Presbyterians Today

FEB-MAR 2018

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4 FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay GOD MOMENTS | Donna Frischknecht Jackson Standing in the need of prayer Making prayer a priority in the church T he children gathered in a circle, joining me as I clapped and sang, "It's me, it's me, it's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer." The African-American spiritual was a favorite of mine when I was a child, hearing it sung in the soothing baritone voice of Tennessee Ernie Ford, whose album my mother would blast from the record player in our living room. (Yes, I said record player. I'm not that old. Really, I'm not.) The song had become a weekly ritual, closing our church's after-school program, Faith Filled Fridays. When we got to the part "it's not my brother or my sister, but it's … " I would call a child's name. That child would then jump into the middle of the circle while everyone else continued singing, "It's Nate (or Rachel or Mackenzie, etc.), O Lord, standing in the need of prayer." When all the children had left to go home, I would linger in the now silent fellowship hall and wonder: Would they find themselves humming the song as they got older, especially when troubles hit? But most of all, as a pastor who had once been told that I needed to cut the extended prayer time in church meetings, I wondered: Would these children grow up to be elders and deacons who would go beyond the obligatory opening prayer and closing prayer proudly recorded in session minutes? We have a lot of meetings in our church culture. Just ask my mother. Whenever she calls, I'm rushing off to one, to which she replies, "Another meeting, really?" We meet a lot, but seem to accomplish little. Now, I know meetings are important. They keep the business of the church running smoothly. But something is not quite right. And I wonder if that "not quite right" is the little time we spend together listening for the transformative still, small voice of God. When I was in seminary, I shared with a presbytery executive my idea of having no business meetings during Advent or Lent. Rather, fill that time with prayer. I didn't lose him until I said, "And what if we stopped all fundraisers, dinners and rummage sales and spent that time in prayer?" His reply: "Good luck trying that in your future church." I've tried bringing more prayer to meetings, but that has left me feeling like a church Goldilocks: "This meeting is too corporate." "This meeting is too spiri- tual." I've yet to be able to say, "This meeting is just right." And yet, I'm still trying because I don't buy into the lament that we don't have time to pray more in meetings. After all, Martin Luther, quite a busy man with changing the church culture of his day, once said, "I have so much to do that I'm going to need to spend three hours in prayer to get it all done." Now, excuse me. I can't chat with you any longer. I have lots to get done for the magazine and, can you believe it, I have a church meeting to get to. But before all that, I'm hitting the rail trail behind my house for a prayer walk. It's the only way that anything — and everything — will get done. The Rev. Donna Frischknecht Jackson is interim editor of Presbyterians Today and part-time pastor at First United Presbyterian Church in Salem, New York. CALL TO ACTION If getting people together to pray is hard, try a virtual prayer gathering. Set a day and time to pray weekly, keep it consistent, and encourage people to stop what they are doing at the appointed time and pray. Invite people to schedule this prayer time on their phones and to mark it on their calendars. I've tried bringing more prayer to meetings, but that has left me feeling like a church Goldilocks: 'This meeting is too corporate.' 'This meeting is too spiritual.'

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