A while back I had an email exchange with someone about the demise of the “long prayer” also known as the “congregational prayer” or “prayers of the people." That conversation got me wondering; is the congregational prayer a thing of the past or has it survived in some congregations and if so what does it look like?
I believe it has survived in some congregations and even thrived. I know of someone who was so moved by a congregational prayer that she kept returning to that church and eventually became a member. What attracted her was the fact that she saw herself in the prayer as one of the people (though unknown) who was being prayed for. But that is part of the struggle isn’t it? How do we make that prayer general enough to give voice to the prayers of the people gathered yet specific enough so that folks know that they are being prayed for? Is it enough to insert a list here and there something like “Lord, heal and comfort the sick in our congregation: Nellie VanderBaun, Jim Sarx, Chris Marshall, and…” or does that feel too much like a grocery list? Ought we to pray specifically for Nellie’s knee surgery, for the surgeons, her husband who needs to take on additional responsibilities with the children, the kids who need to survive on her husband’s cooking, and for all who will volunteer to help them during this time of need? Or do we rightly assume that God knows the specifics already and mentioning her name is sufficient?
Then of course is the very right idea that the prayers of the people ought to extend beyond our immediate congregation and reflect the prayers of God’s people worldwide. So this prayer should include prayers for government leaders: local, state, provincial, national and international. We need to be praying for the persecuted church, for the righting of social injustices, for wisdom regarding difficult social issues, for the raising up of Christian men and women who serve in ministry, for our missionaries, our church staff and volunteers, our denomination and its ministries, for those reeling from earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and tornados; whether or not those things are occurring in our own community. But how do we do all of that within the allotted 2 minute time slot in our 60 minute service that is planned down to the minute? How do we pray for all those things and keep people praying with us rather than doze off?
Is it time to give up on the long prayer and accept that it only works in a small number of churches who hold on to traditional forms of worship? Or is it time to revive this practice?
What do you think?