in Diversity and Disagreement
Shortly after 9/11, Donald Schell reported participating in a worship service in which the prayers of the people devolved into a political dodge ball game. Into the space created by the bidding, “Please add your own prayers and petitions, silently or aloud,” were lobbed prayers from “For our President, George, and all striving to defend us against the evils of depraved terrorists,” to “For the victims of our nation’s misguided and death-dealing militaristic policies.”
In recent weeks, I’ve heard a similar array of prayers in worship services. This is a season of uncertainty and grief, as so much death, devastation, and political absolutism darkens our doorstep time and again. Tensions are high, views divided. Kneeling at the bedside, running by the lake, or sitting with friends in our homes, we offer up our deep lamentation and our personal imprecatory psalms. In private, we rail at God and whoever we understand our “enemies” to be.
But what of corporate prayer? What does it look like and sound like for us to be together in all of our diversity and disagreement and pray as a body?
I truly need your ideas about this. I’ve not figured it out. But here are a few hunches and reflections on my own experience in the parish I serve.
1. If we are truly praying, it will be a bit messy, even in “good” times. If people feel free to voice prayers, and if those prayers are not always seamlessly coherent, that is the sign of a congregation where disagreement is not considered threatening, where people are bringing their whole hearts and minds to the holy service of God in liturgy. I’d rather that than a deafening silence in prayer.
2. This might be a good time for a sermon about corporate prayer. Why are we called to pray together? How does prayer conform us to God’s dream and form us for God’s work? Is prayer a place for changing people’s minds or is there another forum where constructive conversation is more appropriate? Lots of possibilities for reflection that might help people decide what to offer up and how to offer it.
3. Consider structured silence. Last spring, at Good Shepherd, Watertown, our pastoral team reflected on how overwhelmed we all felt by the hard news of the world, how much we need God’s guidance, and how inarticulate we feel in the face of so much hardship. We decided to add a space in the prayers of the people where we just name that, and then invite the congregation into a time of humble silence before God. That was well received and it felt honest.
What do you think? What should be #4 on this list?
Regardless of your answer, thank you for your ministry of prayer, your work for positive change, and your willingness to engage in this discussion.
Amy McCreath is a presbyter serving with the Church of the Good Shepherd, Watertown, MA, and a Council Member of APLM. Amy blogs at http://www.livingwatertown.wordpress.com