When I was in college, I was involved in the Wesley Fellowship, the United Methodist Campus Ministry. We gathered every Sunday night for fellowship, a program, and worship. One of the student leadership roles was the “student pastor” – basically a student who volunteered to be a pastoral presence in the community. One of the student pastors during my time in Wesley would always carry a small notebook to our Sunday gatherings. When we got to the time of open prayer requests during worship, he would write notes in his notebook. Initially, the practice struck me as odd. What was he writing? What did he do with those notes? Assuming he used the notes for his personal prayers that week, did he use them as a checklist? I never got up the courage to ask any of my questions, so I was left with a bit of skepticism and suspicion. But also, a little bit of hope – even if he did not use the notes for his prayer life, at least whatever requests were mentioned seemed worthy of his writing them down.
This Lent, I realized that I have basically and unintentionally started doing something similar. We are trying a new ministry this year at Hickory Neck where each week, 3-6 parishioners or parish families received a postcard from the clergy. The postcard basically says “I am praying for you this week, and if you want to talk or have coffee, I would love to meet with you.” Knowing how caught up in the busyness of life I can get, I decided to put the names of those for whom I am praying as an appointment on my calendar. Everyday, I get a little ping on my phone, reminding me to pray for a specific set of people. Meanwhile, our church is also hosting a Facebook Live broadcast of compline, or evening prayers, once a week. In the morning, we put a post on our page, asking for prayer requests, and during the broadcast, people can also submit requests through the website. This week, I have been using those petitions as another addition to my metaphorical prayer journal.
What I am learning from the two practices, and also incorporating into my prayer life in general, is a more intentional practice of prayer. When a parishioner tells me about a concern during coffee hour, or when someone drops by my office with a concern, instead of just praying for those concerns as they come in, I incorporate them into my prayers throughout that week. These practices are having the consequence of making me feel much more connected with my faith community, with the community beyond our church, and with God. What are some of the practices you have picked up lately – intentional or not – that have brought you closer to God, the church, and the community? Is there some small change you can make in your daily routine that might help you strengthen those connections? I look forward to hearing your reflections.