never plan to go to seminary, but know that their church would grow stronger and deeper if there were ways for members to grow stronger and deeper in their faith lives.

A few weeks ago I made space in a sermon for a long moment of silence.  There was preparation for it.  It was during Lent so it seemed appropriate. And the sermon set it up to be natural.  I was a guest preacher, so I was a little anxious about how it might go, but at the same time, I sensed that there was space in this church for something different.  It was done well, so there was little paper shuffling or fidgeting; even the children in the congregation seemed to be waiting with baited breath.  And when the sermon continued, the change in the room was palpable, beautiful, and beyond even my expectations.

There is room in our churches for the movement of the Spirit, the sanctity of silence, and the potency of contemplation.  I hope you will join us in exploring how we can capture that for the glory of God and the enrichment of Christ’s Church.

Are you familiar with traditions of Christian prayer that involve silence and meditation? They are similar and yet different from forms of Eastern meditation. Does your faith tradition or church make space in worship and community life for these types of prayer practices? Some Christian communities fear or prohibit silent prayer. Have you heard of traditions like that?  What do you think might be the pros and cons?  Does your worship team make space in worship for silence?  Does your church leadership ever talk about – or practice! – community discernment of the Spirit’s calling?

To learn more about Openings’ upcoming Prayer Practices for Congregations retreat/workshop check out our website or e-mail us hereTo register for this or any of our four upcoming workshops for lay and clergy congregational leaders go to Square, here.

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