March of 2020 brought on a lot of changes for the world, many of which we all classify as bad: isolation, illness, loss of work or overwork, financial worries. However, this time has also brought blessings. In our church there is one blessing that we are refusing to relinquish as this pandemic winds down: Prayer Group.
Back in 2020, when it was clear that this pandemic was not just a two-week pause in our lives, we opened up the opportunity for a Tuesday night prayer group. It was available to all via Zoom. The purpose was simple – just gather and name all the prayers we could. I thought it would be a good and easy way to gather people together, and give us all something to “do” in a time when there was really nothing any of us could do.
We started simply enough: a zoom invite, a candle, sometimes a poem or short video clip to get us started. Then we just opened our hearts to lift aloud those that we knew to need prayers.
What became interesting about this Tuesday night ritual was that I noticed several of us were taking notes. We were noting the names and needs of countless people we did not know. I asked one of the participants, Kate, why she recorded them and she said, "because I take my notebook out during the week and pray for those we have listed.”
Indeed, there is something about prayer which changes nothing, and changes everything simultaneously. Prayer has a powerful way of aligning our heart and soul toward the Almighty. It reminds us how little control we really ever have and gives us a tangible way to hand over our concerns to God. This practice is made even more powerful when done regularly and in a group. It changes your perspective on the world. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and pushed down, one can feel empowered. It can feel like you are a prayer collector – noticing the needs of the world and holding them tenderly until you place them before God.
This is how we endured the pandemic. Week in and week out, we gathered needs, we sought needs, we paid attention to the world around us. It changed us all for the better – giving us hope in a dark time. It reminded us of our participation in the kin-dom of God and offered us a place to share and release the heaviness which seemed ever present.
Even as the original purpose, a prayer group for the pandemic, seems to be winding down, the group’s desire to continue the work is strong. The group recognizes that while the pandemic may be coming to an end, there are always challenges, tragedies, and suffering in our world.
Challenges, tragedies, and suffering which need direct active hands on care and also care which comes in the form of prayer.
The beauty of the group like this is that it doesn’t take a lot of planning, it is not difficult to facilitate, and it is a wonderful way for laity to serve in leadership. It is literally born in the moment it exists and takes only attention to others and the world during the remainder of the week. In Brimfield, this has become such an important rhythm in the life of our church that as I prepared for medical leave this summer, I had expected that this group too would cease to operate and wait for my return as many other small group activities did, but it did not. The members of the group felt that their prayer time was too important to set aside just because the minister couldn’t be there, and so they made a plan and have continued to meet weekly.
This pandemic has been long and sad and frustrating in many ways. It also, though, has brought out and encouraged the growth of certain aspects of our faith that I hope we do not relinquish. For the church I serve and for myself, one of those aspects of faith I hope we hold onto is Prayer Group, a time simply to gather and pray, every Tuesday night, 7 p.m. on Zoom.
Dawn Adams is a member of the Immigration, Refugee and Asylum Task Team, and pastor of First Congregational Church of Brimfield, UCC (MA).