Church-Hacker #6: Make ‘Em Pray

A great discussion or lesson in priesthood meeting can be the highlight of my Sunday, but it’s tough to squeeze a great discussion into the small window that quorum teachers are allotted. Sometimes the teacher has as little as 15 minutes left by the time priesthood opening exercises are over. And yet the brief window doesn’t have to be a limitation—I can think of several ways we can use that 15-30 minutes to strengthen the quorum. Some of these ideas involve looking outside the classroom/lesson paradigm we’ve adopted for quorum meetings, but maybe that’s OK.

Here’s one way to use the time: Priesthood prayer meeting. Imagine if the EQP or HPGL stood up and instead of delivering a first-Sunday lesson, he said “Today we’re going to take turns praying for our ward and our community.” Not as a formal prayer circle, but just a quorum of saints coming together in meaningful prayer.

It would almost certainly start out stilted and awkward, as public prayers tend to be. Brother Campbell would probably doze off. But the hope is that at some point during the meeting, the prayer-givers settle in and feel more comfortable, the Spirit brings the group together, and the prayers get more personal, heartfelt, and specific. The participants might come away from the experience seeing each other and their quorum in a new light.

I’ve never tried this idea, so I can’t promise anything except that I would probably remember this particular quorum meeting for the rest of my life.

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Comments

  1. anonforthis says:

    This would be when I’d escape back to the clerk’s office to catch up on paperwork.

  2. powaing says:

    here is how priesthood works in my ward.
    55 minutes left – opening exercises begin. by the time we here from each quorum (often describing the same activities) introduce visitors, sing, pray, etc. we are down to…
    40 minutes left – we break up into elders quorum. we talk about basketball, and moves, and various other logistical things which gives us about 28 minutes left. of course we have to have a closing song prayer, put the chairs away, etc. so the lesson gets 20 minutes max. now the teacher is required to teach from the actual lesson manual and not use outside stuff so by the time he says whats in the manual you have about 8 minutes for anything else, which ends up just being comments from the group, usually from the wannabe GA’s.

    So, I would definetely be in favor of anything that would get us away from this routine. I mean you know whats going on isnt working, why not try something new?

  3. I would love to have a Quaker-style unprogrammed meeting sometime:

    “Unprogrammed worship is the more traditional style of worship among Friends and remains the norm in Britain, Ireland, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and parts of the United States (particularly Yearly Meetings associated with Friends General Conference). During an unprogrammed meeting for worship, Friends gather together in “expectant waiting” for divine leadings. Sometimes a meeting is entirely silent, sometimes quite a few people speak. Meeting for Worship generally lasts about an hour.
    When they feel they are led by the spirit a participant will rise and share a message (give “vocal ministry”) with those gathered. Typically, messages, testimonies, ministry, or other speech are not prepared as a “speech”. Speakers are expected to discern the source of their inspiration — whether divine or self. After someone has spoken, it is expected that more than a few moments will pass in silence before further Ministry; there should be no spirit of debate.
    Unprogrammed worship is generally deemed to start as soon as the first participant is seated, the others entering the room in silence. The Meeting for Worship ends when one person (usually predetermined) shakes the hand of another person present. All the members of the assembly then shake hands with their neighbours, after which one member usually rises and extends greetings and makes announcements.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Society_of_Friends#Unprogrammed_worship

  4. Kyle M,
    I think that this idea is one that could work, but probably not on a very frequent basis. One question here is whether or not such an idea should be done on a Sunday when the opening exercises/announcements take an unexpected amount of time, and there simply isn’t time for a regular lesson–kind of a spur of the moment idea–or whether it should be something done with a little bit of planning and preparation.

    Although I like the idea of spontaneity in general, I think that the initial awkwardness could be partly alleviated if 2-3 people were asked a day or two in advance to be prepared to offer such a prayer. If the initial offerings are delivered sincerely and with faith and confidence, I think that could set the tone for an excellent spiritual meeting.

  5. Chris Gordon says:

    I agree with Scott B.’s assessment that asking one or two brothers to prep in advance would go a long way.

    Question: would you go around in a circle or just let brothers know that when they’re feeling it, they should do it, a la testimony meeting?

    We had a good experience on a fast Sunday a few months ago where we came up with a target for our fast ahead of time and then spent the whole quorum time in quiet personal prayer/study/reflection. Someone brought in an iPod and dock and had some hymns playing, but it was a nice meeting.

  6. Chris/Scott, I definitely agree with the idea of pre-warning a couple people. Ideally, moving down the rows/around the circle would be valuable, I think, because otherwise we’d hear from the same people we always hear from. And I have no problem subtly pressuring the quieter class members to be involved, with the understanding that if someone really wants to be skipped, that’s OK.

  7. One slightly different take on this is to include a dedicated prayer for a specific purpose in sacrament meeting. It could be following a global tragedy or something significant in the ward.

  8. Yeah, I think moving around a circle would be great, for the reasons you suggest. I would just make sure the circle started with someone who knew it was going to start with them.

  9. Chris Gordon says:

    Aaron, I like where your head’s at. That would be neat and take the heat off the opening or closing prayors to give a talk through their prayer. On a separate note, anyone have advice on how to prevent that lovely phenomenon? Any doctrinal basis for appropriate group prayer v. appropriate individual prayer topics, styles, etc?

  10. Group praying is pretty common through-out Mormon history, though not particularly common now. Also, I don’t see why this wouldn’t be equally possible in the RS.

    Also, BD, I haven’t figured out why so many Mormons or people who were Mormons are so enamored with Quaker meetings. Maybe they are the greatest thing ever, but it sort of has the whiff of spiritual hipsterism.

  11. I would be down for this. Maybe as a one-shot deal. I don’t understand why everyone is complaining about lesson time… usually, I’m ok with less of them. You must have some rockin teachers!

  12. I hate forced testimonies. I’m fine with sitting in silence for an hour rather than going up and down rows while people rack their brains to say something. Besides, I can use the quiet time to take a nap.

  13. #3,4,10

    I think the unplanned, Quaker meeting resonates because it taps into our own tradition of Spirit-inspired worship and action. Being led by the Holy Spirit is something we believe in and have experience with. In some sense I think there is some longing to break from our longstanding, ossified routines.

    Scott B. if we don’t make it uncomfortable or a bit risky then I think it would defeat the whole purpose no? Isn’t it the risk and discomfort that would make it both exciting and authentic? If we did it in such a way that we were completely comfortable what would be the point?

  14. “Isn’t it the risk and discomfort that would make it both exciting and authentic?”

    Sounds like a plan. Keep praying until we find the guy so uncomfortable with it that we can reproduce the First Miracle of the Church.

  15. I like the “Unprogrammed worship” it sounds like it has the potential to be very meaningful. On the other hand, I don’t like the OP. I will not ever volunteer to pray in ameeting. I don’t like other people listening when I pray. I even struggle with family prayer for that same reason. When it comes to uttered prayers, I’ve never been able to find that happy medium between a sincere heartfelt communion with my God, and vain repetitions/rameumptonism.

  16. Ron, I think a lot of us feel that way, and that it’s a problem worth trying to correct. Personally, I’m rarely exposed to heartfelt communion with God; perhaps that’s something we should be putting more emphasis on in our meetings.

  17. I wouldn’t see this working in real life unless it was carefully planned and probably announced the week before so as preparation can be made for all–not just the select few who start it.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of having a public prayer group at church is kinda creepy unless it has to deal directly with a natural disaster or something going on in the ward. Unless there’s a unified reason, I would feel awkward.

  18. Michael says:

    I’d seen this chain-prayer form of worship while attending a non-denominational youth group meeting with a friend in high school. They gave an “out” – if you didn’t want to pray, you tapped the person next to you and they would take over.

    A few years later, I found myself in the MTC with some of the worst chowderheads ever. One of our teachers actually quit. Horrible, horrible group. Only one Elder besides myself had read the BofM all the way through. My companion stated that he was only serving because his dad had promised him any new car he wanted when he returned.

    So, one evening, one of the MTC instructors had a major crying breakdown and left. I helped chew everybody out and told them that we were going to pray – each one of us, out loud, in this very fashion listed above. It actually worked. (No, I didn’t give them the option of tapping out.) Behavior after that wasn’t great, but it was better.

    I can see doing this with that tap-out offer made at the beginning of the prayer, so those who have been instructed not to offer public prayers can follow that instruction without calling undue attention to themselves. I would probably let the EQ Pres or a member of the Bishopric know what we were doing so as not to cause any later shock.

  19. rah ,

    Scott B. if we don’t make it uncomfortable or a bit risky then I think it would defeat the whole purpose no? Isn’t it the risk and discomfort that would make it both exciting and authentic? If we did it in such a way that we were completely comfortable what would be the point?

    That’s certainly one way of looking at it, sure, but “exciting” isn’t a necessary condition, nor is it mutually exclusive from “authentic.” Indeed, I’m struggling to see the sense in your last sentence at all. Do you really believe that spiritual experiences, increases in unity and cohesiveness as a group, etc…all require collective discomfort? The opposite seems far more likely…

  20. If I can supply the middle ground, Scott/rah, some of the language on this thread and in the OP (“awkward,” “uncomfortable,” “kinda creepy,” and the idea that the bishopric might be “shocked”) points to our collective unfamiliarity with the idea of group prayer. And part of the value of trying the idea is that it might get us to a place where group prayer isn’t quite so shocking and creepy–because it really shouldn’t be. But yeah, there will be collective discomfort at first.

  21. Matt W. says:

    While this can be great in the right context, this would fall somewhere between “manipulative” and “vain repetitions” if applied in my ward.

  22. I think this would be wonderful or a fiasco. I don’t think it would be somewhere in the middle.

  23. mormons like quakers because richard nixon was a quaker. also because they call each other friends, thats awesome.

  24. Scott B.

    I am not so sure about the comfort thing. I guess my thought is that when we talk about being “comfortable” especially in our modern meetings it feels more like “consumer” comfortable rather than “feed a man, necessities” comfortable if you get what I mean. Our meetings in general can feel so…engineered, carefully planned and calculated. SS/EQ etc. at its worst is when it is pure catechism – call and pre-defined, canned response. Questions that only beg a very specific, safe answer. Yuck. Does anyone really like that? Don’t many people find spontaneous, free form discussion in the hall a better alternative? :)

    Our fast and testimony meetings are predicated on the unplanned and being spirit-led. It at least adds a bit of uncertainty into the affairs. Will crazy Brother J get up and regale us with Skounsen? (Ok maybe that is predictable) Will we hear a sweet testimony from that quiet young man in the ward? When the testimonies really feel authentic I think we most often feel uplifted, empathetic, and touched. Isn’t that why we like them? Of course, sometimes even testimony meeting can get a bit…predictable…full of what feel like go-through-the-motions testimony, but I think it would be harsh and cynical to say that was widespread.

    So I just wonder what are we so scared of about an unplanned, loosely structured meeting that asks people to do something a bit out of their comfort zones? A few minutes of awkward silence with some guys in the ward? Does it have to be so planned and scripted with plenty of notice so that it provides a “good show”? For whose benefit I wonder?

    I didn’t mean to say that all great spiritual experiences come when we are uncomfortable, stressed or out of our element. Some do though and it might be nice to mix it up in the very predictable and comfortable EQ/RS every once in a while, even if it completely bombs.

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