All the preparation of an M.Div./MSW equips you for ministry in the community. Ministry and particularly prayer in the community are, at times, difficult. Often we spend more of our time in preparation for community prayer worrying about who we will offend, instead of praying to the God who unites us.
In all Christian mainline denominations communal prayer is a regular part of our worship. Some communities might offer prayers of repentance and confession, others offer prayers of the people (or supplication), and others say the Lord ’s Prayer each and every week. We are taught in church that praying together, in community, is important. Depending upon denomination, culture, or area of the country, praying together can last three minutes or one hour. Regardless, that joining together, uniting our voices, listening for God together, is critical to the life of the church and to our own personal life in Christ.
It allows us to remember that faith is not mine or yours, but a gift of God in Jesus Christ. Faith is not something that I choose, but over and over again God chooses me. I have learned that most about praying in the community by being a parent. When our son was born six years ago, we knew we wanted to pray as a family, but had no idea how. We started by praying before meals and at bedtime. The desire of my husband and I was that our son, even at age 1, would be an active part of praying, not passively wondering what mommy and daddy were doing. So we pray by saying thank you. Our prayers are simply thank you God for . . . and we list the people we saw that day, the things we did, what we ate, and at the end of each prayer we say, “thank you for ___” and our son fills in the blank. As soon as he could talk, he started filling in this blank. Some days he is most thankful for trucks, snow, Skylanders, Legos, Grandma or Grandpa, or candy! We never know what he will say. But what we all do know is that we have something to be thankful for.
Ministry and prayer in the community reflects this time of prayer in my family. When I go to write prayers for worship or offer a prayer at a gathering I start and end with thanksgiving. The great God of all has given us the opportunity to be in conversation, what more can I say than THANK YOU?
So the next time you are wondering what in the world to say during a community prayer, say Thank You. The next time you are frustrated by prayers happening in your church or you lose track of what the preacher is praying about, say Thank You. The next time you are rolling your eyes at the idea of having to pray communally again, just say Thank You. And listen for what God says back.
The Rev. Erin Davenport is a 2005 alumna of the MDiv program. Through the Seminary’s joint degree program, she also earned her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. A former chaplain, she now resides in Pittsburgh and serves as the Seminary’s director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute