Creating space for prayer in community is critical to our faith formation. Lent is the perfect season to come together in prayer. When I think of community, I think of a place where you can come as you are, flaws and all. You develop a bond with one another. You look forward to being together. You can share vulnerably and deeply. You belong, and you can count on the group to celebrate with you and support you through difficult times.
Yet, I recently heard a pastor say that there is no way to create community via technology. I disagree with this statement because I have seen Zoom afford a venue for weekly community prayer. For the past nine months, members and friends of Rockledge Presbyterian Church have gathered every Tuesday for an Evening Prayer Service based on the liturgy of Daily Prayer.
Rockledge’s Pastor, Sandy Lacey, said, “I knew of folks in our church who were already struggling to feel part of the community due to a debilitating illness or caregiving role that precluded them from attending worship, classes, and fellowship events. The pandemic brought these needs into sharp focus. Fortunately, wonderful leaders in our church thought creatively about meeting folks’ needs.”
Each Tuesday, a dedicated group of about 25 people join together to hear the Word, offer joys and concerns, join in communal prayer, and fellowship with one another. Rick Foresteire, who became a member of Rockledge church within this past year, has been unable to meet people face-to-face because of the pandemic and because he endured heart bypass surgery and cancer treatments. Rick said, “I didn’t know anyone, and now it seems like we’re all good buddies.” He adds that some of the people he has grown close to through the prayer service he has not had the chance to meet in person.
Rick’s wife, Nancy, who is a long-time member, agrees. “We are all actually very intimate with each other, raising our joys and concerns, and being open with one another. It really makes us feel connected.”
The connections go beyond the one hour on Tuesday evenings. One of the Sunday school teachers for our elementary and middle school class brings the students’ prayer requests and lets them know we are praying for them. Some who attend the service send cards to people we pray for, including the students.
The weekly Prayer Service also provides opportunity for young adults who grew up in our church to reconnect with their church family. Nancy’s daughter joins from Kansas. Two other young adults regularly participate in the service.
One older member who lives in an assisted living facility has been unable to get to church in person throughout the pandemic. During a recent Prayer Service, she was so overcome with seeing friends from church that she began to cry.
Praying together regularly also gives people a chance to share some of their gifts. One woman offers our intercessory prayers. Volunteers read portions of the prayer service liturgy. Recently, Nancy asked to share a prayer she penned while taking a walk—a respite from her caregiving responsibilities. It speaks to where she is in her faith journey:
Oh, my life I want to rearrange
I do not like this season of change
This is hard and sad and it makes me mad
Why can’t we get back what we had?
I’m struggling and fighting at a rapid pace
But the chaos and fear I continue to face.
Worn out from the fighting, I have to ask,
Is it in Your glory I want to bask?
I have given up trying to help others in need
Perhaps it is me that You need to feed
So I open my heart to this season of change
And decided to just let it rearrange.
I find the love of God, family & friends,
A beautiful flow that never ends
A season of acceptance has taken place
As I take in the love with humility and grace
In the season of acceptance what have I gained?
So much that it all can’t be named.
And I am grateful.
Several times, I’ve asked if the group wanted to take some time off from our weekly Zoom gatherings. Each time, they respond that they want to continue coming together. Many express that even when the threat of the coronavirus ends, they want to continue the Prayer Service.
There is no doubt in my mind that a prayer community has been created. Each week, we share updates on the people we have been praying for. We supportively journey with those who are suffering from illnesses. We joyfully celebrate when healing occurs. We mournfully grieve those we have lost. We faithfully pray for family and friends, for people’s neighbors, for our country, and for people around the world whom we don’t even know. Through it all, we support one another. We’ve found community in these Lenten days, and in this time when we’re separated from one another. Thanks be to God.
If you would like to receive a copy of the Prayer Service liturgy, feel free to email Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org.