One of my deepest hopes as a priest leading worship in the church is that people are praying together as we worship. I know that minds wander, that sermons, prayers, anthems, and liturgy register more deeply some days than others, but I hope that all of us are moved towards God in worship much of the time, a movement of our consciousness we call prayer. Though we could all do with a little more boredom in our fidgety, frenetic, quick to resort to a device, society, I hope we are not often bored in worship either. Instead, I hope we sense our time together in worship is our collective drawing near to the living God, to offer our praise and receive the gift of his presence, in his Word and Sacrament, an act of prayer.
There are some ancient personal prayers to use at turning points in the liturgy that you might add to your prayer repertoire. Use these when you first enter the church on Sunday (give yourself the gift of that time to pray before the first hymn), or during the offertory as the table is prepared, or as others are receiving Holy Communion before or after you. These are found on p. 833-834 in the Book of Common Prayer, and you can modernize the language in your own saying of them.
O Almighty God, who pourest out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may
worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some other prayers to use during worship are sentences of Scripture that capture our hearts’ desires in those moments. Just before receiving Communion, you might pray a version of words of the centurion in Matthew 8:8, “O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” Others take up the confession of faith from the lips of Thomas in John 20:28 as they prepare to receive the bread and wine, saying “My Lord and My God!”, in recognition of Christ’s presence in the sacrament. If troubled by doubt or a wandering mind, you might pray in the words of an anxious father from Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”, a wonderful verse that recognizes how faith and lack of faith are together in us.
Any of those verse prayers might be useful to you in modified practice of centering prayer in worship. Centering prayer is usually pursued as a personal prayer, in quiet, seeking something like a 20-minute period of silent rest in the presence of God. A sacred word and measured breathing are used to quiet the busy mind, repeating the word gently to tamp down thoughts about life’s constant concerns. Words like “holy,” “peace,” “Jesus,” “joy,” or “presence” might be used to move into that state of prayer. You might be able to pray in that meditative style before worship or during points in the service when your focus is lost, to remain connected to God.
I realize these prayer practices may seem difficult if you are worshiping with children, as many at St. John’s are. Be sure that your children’s voices and movements are a joy to our church family and to God. Jesus said to let the little children come to him; we mean to do that in our church. A great gift to give your children is for them to see you moving deeper into a life of prayer and communion with God in worship. Don’t be afraid to let them wiggle or talk for a moment as you pray. Your pew neighbors will understand.
Just this morning, I endured another New York Times article on the rapid de-churching of America. Churches that are thriving in this moment of vast cultural change around religion are those “with clear visions of the kinds of ethics they expect, clarity of doctrine, and strongly encouraged in-person worship,” a scholar cited in the article stated. St. John’s measures up in all three categories, I hope, and can more and more as our life together deepens. In our Anglican tradition, worship is the wellspring of ethics, doctrine, all the beauty, wonder, and faithfulness of a life in Christ. Let your clergy know if we can help you find your way to more prayerful worship at St. John’s, a key to sustaining the work of the Gospel in our church. -Fr. Beasley
Learn more about other important updates in the latest church newsletter: The Epistle – July 20, 2023