Category Archives: prayer

Praying in Silence, Participation in Public

The following is a first draft of a new section from the NYNO booklet, which is slowly taking shape, currently titled: Beginning a New Church …

Our practice of praying in public has changed over time. Originally, before NYNO started, we used the ‘chaplaincy’ model of conducting a service in which the minister figure led the prayers. We feel there are limitations to this form of worship. To recapitulate: when the minister leads all of the worship the congregation can begin to think of themselves as passive recipients of a spiritual good. When this happens, spiritual community can be assumed to be an additional and non-essential aspect of church. It is possible that this is exacerbated in our case, where the congregation consists of older people who have become accustomed to their role and contributions being peripheral to the life of their churches.

With respect to prayers, there are different ways of addressing this problem. An obvious solution is to invite members of the congregation to contribute to different parts of the service and, in this case, to lead the prayers. This is a sensible way forward in that it encourages a wider public participation and yet acknowledges the diverse giftings of the congregation: for whatever reason not all have the confidence or aptitude to take a public role.

In our own situation we felt that increasing the number of public contributors while keeping the same model of service was not the best way forward. We thought this for a number of reasons. Firstly, even if we encouraged some people to lead prayers and succeeded in getting them to do this, the majority of people would still not be doing so. We would still have in place a model of worship in which community could be seen as peripheral to church. We would still have a congregation who through their age and living situation have become less than central to the life of a church centred on a parish building. What we hoped for instead was to find ways to emphasize the importance of each member and the value of his or her contributions, whatever they were. Inevitably, when a service is led or conducted this leading role will be especially esteemed, to the detriment of valuation of the contributions of everyone else.

Secondly, in our particular situation we felt that it was particularly difficult to be seen to be ‘raising’ people into church leadership. The problem lies in part in the way Church of Scotland ministers, and no-doubt those of other denominations, are viewed in society generally and perhaps especially amongst the older generations. It would be difficult for any individual to be seen to taking on that role in such a small church that largely existed within a relatively small housing complex. All manner of attractive and unpleasant power dynamics would be possible if a resident were to take a role as a church leader for a church that largely consisted of residents. Of course, leading prayers or even taking a public role in worship does not entail church leadership, but it does imply it to some degree with a led service model and where few people are willing to contribute publicly.

Lastly, we recognized that we might be unsuccessful in finding people who would want to contribute to the service. We simply might not have such people. Our congregation might be too frail or too intimidated, for reasons discussed above. It had to be possible to find a form of worship that could be embraced and enjoyed even when the giftings of public speaking were not available.

For these reasons, we turned to a form of silent prayer in which the prayers of all the saints are recognized to be significant and there is no necessity for anyone to be understood to be praying on behalf of the whole congregation. Everyone can and must pray, is called to do so, and this is reflected in how prayer is conducted in the liturgy.

Our current liturgies are largely composed of prayers and statements of faith and the congregation says these prayers and statements together, to God and to each other. When we come to intercession, we recognize that we are responding directly to the differing situations of our lives and so there is the need for words that respond to this. Simply put, this section of the service begins and closes with set prayers (when we are not celebrating communion, we close with the Lord’s Prayer) that remind us of the reason why we can and should pray. In between these prayers pieces of paper are distributed and people are asked to write down topics for which we can all pray. These are collected in and then one person has the task of collating these topics and simply saying ‘Let us pray for …’ before a period of silence and concluding the silence of prayer with the responsive prayer, ‘Lord in your mercy,’ to which the congregation responds ‘Hear our prayer’.

There are undoubtedly limitations to this approach. It’s advantage is that it is simple and requires relatively little preparation and so can be used by anyone. At the same time, this simplicity and silence means that we are not teaching people to pray in any particular way. Well structured and thoughtfully composed prayers, teach us to pray according to what God has revealed of himself. Such prayers teach us to pray with faith, hope and love. It is possible that a selection of collects could be used to accompany these prayers, but there will always remain a balancing act: the richer and more varied we make our liturgy, the more demanding it is to prepare the service. Perhaps the way forward is to keep a simple basic form of liturgy, but to allow individuals to enrich it as they have the time, energy and inclination to do so.