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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Let Us Pray Edition

Our question this week seeks assistance with the task of composing intercessory prayer. Our colleague has asked that her question not be published in toto, so you are reading an edited version of her appeal.

Dear Matriarchs,

I'm the lurker who needs advice.

Autumn and the program year is upon us. Most of the planning is done during the summer. I am on the stewardship committee, in the process of designing the fund-raising campaign for the year.

All of our work seems to be coordinating nicely, save the prayer. We need something that can be stuck in the middle of the Prayers of the People, a list of prayers for the church, the nation, the diocese, the world, birthdays and anniversaries, the sick, the pregnant, and the traveling, among others. Short and sweet and to the point, because it will be said at worship every day for at least a month, maybe more.

Can anyone help me out with tips or point me to resources for prayer-writing? I'd especially like to hear from folks within traditions where writing the prayers or liturgies is a common occurrence. My brain does not function when called on to make stuff up!

Thanks for your help.

Sue, who blogs at inner dorothy, makes several excellent suggestions:

I come from a tradition in which there is no common resource. Rather there are several good resources, which I refer to occasionally. We tend to re-create the liturgical wheel each week, so the Prayers of the People are much like the rest of the liturgy for me. I have a few rules, however.

I never include a prayer in which I name a person whose permission I have not received directly from them. A neighbour is not good enough. A friend is not good enough. Until that person tells me that their health issue is public knowledge and I may speak their name aloud in relation to the prayer request, it doesn't come from my pulpit. Period. The Privacy Act would agree with me wholeheartedly on this one - the exception being a person in a coma, in which case I would trust the closest family member's direction.

In any case, when I write the Prayers of the People - that's where I start - with the people. I think about the pastoral needs I have experienced in the congregation that week and generalize the prayers so that individuals cannot be identified, and yet feel held by the gracious presence of God while the congregation joins heart, mind and spirit together in prayer. That could include, for example, prayers for all who are traveling, all who are lonely, or ill, or in despair. This week, it could include all of the commissioners to the United Church's 40th meeting of the General Council in British Columbia....that sort of thing. In other words, the prayers really do come from the pastoral place of the people in the faith community at that particular moment in time.

Method-wise: Go with what feels natural to you. How do you pray at a hospital bedside? Do you use a scripted prayer (sorry, I don't know about these things) or do you pray extemporaneously? If you "pray as you go" at the hospital, you might try doing the same in that middle part of the Prayers of the People, adapting as needs dictate.

That's the best I can suggest. Blessings on's always tricky to navigate new liturgical waters.

And from Mompriest, who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice

One resource that I draw upon to give me material to ponder, use, or re-write is The New Zealand Prayer Book. For example, on page 416, is a portion of the Prayers of the People that goes like this:
"We remember with gratitude your many gifts to us in creation and the rich heritage of these islands. (I'd change the word island to something else - "this land" or "this earthly home" or something). Help us and people everywhere to share with justce and peace the resources of the earth...." the response is silent.

and on page 413:
Petition: "Awaken in us a sense of wonder for the earth and all that is in it". - Response: "Teach us to care creatively for its resources."

Other prayers: "Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way." (Anonymous Native American Prayer)

"God know my situation. I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something." Bishop Barbara Clementine Harris.

If these particular prayers did not work I would write my own, perhaps using one of these to inspire me. Being an Episopal priest this is what I tend to do, but I am sure other denominations have resources beyond what I use, and I look forward to learning about them.

Thanks Mompriest and Sue! How about you? Do you have resources that can benefit our lurker and other readers of this feature? Let us know about them by using the comment function.


  1. It sounds like our gentle reader is asking for help in composing a standard sentence regarding financial stewardship for inclusion in the Prayers of the People to be repeated throughout the stewardship season.
    I'd suggest that, if you have a theme for your fall financial campaign, you may find the seeds of a sentence there. If, for example, the theme is "sharing from our abundance" then your pray could be, "Challenge us, O God, to share from our abundance." If it's something like "Hands and Hearts to God" your prayer sentence might be "We offer our hands and hearts to God this day."
    Hope this helps!

  2. Yes, I've done the sort of thing Jennifer describes, using a Psalm or verses from a hymn on Stewardship. The most familiar resources are sometimes the best!

  3. I've also done the kind of thing Jennifer says, and I usually use the scripture that the stewardship campaign is based on.

    Another good resource for things like this (including a whole section of liturgical resources for various kinds of stewardship) is the book Before the Amen, edited by Maren Tirabassi. There's really good stuff in there.

  4. sometimes i think so much time is spent on the scripted prayers... that the nuances are lost. the words too flowery... write from your heart, the same way you would pray from your heart when you are alone. prayer does not have to be an exercise in perfection...

  5. I did learn from one of my classes that spoken prayers work the best when the words are fewer syllables, and the phrases are short. Repetitive responses (or repetitively styled responses) also. I tried the suggestions and it worked!

    Now - of course I didn't keep a copy (duh)...

  6. I agree with Jennifer that starting with your theme (whether image or scripture or both) is a great idea. If you want more than one line, you could try to cover the resources (what we have to give), the motivation (why we give), the results (what giving does to us), and the blessings (what God can do with what we give). I tend to write/pray communal prayers that move from small (myself) to wider (loved ones and community) and wider (world).

    If your theme has an image, use that. If it doesn't, maybe the prayer can provide one. Images can ferment in beautiful ways in people's hearts and minds, and this one has the chance to be really subtle and yet powerful.

  7. Ugh! I wish I could remember the name of the book we used in seminary. (I was just looking at it the other day!)

    I did find a website with some useful guidelines.

    One option, if your congregation has a hymnal that you use regularly, is to look for a section with brief topical prayers (the short form that includes prayers of the day and is usually called a "collect"). Omit the address ("Almighty God", "Heavenly Father", etc.) and the closing ("through Jesus Christ our Lord") to turn it into a petition to be part of the Prayers of the People.

  8. Aha! Prayer of the Faithful: Understanding and Creatively Leading Corporate Intercessory Prayer is the book I was thinking of. It's quite short and an easy read.

    (However, lest I give the impression that everyone should read a book on the subject before composing any's a prayer. You're talking to God. Craft a prayer as best you can--and let the Spirit take it from there.)

  9. Thank you, Teri and Sarah, for the book recommendations! I have also been wanting to strengthen my library of resources, and I'm going to check both of them out. I imagine the one edited by Maren Tirabassi is especially wonderful; I have "Touch Holiness" and love that as well!


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