At Shelter Church, one of our congregational rituals is the Prayers of the Community. After the gathering we open up a time of prayer and after each person shares their prayer, we offer the response, “your prayer is my prayer, amen.” It is a powerful way to lift up the joys and the sorrows that each person brings. Some weeks there is just a small smattering of muttered prayers offered and other weeks, there is a tsunami of need and hurt and brokenness and joy. Your prayer is my prayer.
Recently, one of our beloveds fell ill. She is an 80 year old, stubborn German woman who isn’t any bigger than a minute. Throughout the week, several of our congregants had approached us to let us know that she had fallen ill and it was looking pretty bleak. As prayers were offered that evening, her name came up again and again. Prayers for her health, for those caring for her, for her friends and family that were also members of our church. For weeks we prayed and we rejoiced the day her brother announced that she was home and while still fragile, moving in the right direction. He got a little choked up as he told us that the doctors had given her a slim chance of survival and he was sure that it was the prayers of this community that had carried her along. Your prayer is my prayer.
Tonight, when it was time for the prayers, we knew we had something heartbreaking to share, but wanted to collect all the prayers needed in our community first. There were prayers for friends with cancer, for refugees on buses, for continued health and healing, for peace in Ukraine, for those facing eviction, for names and stories we didn’t ask to know. The prayers continued to pour forth- for the world, for our community, for peace. As they wrapped up, it was our turn to offer a prayer. Moments before the service had begun, Pastor Collette and I had received word that one of our beloved members had died of an overdose. We were wrecked. This beloved had been such an integral part of our community. She and her partner were some of our most dedicated members- she was the first person we baptized at Shelter Church and she had a way about her that welcomed you in. As we stood before the congregation and shared the news, the tears poured from our eyes and disbelief registered on the faces of the congregation. Your prayer is our prayer.
Somehow, we moved from the prayers to the sermon. I don’t know how Pastor Collette did it, but somehow she preached a sermon, tears streaming down her face, admitting to all that in moments like this we don’t have answers but we lean deeply into our long lineage of faith and the promises of God to be with us in the darkness. As she wrapped up and asked the pianist to play a song of reflection as we took a few moments to collect ourselves, something powerful and unexpected happened. The pianist said no. She said,” in this moment, can we come together around our pastors church? Can we bless them and grieve with them?” She invited those who were able, to surround us and pray for us. She prayed for our call- to serve in the brokenness even when it causes such heartache. A deep tenor voice asked for us to receive the peace of God that passes all understanding. Another voice gave thanks for the ways we care and love and reminded us of the power of our faith story while another asked for us to receive some kind of sign that our beloved was safe and free from pain.
This broken, rag tag, beautiful congregation was the embodiment of their prayer ritual- “your prayer is my prayer, amen”. As we ugly cried, tears dripping off our noses and cheeks, in the midst of so much sorrow and anger at a life cut short, I had the most distinct feeling of peace. The feeling of being surrounded by the body of Christ. Held in the brokenness and reminded of the promises God makes to be there with us.
This work, this call, this congregation. Broken, beautiful, beloved. Held together in prayer for one another day in and day out. Your prayer IS MY prayer. Amen.
An Update. As sometimes happens in our community, things are not always as they seem. We have gotten word today that our beloved did not pass away last night but that she is still holding on today. We aren't quite sure where the miscommunication happened, but that doesn't matter. In this moment we change our prayers to those of healing and hope. Your prayer is our prayer.