Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.
St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
“I’ll pray for you.”
How many times have you said those words in this turbulent pandemic year? How many times will you be saying this as winter sets in and the year-end holidays loom? Pew Research says most Americans pray. But how do we pray? What do we say? Beyond frequency of prayer, Pew research tells us little about the details.
That’s where Cara Gilger and her friends lend a hand. Detailed, specific prayer is the focus of a new book by Cara and a nationwide network of 40 talented young clergy, titled 99 Prayers Your Church Needs—But Doesn’t Know It Yet. The book is a cornucopia of words that real people in real communities have lifted up to God in the face of all manner of celebrations and catastrophes.
Among the prayers for celebrations:
...Blessing someone starting a new job
...Celebrating a milestone in sobriety
...Blessing a family making a long-distance move
...Prayer with a family welcoming a foster child
...Blessing as a congregation sponsors a refugee family
...Blessing over a Habitat for Humanity home
Among those for catastrophes:
...For those who have lost a loved one to an overdose
...Someone who is struggling with depression
...A family being deported unexpectedly
...Prayer with a child over the death of a pet
...A lament for racial inequality and prayer for reconciliation
...And, prayer when your church’s sprinkler system goes off causing enormous damage
“That last prayer you listed is mine,” Cara said in an interview about her book. “That actually happened to me.
“Of course, no one has a prayer ready for something so specific: a sprinkler system going off and drenching everything. So, I had to write one myself. This happened at a church I served some years ago that would sometimes rent out space for family events. One day, a family rented space to hold a birthday party. None of the adults realized that a child had found a lighter, had snuck away from the others and was playing with it in our church bookstore. A fire started. The whole building did not burn down, but the fire detectors and alarms went off, sprinklers went off—and we got soaked! We lost carpeting, furniture, books. Yes, that prayer came out of a very tough experience.”
In our interview, I pointed out: “You’ve also got a prayer if a building actually does burn down.” I asked, “Did someone you know experienced that, too?”
Cara said, “Yes, you wouldn’t think it’s a common experience these days to have a church burn down—but out of our circle of 40 people who contributed prayers to this book, we found that two people had experienced fires.”
WHY DO WE NEED PRAYERS LIKE THIS?
In our interview, I described the value of this book as “prayer starters.” Of course, each of the 99 prayers included in the book is fully written and ready to use, each text filling most of a single page. Taken together, however, this collection will inspire a fresh approach to prayer in all circumstances. Readers are likely to start developing more of their own prayers, inspired by those in this book.
I asked Cara, “Was that part of your goal here?”
Yes, she said, “in the sense that we want to encourage people to think theologically whatever happens to us as families and as congregations. Think about something as common as a windstorm damaging the church roof. Unfortunately, that happens to a lot of churches every year. So, stop and think about that scenario for a moment. What’s the first thing most of us would do? If your roof suddenly has been blown off your church, you immediately know you want to call your building supervisor and your insurance company but in the anxiety of the moment, we might not think about stopping and asking: Where is God in all of this?
“In that sense,” Cara said, “I do hope that this book is a prayer starter—encouraging people to remember to stop and think theologically and keep praying in all circumstances.”
In the book, Clara describes it this way: “These prayers are not meant to represent all the prayers you might need for your specific ministry, rather, they are a suggested starting point for reflecting on where God is and how God might meet us in these 99 particular moments. Perhaps a sentence or two or a turn of phrase will catch your spiritual imagination and set you on the path to writing a prayer that fits you and your situation authentically.”
This book, in effect, is an opportunity to collaborate with Cara and her contributors. Perhaps the most important sentence in this entire book is on the first page: “Permission is granted to reprint material from this book in worship bulletins or to project material for use in worship.” That makes it easy to use these resources in local communities.
HOW WERE THESE PRAYERS ASSEMBLED?
That’s a remarkable part of the story behind this book. In the final pages, you’ll find mini-profiles of the book’s 40 contributors. Most are part of a network of young clergy called Bethany Fellows. After their brief profiles, a summary of this program says that, since 1999, the church-related nonprofit “has been encouraging young pastors in their earliest years of ministry. This ministry was born out of the intention of strengthening congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) by helping newly ordained, young pastors transition from seminary to sustained congregational ministry with a strong and healthy pastoral identity.”
Today, a number of programs have branched from the original concept, including an ecumenical network that is open to clergy from other denominations. Visit the Bethany website to learn more.
When Cara was invited by the staff at Chalice Press, the Disciples’ publishing house, to coordinate the gathering of materials for this book—she accepted partly because the project involved these dozens of other clergy nationwide.
EVEN MORE RESOURCES TO INSPIRE CREATIVITY
Visit Cara’s own website, CaraGilger.com, and you’ll learn that a great deal of her work these days involves consulting with congregations about ways to “align their practices and structures with their vision for how God is calling them to serve their community.”
Does that sound familiar? Earlier this month, we profiled Emily Scott, the founder of the international “dinner church” movement, and described her new book, For All Who Hunger. In that ReadTheSpirit Cover Story, Emily said that her book also is intended to spark new forms of creative ministry. In that week’s interview, Emily said, “My message is that we need to get more in tune with our own communities. We need to be attuned to our own culture and relationships so we can sense where the Spirit is moving.”
That’s also Cara Gilger’s full-time profession, these days: helping congregations to be better attuned. You can learn more about the programs and professional services she offers at the “Speaking” page in her website.
Plus, you can get a sense of her own voice as a writer, pastor and preacher in the “Blog” area of her website. In fact, she is already preparing for Christmas—the season most Christians refer to as “Advent”—and you will find columns like one titled, Home by Another Way: A Meditation on a Covid Christmas.
YET ANOTHER IDEA: START A BOOK ADVENT CALENDAR—ON A BUDGET
In fact, here’s one more of Cara’s great ideas—a sort of “Bonus” at the end of this week’s Cover Story.
Among the fresh ideas and resources she has shared recently on her blog is a description of a family tradition she started when her kids were small: A Book Advent Calendar. What a great idea! As a family, open a new book every day leading up to Christmas.
Need suggestions? Our own Front Edge Publishing’s Susan Stitt lists some of the great books we have released in 2020. Susan titles her column, We’re reading now more than ever! Here are 2020 books that make great gifts.
But, you’re probably protesting: Woah! Wait a minute! Cara is suggesting families buy 28 books in December? That’s expensive!
In fact, she’s got some very clever ideas about how to do this for your family and not spend too much money. Cara calls her column, How to Start a Book Advent Calendar on a Budget. You’ll definitely want to go read that column over at Cara’s website—and share that with friends as well.