I remember well the multi-hour meeting Canaan and I had at Session Coffee (RIP) during our first year as a church where we wrote the first draft of our Prayers of the People. I had just become aware of this prayer rhythm in Episcopal churches (among other traditions) and I was enamored with the possibilities for our church. If you’ve been apart of our church for any length of time, it will come as no surprise that I love structured, written prayers. I find that relying on a prayer that has been prepared in advance often expresses what I feel or know even when I have no words with which to express myself to God. The reverse is also true: written prayers have a way of speaking to me for God when I’m not sure I can hear him. I wanted that same opportunity for our parishioners so Canaan and I started writing our first iteration of the Prayers of the People.
Canaan and I deliberated over several sections of the prayer and, honestly, the best sections are written by Canaan. One of our longest conversations was about praying for the president. We launched our church the same year Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States and, to be quite honest, we were really thrown for a loop by that. Yet, praying for the leaders of our country seemed like the right thing to do regardless of our support for that person. If we were going to write prayers for our parishioners, we wanted them to be biblically supported and indiscriminate of political leanings.
And yet, praying for the president by title only and not by name seemed like a cop-out. It didn’t feel right to pray for our Mayor by name but not the President. Just because I personally don’t like the guy and didn’t vote for him doesn’t make the wisdom to pray for your leadership any less necessary. So, we started praying for the president by name and to this day, years later, hearing his name invoked at church feels very, very uncomfortable and yet very, very powerful.
Someone once told me after the service, “When someone says ‘Donald Trump’ into the microphone, it sucks all the air out of the room for a second and I love it.” I love it too, actually. It reminds us that we have a responsibility to pray for others, wether they are leading us, caring for us, persecuting us, or oppressing us, we have a responsibility to pray. I also find it important to pray for people with regularity regardless of how their position to you shifts over time. This is for two reasons:
- The work of God is often not as swift as we’d like and we believe that consistent prayer over time might bring about the change we hope for, even if it takes a long time to get there.
- When something significant arises for the the subject of your prayers, you have a container, a rhythm, by which you can pray for them.
Every week we pray that the president (among others) would “know the weight of their responsibility and the levity of God’s grace“. We also pray that he (among others) would “resist deceitfulness, divisiveness, and self-interest”. Right there we’re praying that the president would be shaped by the grace of God and resist that which is not of God. But another opportunity arose recently that caused a lot of Christians to question if or how we should pray for the president.
When the president was diagnosed with COVID-19, many wondered what to do. How do I pray for a person I haven’t been praying for? How do I pray for a person who has downplayed the deaths of so many from the same disease? How do I pray for someone I don’t like, disagree with, or otherwise don’t care much about? These are great questions and my answer is simply this: When you have a regular rhythm of prayer for a person, there is no question when or how to pray for them when something significant arises. It’s right there in your personal or corporate liturgy. It’s the same reason our church insists on practicing a prayer of lament every week. There isn’t always something to lament and yet, when the time comes, we know exactly where it goes and how to do it.
This is the value of a liturgy for life. It’s like preparing a nursery for a baby that hasn’t arrived yet. There are empty shelves, an empty crib, empty drawers, all awaiting and anticipating the arrival of clothes, a baby, diapers, and much more. The act of preparation helps you know exactly what will go where as things arrive. When we have a liturgy for our life, we have containers and spaces ready for the unexpected and unprecedented because we’ve been practicing and rehearsing this for a long time in anticipation and preparation.
A life liturgy prepares us for a pandemic that no one saw coming. A life liturgy prepares us for the president, no matter what you think about him, to fall ill. A life liturgy prepares us for the loss of a pregnancy, the arrival of a refugee next door, the opening of a new business in the neighborhood, the loss of a job, for everything. It doesn’t fix these things but it gives us something to say, something to do, something to listen for, a channel by which we can engage God and wrestle with the good and the hard parts of life.
You can find many of our weekly prayers at TSGENG.ORG/LITURGY
Parish Pastor, The Sacred Grace Englewood