To pray for my people
The congregation's seventy-fifth anniversary was to be a time to remember and give thanks. Clearly, some major changes were on the way, including the need for a merger with a neighboring congregation. The details of that would wait until the congregation had time to thank God for the courage of their immigrant forebears and the blessings of the unfolding years.
The service included a procession, but the congregation had no processional cross. I asked the Catholic priest in the neighboring town if he had one that we could use. His response, "The parish has two processional crosses. We don't need both of them. You can have one."
I thanked him for the gift and, in that visit, I asked about the places that he had served. He was 40 years my senior and likely in his last parish assignment.
As we talked, he said, "The most important thing that I do is to pray for my people." I remember thinking, "Father, how lazy can you be!"
I was a young pastor, just out of seminary. In hindsight, I wonder if I thought the Kingdom of God would descend upon my congregation through multiple programs and abundant activity, not to mention my "eloquent" preaching. I had not taken closely to heart Luther's statement in the Small Catechism on the petition, "Your kingdom come." Luther wrote, "God's kingdom comes on its own, without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us."
A few years had to pass before I came to realize the spiritual depth and great dedication reflected in that old priest's statement, "The most important thing that I do is to pray for my people."
Throughout the 20 years that I served as the first secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I would begin each day when I was in the Chicago office by stopping in the chapel. There I would pray for each bishop by name, each synod by name, and all those who serve in the congregations of the ELCA's 65 synods. That practice welded into my mind the need for our churchwide ministries to be interconnected - and truly interdependent - with all of the congregations and synods of our church. That early morning prayer was important. As I entered the chapel, the words of the old priest reminded me, "The most important thing that I do is to pray...."
Consider this for the practice of your congregation
For the Prayers of Intercession in worship, I am convinced that a good form of that prayer is shaped like an hour glass - wide at the top and bottom and narrow in the middle. By that I mean the prayer begins with thanksgiving for the life and long tradition of the whole church. Pray also for peace, justice, and the needs of the world. The prayer then narrows to concerns of the congregation and community. Remember also in that middle section to pray for Bishop-Elect Deborah Hutterer and the endeavors of the ELCA's Grand Canyon Synod. And the prayer concludes with thanksgiving for the faithful departed and our hope of eternal life.
Sincerely in Christ,
The Rev. Lowell G. Almen