Reviving prayer

By Emily Cooper and Jan Surratt

One church launched a prayer altar ministry, another initiated prayer partners, and one other called for the creation of prayer spaces. At still another church, the pastor set aside the lectionary for part of the summer to preach on prayer.
Four United Methodist congregations in South Carolina. Four different paths to reinvigorate the role of prayer in the lives of members.

There are many different paths to reviving prayer ministries in churches, congregation leaders say. The key is to make it a priority and get started.
“If we are the people of God, the most important thing we should be doing is listening to God,” said the Rev. Michael Henderson of Cayce United Methodist Church. “There has never been a revival or a reformation or re-anything that was not firmly bound in prayer.”

Henderson said his church had a prayer chain, but no real emphasis on prayer ministry. This past summer, he abandoned the lectionary and preached on prayer for several weeks.

Members decided to become more focused and do away with the shopping cart approach to prayer. No more robotic rattling off names and needs to God. Instead, they prayed for specific things daily. These were posted on the church sign.

“Pray for the homeless.” “Pray for those who are unemployed.” “Pray for President Obama.” The church also “adopted” Busbee Middle School, and the Sunday before the first school day of the month, cards are passed out with the name of a school staff member. Members pray for the person listed on their card every school day in the month.

Jericho United Methodist Church in Cottageville began a prayer partner ministry nearly a year ago. Now, more than two dozen people turn out for a meal and workshop once a month. In addition, the prayer partners talk with one another several times a week. They may meet in person or talk on the phone to pray. Prayer partners also arrive before Sunday services and pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. They continue to pray through worship.

“We know that prayer changes the world and that God’s hand moves when people and pastor move together,” said Jericho’s pastor, the Rev. Jerry Harrison Jr.

The Rev. Jeff Kersey said prayer is also re-energizing his congregation, Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington. The church has grown from 250 to 2,600 since becoming more deliberative about prayer. To accomplish this, the congregation developed an altar ministry. During worship, people are invited to come forward and be prayed upon.

“People get up from all over the sanctuary to come during the pastoral prayer time,” Kersey said. “They come because they believe something is going to happen.” Today, he calls Mount Horeb “a prayer-driven” church.

Members of First United Methodist Church in Lancaster recently held a conference that discussed creating prayer spaces and rituals. People who are artistic and energetic may enjoy prayers that allow for movement, such as talking, singing or dancing, said church member Betty Kay Hudson. Others may prefer quiet activities, such as walking, writing or memorizing Bible versions.

The key, Hudson said, is to be intentional about not only when you pray, but where you pray. Be comfortable, said the Rev. Nellie Cloninger from Lawrence Chapel United Methodist Church in Clemson, another conference presenter.

“We need to be real when we pray out loud,” Cloninger said. “Tune in to where you experience God on a regular basis and let that feed your praying.”

Emily Cooper is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate. Jan Surratt writes for the paper.

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