The power of a praying congregation
Every day, Paula Peterson prays for someone.
Prayer requests come to her in offering plates and emails, phone calls and notes left at church. She prays for travelers and people too sick to leave their beds. She prays for soldiers on the battlefield and pastors in the pulpit. She prays for people she knows but more often, those she doesn’t.
Sometimes when she bows to pray, she only has a name and the trust that God knows that person’s deepest need.
“I’ve believed in the power of prayer all of my life,” Peterson says. “It just strengthens your own faith to take someone else’s needs to the Lord.”
Peterson leads the Guild of Intercessors, a First Presbyterian Church ministry that began in 1945. About 75 people serve as intercessors, honoring a daily commitment to pray for the names they receive on a weekly prayer request list.
Some of these prayerful people are homebound; others offer their prayers as they can, on lunch breaks or at their desks. Peterson knows intercessors who even take their prayer lists on vacation with them.
Peterson considers it a blessing and a privilege to pray for those who may be too sick or distraught to utter a prayer themselves. She prays every morning with her husband, Mark.
“I don’t think anybody understands how powerful prayer really is. I’ve seen so many answers and I’ve seen God move in such miraculous ways,” Peterson says. “Some people pray and they don’t expect an answer. I believe something is going to happen when I pray because God promised me that.”
The church offers an invitation to prayer in virtually every corner. Pews hold note cards for prayer requests, which can be dropped in the offering plate or a prayer request box in the Narthex. If you are interested in a quiet place to pray, there are a couple of dedicated prayer spaces: The Guild has a quiet room on the first floor in Room 119 and Room 204 is a prayer room.
Another church ministry called the Pray-ers offers daily prayers that focus on every member of First Church. Every year, each Pray-er is assigned eight member families, whom they pray for by name on a daily basis, says Gretchen Bashforth.
“They may or may not know the people for whom they are praying, and they usually do not know of specific prayer needs,” she says. “This is more of a quiet spiritual practice of lifting our church family up in prayer every day of the year.”
In preparation for Easter, the church annually holds a non-stop prayer vigil that begins on Maundy Thursday and continues through Easter morning.
Kathleen Muller takes part in the vigil every year, opting for a 30-minute prayer time that falls late at night or early in the morning – a quiet time that helps her focus.
“My experience in the prayer vigil is that it is the best way for me to prepare interiorly and in a spiritual way to receive Easter,” she says. “It is intentionally setting aside time to be present to God around what Easter means.”
Muller also leads an eight-month study called Spiritual Exercises, which focuses intently on prayer and learning through prayer how to have a deeper relationship with the Lord.
The exercises, based on the writings of 16th-Century theologian Ignatius Loyola, involve daily focused prayer and guided practices aimed at self-awareness, discerning God’s call in your life and ultimately living into God’s greater glory.
The exercises are for people who want to expand their ways of praying and “deepen their friendship with the living Christ,” Muller says. “Prayer is really just your relationship with God, and there are many ways for us to engage in that relationship.”
Some people are gifted in intercessory prayer, like the Guild members. Others may be inclined toward a contemplative path as in silent prayer. The Ignatian Exercises involve praying with Scripture in particular ways, and the goal – besides developing this lively ongoing relationship with the risen Jesus – is to respond to his invitation to a deeper commitment in our life of faith.
Our example for the necessity and power of prayer, she says, comes in Jesus when he went off to pray just before the unfolding of events that ultimately brought his death and resurrection. “That’s what gave him strength to do what he needed to do, and it empowered him and restored him, Muller says. “That’s true for us as well.”
The Spiritual Exercises class begins in September. For details, please contact Kathleen Muller at. Want to join the prayer ministry of the Guild of Intercessors? Contact Paula Peterson at 918-296-5548. Or become a Pray-er? Contact Gretchen Bashforth at 918-301-1019 or .