Are you a “designated pray-er?” A pastor or church leader that everyone looks to when it’s time to bless a meal, or at a meeting? Even if that’s not you, you can probably name the “pray-ers” in your congregation. Prayer is a central practice to Christian life, yet public prayer is seen as a challenge only a certain few prayer experts can undertake.
For the last two months, Rev. Dr. Diana Nishita Cheifetz has written on prayer in Regarding Ruling Elders for the PC(USA). Last month, she wrote about the gift of prayer being offered out loud, in personal and community settings. This month, she talks about that feeling of being put on the spot in being asked to offer prayer, as a “designated pray-er.” She speaks of how nerve-wracking it can be even for “professionals” such as ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament to be asked to offer public prayer.
As Christians, we know we are called to pray. We might even have regular and fulfilling private prayer lives. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us not to pray like the Pharisee, publicly calling attention to himself? Instead, we are to pray humbly, even in a closet, away from others. And that is how many of us conduct much of our prayer life. The most public prayers we participate in are corporate prayers in worship. But sometimes there is a need for prayer in groups and public spaces beyond our closets and sanctuaries.
If all we do is of Christ, we ought to be praying a whole lot in public. Before meals, before our work days, before meetings in and out of church communities, after a day of work, after joyful moments, and after stressful ones – in other words, praying constantly as the apostle Paul says. And some of that prayer might be on behalf of groups, out loud, in the midst of those groups.
Rev. Nishita Cheifetz suggests having a short prayer template ready for those who are asked to offer prayer (including yourself) to make the task less stressful. That is a great suggestion. Also, like anything else in this life, being good at public prayer takes practice. Those “designated pray-ers” might have some natural skills of putting words together well at a moment’s notice in front of others, but even those with natural skills probably got good through lots of public prayers.
We can learn to pray more easily in public. When in doubt, we have a great prayer in our pockets – the Lord’s Prayer. A great meal blessing is a shared Doxology. And if you start one of those, others are likely to join in, taking the pressure off of you. You can also start with a simple template – giving thanks, stating the goals of the gathering, and how you hope to be blessed and bless others through those goals. You can use simple one-word prayers where each person offers a word of thanksgiving, joys or concerns, or hopes. You can institute a practice of prayer in groups that meet regularly, where you use different types of prayers that are written or outlined, and rotate prayer responsibility. As your group participants get more comfortable praying out loud in a group setting, they might be invited to pray for the group using their own words. All of these are probably some of the ways the designated pray-ers in your communities also learned to pray well.
As Christians, we are called on to pray, and to pray for and with each other when we are gathered. Practicing public prayer is not about showing off or being judged by a group on how well you put together your words. Rather, it is an opportunity to connect and open those gatherings more fully to God’s work among you. In our work together, in times of crisis, in times of celebration – these are always better when we welcome God’s presence. Because, of course, God is already there, we can just forget to look, and prayer helps us do that.
Read Rev. Nishita Cheifetz’ articles together as teams and remember what a gift prayer is in our public spaces. Take some time to discuss how you might practice prayer as a group, and as individuals leading your group in prayer, and then do it. Challenge each other to each take turns and get more comfortable in public prayer. And pass it on. See if you can create a congregation of “designated pray-ers” that the world might be filled with prayer.