Prayers of the People: How To
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The Prayers of the People is a sacred moment in which the priesthood of all believers is evident. Here are a few thoughts on ways to best enter into that mystery.
Silently or Aloud?
I have learned over the years that some folks are comfortable praying out loud, and others aren’t. This isn’t a matter of some people having more faith or Spirit than others. Its just one of the wonderful aspects of the Church – we are all different and the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve him through our personalities, not in spite of them. However, when we come to Prayers of the People, we need all of the needs and concerns to be lifted up. How can we provide an open environment for everyone to pray out loud who has a request or praise? How can we invite everyone to participate, even those who are reluctant to speak out loud in worship?
One solution that I have found works well is to encourage people to simply state a one word or one sentence praise or prayer request. Almost anyone feels comfortable doing that. Sometimes people will just name a name out loud. Sometimes they might say “We pray for those who are unemployed” or “we pray for those suffering from broken marriages” or “we give you thanks for providing for our needs.” Sometimes people might just say “thank you!” Please feel free to simply lift up a name or a brief request or praise. It doesn’t have to be a long prayer for us and for God to hear it. Not everyone needs to feel like they have to say something every week, and often someone else will lift up something we were going to mention. But we can come together with the expectation that we, the People, are called to pray.
Partisan or Prayerful?
I think it may go without saying (but I’ll say it anyways!) that we do have to be careful in our prayers to focus on Christ and not on our personal politics or particular speculative theologies during Prayers of the People. Here are some examples of these “prayer debates”:
First Person: “Lord, we pray that you would give our government the courage to lower taxes.”
Second Person: “Yes, Lord, but the rich are getting so rich and so please raise their taxes to help the poor.”
First Person: “Heavenly Father, we all know that we all have a free will to choose you.”
Second Person: “Yes, Lord, but remind us also that you are sovereign and that we are chosen by you.”
First Person: “Lord, help our current president to fulfill his plans for justice and peace.”
Second Person: “And God, please stop him from doing the stuff he says he will do, because it won’t be true justice or peace.”
There are some great times for us to discuss and debate politics and particular theologies, but our prayers are not the place. We can all pray for wisdom, compassion, and justice in our nation together. We can focus on Christ and the Gospel together in our prayers. After worship we can sit down for a friendly discussions and debates.
The best thing to do is to use the forms in the prayer book as guides. They’re pretty good.
Silent space is often uncomfortable. Its a good idea for prayer leaders to indicate verbally (or in writing in a bulletin) when silence is being observed. A time of silence after biddings is usually short. A rule of thumb for timing is for the leader to say the Gloria Patri silently. This is a good amount of time after each bidding. For longer, more reflective moments, the leader could silently say the Lord’s Prayer to herself. You’ll find that this amount of time is just long enough to make silence palpable, but not so much that people start wondering if you’ve become inert.
I hope you feel encouraged by this to take up the calling that we all have to pray together for the Church, the nation, the world and its needs, and our own community, giving thanks for those who have gone before us in faith. What needs and thanksgivings will you bring with you on Sunday?
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