Noon Prayer — Again

It seems every few posts return to Wednesday Noon Prayers.  I suppose it is because I am drawn to what God’s Spirit is doing and to what can come about in Noon Prayers.   As a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we are not accustomed to observing prayer at particular hours of the day.  Therefore this venture into Noon Prayers is new.  It seems to emerge for us in fits and starts.  As I have reflected before, there are days when I have prayed alone, days with one or two others, days with a group of 8-10 children (expected and unexpected!), days with those in prayer who know each other well, and days when we have prayed with the stranger.  Of this I am convinced:  God is in it all.

This Wednesday, nine of us gathered for prayer.  Again, our Associate and I had spread blankets on the ground in the church garden.  We did not know who would join us.  Soon, the Director of the Hunger Program join us and along with him came two volunteers from the Food Program, then across the lawn came a mom and her two children, Native American friends of our outreach ministry.  The eight of us began prayer together, reading a Psalm, sharing moments of quiet, and then sharing the concerns for prayer that God had placed before us on that day.

As we were sharing, a man came walking across the lawn toward the church building.  When he looked over at us, I motioned for him to come join us.  As he walked toward us, I could see that there was an employee name tag clipped to his shirt.  I told him we were having noon prayers and he was welcome to join us.  He accepted the invitation and sat down.  As someone handed him the prayer sheet for the day, he said, “You praying from a piece of paper?”  I replied, that what was on the paper in was a Psalm and a responsive prayer, and that, at this time, we were sharing our prayer concerns.  We then continued and he just listened.  When we moved into the responsive prayer with a simple sung response, he joined in.  I read the first section, our Associate read the second, and then I asked if anyone there would like to read the third section.  His voice picked up the next section of the prayer Litany.  I could hear his voice, strong and committed, as we sang:  “The Lord is my Light, my light and salvation.  In God I trust.  In God I trust.”  Then I spoke a prayer of thanksgiving and confession which moved us into intercessory prayer.  Two or three in the group spoke prayers aloud. We prayed for one who looking for a job and a place to live, for another in treatment for AIDS, for one who had suffered a stroke, for those who were coming to the food pantry and others with physical and emotional and spiritual needs.  When the prayers came to an end, I started to speak a benediction.  It was then that the man who had joined us, said “Could I ask for one more prayer?”  I encouraged him to do so, and he began.  He asked us to pray for the Jena six, the six black teenagers in Jena, LA, charged with beating up a young white man.  All of this after nooses has been hung in the town.  He prayed that, “as taught in the Lord’s Prayer, we forgive each other our debts as we have been forgiven.”  When he had finished, I led us on into prayer for the Jena six and all those whose lives are destroyed in the midst of racism. This time I brought our prayers to a close by inviting us to join together in the Lord Prayer — the very prayer he had just mentioned.  As we prayed I was aware that almost everyone present was praying this familiar prayer.

As we stood up, the new friend who had joined us, said, “You just never know what opportunities you’ll find.  I found out that the worship of God is in this place.”   We took hands and then parted.  There were hugs and “see you laters” as we went back to our work of the day.

Looking back on the prayer time, I am thankful that four African American, two European American, and three Native American people of God gathered in prayer on the ground that day.  It was holy ground.  I cherish God’s ways of bringing us together — making us more whole.  May God continue to strengthen ministry here.   May God bring together the people who will make it possible for us to continue to be the Church in this place.  Amen.

Women’s Spiritual Retreat

This past weekend I had the privilege of being the keynote leader for the Southeast Gateway Area Fall Women’s Retreat. Those present were Disciples of Christ laywomen and clergy plus one Presbyterian clergywoman who just asked her Disciples friends if she could come along. It was a wonderful group. I was reminded once again of the incredible faith, depth of spirit, and creativity of women who open themselves to God’s Spirit and to each other. Barb, who was a part of the planning group for the retreat, shared a precious gifts with each woman there. Barb had received a box of the beautiful handkerchiefs that had belong to her mother-in-law Margery. She said that Margery always had a handkerchief with her. They were delicate, of many colors, flowers, designs. Some scalloped around the edges; perhaps a bit of lace. Barb chose for every woman at the retreat to receive one of these handkerchiefs. I was touched by the generosity of heart to share these reminders of Margery with all these women. We used the handkerchiefs in prayer, to express joy and thanks. I can only imagine that now these hankies will again wipe a brow, dry a tear, catch a sniffle, provide security in a moment of concern.

The planning group set up Meditation stations around the retreat center grounds. Each station welcomed retreatants to rest and be reminded of God’s nourishing presence. Objects of remembrance were available at each station.

The planning group’s work set such a perfect setting for our theme, focusing on the Hospitality of the Table of Christ. I was particularly moved by their hospitality, their dream that every woman who attended, would be welcomed with grace.

Using the resource, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Fr. Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt, I focused the keynote sessions on the Hospitality of Jesus. Session 1: Welcoming the Other, Welcoming Us Session 2: Vulnerability and Hospitality and Session 3: At the Table: Recognizing Christ, Recognizing Ourselves.

I was touched by the willingness of these women to share their lives and their faith.

Community of Prayer

This has been a full and wonderful day.  It was Homecoming Sunday which was an occasion for extended families and friends to share in worship at Compton Heights Christian Church (DOC).  I was especially aware of the warmth and the depth of faith in the congregation this morning.  Usually our Prayers of the People is a cross between a traditional pastoral prayer and communal intercessory prayer.  I pray and then come to a time when I open the prayers to the congregation to pray aloud as they choose.  Each spoken prayer concludes with “God who is Mercy — Hear our Prayer.”

Today, however, we invited the congregation to enter into prayer in four different ways.  I opened the prayer time, then we sang a simple prayerful verse about 3 times through.  Following that we entered into a time when the those in the congregation could a) remain thier seats and pray quietly,  b) write their prayers on a small card and bring them forward to the communion table (or keep them if they chose), c) come to one of the pastors to be anointed with oil and to pray, and/or d) speak their prayer aloud.

As expected the time began with everyone quiet and still.  Then the sanctuary seemed to come alive with prayer.  Some were writing, others sat in quiet.  Slowly some began to move toward Jenn and me to be anointed and to pray with us for their particular concerns.  A couple of people stepped up to the microphone in the center to speak prayers aloud.  Those who were writing came up to the table to lay their prayers there next to the Christ Candle and in the midst of the communion trays.  Some moved from speaking prayer aloud, or placing a written prayer on the table to be anointed.  Several times I began to move toward conclusion and saw someone else moving to come forward.

I can only describe the movement and the presence in the sanctuary as prayerful.  To me it was a holy time.  Responses have come from a couple of people in the congregation who appreciated the opportunity for us to prayer as a community in this way.  I will be interested to hear from others.

An enduring question for me is how we invite people into true prayer – both in the context of worship and through the dailiness of our lives.  I appreciate this congregation’s depth of faith and willingness to explore prayer together.

Hungry at Noon Prayers

Yesterday a cool breeze invited us outside again for Wednesday Noon Prayers in the Church Garden. I spread the blanket in the garden shade and was moving the sprinkler to a new hosta bed, when a colleague and church member arrived to join in prayer. We took off our shoes and sat, caught up for a few moments, and then began prayer. We had hardly begun when Frank came across the church lawn from the building. He was an older man, face wrinkled, clothes dirty and hanging loosely on his body. He had been in to the food pantry and came out somewhat agitated. He said they wouldn’t give him food this week and he didn’t understand why. The director of our Isaiah 58 Ministries outreach program was there in our prayer time, so she responded to him, explaining that he had received food last week and the pantry could only give him food every two weeks. Insisting that he had not taken a bag of food last week, he said ‘I’m hungry.” So Brenda told him that we were in prayer and that when we finished, she would help him. I then asked Frank if he would like to sit down and join us for Noon Prayers.

Frank sat down a couple of feet from the blanket. I invited him to come closer, to sit with us on the blanket if he would like and he moved just to its edge. Just as I started to continue our prayers, Frank said that a particular American world leader is “going to hell.” He said that Katrina came and “nobody did nothin’.” He then said that his sister had died in New Orleans and that he had not had the money to go to her funeral. He described the situation of so many who have still not received assistance there. We listened for a few minutes, shared our grief over the pain and loss, and moved to the reading of our scripture for the day:

Luke 6: 19 ff. — “And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. (Frank said, “That sounds good.”) Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they revile you, and defame you on account of the Human One. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; (Frank said: “Yes, Maam, that sounds good.”) for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for tha is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Frank said, “That’s it.”)

As we opened up for reflection on the scripture, Frank was quiet. Then he said, “I’m hungry now, can we go get some food?”

What else was there to say? Reading the scripture and praying for God’s people with Frank had caused me to hear anew. Following our prayers of intercession, Brenda and Frank went in to the food pantry. I folded up the blanket.

Compton Cares Update

Judi has been taking pictures as demolition and construction are beginning at Compton Heights CC.  And she has created a blog to share the progress with friends near and far who are supporting this important step in our ministry.  I’ve added the blog to my blogroll and hope you will follow our progress … and if nearby, come worship with us.  This is an exciting time for others to join us in this ministry in the city.  The blog is:  http://comptoncaresupdate.blogspot.com

We are excited about this new commitment to be a progressive church presence in the St. Louis city.  It is a gift to build a community in mission and celebration in place.  Upcoming events include: September 16 — Homecoming Sunday with Dinner, and compiling Women’s Prison Kits for each inmate at the Vandalia facility.  These will be distributed through the Festival of Sharing.   That weekend will also be the 3rd Anniversary of “Happy Friday”– our outreach on the street each Friday Morning from 6:45-8:00 AM!!    Saturday, September 29, 4:45 — Our Choir will sing in the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of the Garden District.   Friday, October 5, an evening viewing and discussion of the movie “Amistad”.  This is a part of our Reconciliation Ministry to be an anti-racist, pro-reconciling church.   Sunday, October 7 will be a celebration of Reconciliation and World Communion Sunday.  On Sunday, October 21, we will host an ecumenical Children’s Sabbath Worship at 10:30 AM.   And Sunday night, October 28 will be a Halloween themed Game Night in the Fellowship Hall.

So, while we are under construction, we are fully in ministry!  Please visit the Compton Cares Update blog!