Power in Prayer

Unfortunate Brothers: Korea's Reunification Dilemma, directed by Dodge Billingsley of Combat Films & Research

Unfortunate Brothers: Korea’s Reunification Dilemma, directed by Dodge Billingsley of Combat Films & Research

The excellent and moving documentary “Unfortunate Brothers: Korea’s Reunification Dilemma” will be screening at Westminster College in Salt Lake City on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm. There will be a Q & A following the film with the director, an expert from the film, and a member of the National Unification Advisory council. Admission is free, doors open at 6:30pm. This is the ninth original documentary created for the “Beyond the Border” series produced by Combat Films & Research for the David M. Kennedy Center at Brigham Young University, and the first program focusing on Korea. It will also air on September 30, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. on KBYU-11.

(Prayer clip from Unfortunate Brothers — the short, powerful prayer begins at the 30 second mark, http://tinyurl.com/kozrxzd)

I was privileged to attend a prescreening of this documentary at BYU in May and was deeply moved, particularly by “Mr. Lee”, the North Korean refugee at the center of the documentary (pictured praying in the above clip). I was struck by the power of his prayer.

Do we pray that North and South Korea will be reunified? Do we ever include such grandiose petitions in our prayers in LDS culture or prayer practice? I have rarely seen it, but why not?

* * *

A few years ago I glimpsed over the shoulder of a woman sitting next to me on the Tube on my morning commute and saw the writing on her notepad. My interest piqued, I read what I could see, as Tube commuters freely do. I inferred from what I saw that she was a minister in her church and that she was writing an outline and rough draft for her prayer that she would be delivering as part of an upcoming service. The list humbled me when I thought of my own paltry prayers, focused so self-centeredly on myself and my immediate concerns. The outline included bullet points addressing current humanitarian disaster areas of global proportions (resulting from both war and natural catastrophe). But of course her prayer will not be focused on herself and her own immediate needs and concerns in a prayer she is preparing for the congregation in an upcoming service! This thought comforted me for only a split second as my mind turned to the exceptionally weak prayers that we Latter-day Saints offer at the beginning and end of our Sacrament Meetings, often the definition of perfunctory or, if they stray into more original territory, almost entirely focused within our own small faith community. Rarely, in my experience, have those prayers touched on big ticket items of relevance in current events — issues and calamities that one would think the Spirit would move us to include in every such congregational prayer.

* * *

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England (source: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Cathedral-History)

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England (source: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Cathedral-History)

Not long after that I attended a service for First Advent in St. Paul’s Cathedral with my family. Although Advent is the season leading up to and preparing for Christmas, the liturgy for First Advent actually focuses on the “End Times” or the “Day of the Lord” and the readings are focused on the apocalyptic material in Matthew or one of the other Synoptic Gospels.

The prayer at this service was very poignant given the subject matter of the service. I listened as the vicar prayed for those embroiled in a long list of conflicts and situations of human misery, astounded at the sincerity of the prayer and the reality to which it was speaking. I had never heard such a prayer in the Church as part of the service, or perhaps at any time as part of a Church service in one of the many LDS wards I had attended.

* * *

Is there a cultural bias in the Church against such powerful prayers? These are prayers meant to appeal directly to God for real and immediate assistance in specific situations of human suffering. The power of heaven is invoked; the faith of the congregation is joined to that of the one offering the prayer, and the meaningful petition is made for help in the specific situations.

The ideal for us is to pray as the Spirit directs. If such grandiose, real, meaningful prayers aren’t part of our worship, one could conclude that it follows that the Spirit is not directing it. (The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.) But the Book of Mormon provides a lesson on this in its description of the prayers offered by Enos. Once Enos began to understand that the grace of Christ was sufficient for him to obtain a remission of his sins (Enos 1:5-8), he began to offer this type of powerful prayer on behalf of the broader society, both his own people, the Nephites (Enos 1:9) and a hostile group, the Lamanites (Enos 1:11). These verses show that Enos felt an overwhelming desire to pray for the welfare of the people in his society, both friend and foe. Do we have such a desire as we step forward to offer Sacrament meeting prayers or family prayers, or are we too pre-occupied with our own immediate, technical needs?

Enos records that the Lord answered him that “I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith” (Enos 1:12). I believe that the Lord extends the same promise to each of us. If we have desires to seek the welfare of those suffering around the world, even in grandiose geo-political situations like the Reunification of Korea and the immense suffering endured day by day by the North Korean people, the Spirit will direct us to include them in our prayers. But some cultural practices might be obstacles to this kind of powerful prayer.

For one thing, we have an aversion to advance preparation of our prayers if my experience as a lifelong Mormon is any indication. The minister next to me on the Tube was conscientiously constructing her prayer beforehand, very likely with guidance and direction of the Spirit, but this advanced preparation was giving her time and inclination to focus her thoughts on certain big, important issues for which guidance from the Lord was direly needed, or simply alleviation to those suffering immediate deprivation as a result of it. She was processing her own desires of her heart so that she could identify what they were (including by jotting down bullet points). Did this provide an opening for the Spirit to direct her in what to pray for as she prepared the draft and then offered the prayer on behalf of her congregation?

Second, the absence of a formal liturgy places more responsibility on those praying to sincerely seek the guidance of the Spirit for prayers in our meeting. The vicar at St. Paul’s Cathedral was able to situate the prayer for First Advent within the liturgical context relevant to that particular service. This surely guided the prayerful contemplation of the content of the prayer beforehand — I would say that the guidance and input of the Spirit was given at that time. Does this make the prayer less a product of the guiding influence of the Spirit at the time it was read on behalf of the congregation at the First Advent service? In the LDS context, if a person called upon to offer the prayer has not contemplated it beforehand, is it fair to conclude that anything other than the perfunctory filler that is so common in Sacrament Meeting prayers will unlikely be spoken?

Finally, spiritual encumbrances might be preventing us from taking this step from perfunctory to powerful prayers. Have we obtained that understanding about the sufficiency of Christ’s grace to offer us a remission of our sins, as did Enos? If not, perhaps we are stuck at that level in our prayers. Alternatively, are we burdened by pride as we pray — a sincere prayer on such a grandiose topic might seem absurd. Who do we think we are to pray for the resolution of such a global conflict or disaster as the civil war in Syria, the divided Korea, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Darfur, Fukushima, or other such tragic situations? We might feel silly praying for such things as we stand in front of our ward or branch in Sacrament Meeting. That has been my experience as I tried this out, deciding minutes beforehand on one occasion to pray for those affected by the Japanese tsunami, which had just occurred. My preparation for such a prayer was virtually non-existent and as I said the words, I felt self-conscious praying for such a global concern so far away during a regular old, run-of-the-mill Sacrament Meeting. Analyzing the situation afterwards, I realized that my pride was getting in the way of offering a sincere prayer about such a situation — I was thinking more about what the members in the congregation thought about me in offering such a prayer than about those suffering in the actual tragedy.

Comments

  1. Well, this post is powerful. Thank you.

  2. I think it’s the spiritual encumbrances and pride more than anything. I know when I pray most powerfully it’s usually after I really mess up and am humble, and I find myself praying for others as well as my own forgiveness. If we could stay in that higher plane, I expect we would see more powerful prayer, personally and publicly. Thanks for a great post.

  3. cookie queen says:

    What a great wake up read. Extremely thought provoking. Cheers. :)

  4. Peter Yates says:

    Thank you for the wake up call. I commit to do better. Anxiety over preparing beforehand and thus doing something “different” and perhaps being viewed as someone from another planet can be a sizeable hurdle. Unfortunately it is not just Ward/Stake Sunday meetings. General Conference as an example is certainly saddle sore.

  5. I think it’s okay for a local ward’s or branch’s sacrament meeting prayers to be localized, or attending to the needs of the local gathering then and there.

    I also think we have a cultural desire to avoid politics in our church settings — and praying for a particular political outcome could be seen as, well, political. Even praying for famine relief in Sudan could be code for raising taxes and more foreign aid and less military spending and so forth.

  6. A very thought-provoking piece. Although in my personal prayers I often ask that the leaders of our country be directed to make the right decisions in both national and global issues, I don’t do that in public church prayers. However, I have heard people ask for blessings on the victims and their families of both national and global disasters.

  7. Great post.

  8. John, the Mormon aversion against acknowledging the world outside is puzzling indeed. The best you can hope for would be vague petitions. A nuclear bomb could have fallen on London and the members here in the provinces would still ignore it in any prayer offered in public. So weird.

  9. Yes, truly puzzling. And sad.

  10. Meldrum the Less says:

    I totally get this problem that John F. describes with such clarity and gentleness. I often attend other churches and hear these prayers. They are not always excellent but they put what I hear in my ward to shame.

    I see this as part of a bigger problem, although I am hardly familiar with very much even in my little corner of the vineyard. I see a slavish devotion during our weekly meetings to mediocracy in music, prayer, preaching, teaching, service outside of our close community, youth programs, especially scouting and (sniff) even BYU football. (Alright, skip the last one.) It makes it very difficult to get non-LDS friends to take us seriously after even one visit. Yet they have ramped up the number of full-time missionaries in my ward from 2 to 16 with no sign of increase in investigators. I think if I was to attempt to mimic in my ward these prayers heard in other churches it would come off badly. I don’t know what to do about the prayers. My efforts to “improve” the lessons in the past have met with resistance to say the least.

    I have my own vague wild theories. The correlation movement, legalism, emphasis on external appearances over internal character, etc., is sucking the life out of the faith of my forefathers. I do not think these issues are superficial, but reflect the very heart and soul of contemporary floundering Mormonism. Unless underlying root issues are corrected these other manifestations will remain stubbornly unresolved. Possibly get worse.

  11. Wow. To keep things in perspective, we need to remember that prayers in our local meetings are offered by local members, lay members — they aren’t prepared by full-time salaried social-activist seminary-trained ministers — maybe it’s unfair to compare “our” prayers to “their” prayers.

    But there is something to be done — any person who feels the need for better prayers can start writing a prayer now, and edit it from time to time to keep it current, and then when an invitation comes to offer a prayer, pull it out and read it. Set the example for the rest of us.

  12. There is a lot to consider here, John, and I agree with a lot of what you wrote – but I have a hard time creating a hierarchy of prayer and dismissing sincere, humble prayers in our Sacrament Meetings as “exceptionally weak”. It just doesn’t feel right to me, even, again, as I agree with much of what you are saying.

    We have a concept in the Church that I appreciate – and that I try to teach my children. It is that prayer should be appropriate for the situation and should vary according to the situation. There are places and situations for the type of prayer you describe in the post – where blessings are requested boldly and eloquently – and Sacrament Meeting can be an appropriate place. If I have a concern about how prayer is viewed in our church, broadly, it is that we have made the outline we teach formulaic for all (as you allude in the post) rather than a general pattern or elementary instruction. Like repentance, we’ve created the steps of prayer for children but forgotten that repentance and prayer are more than just checklist processes in their fullest sense. In that regard, we’ve continued to be children of God and not grown into adults of God. That is not in opposition to what you wrote in any way, I know, but I missed an acknowledgment in the post that “simple prayer” can be good and powerful, as well. In fact, some of the most powerful prayers I have heard in my life have been the simplest ones.

    I don’t mind at all that all of our Sacrament Meeting prayers don’t ring with oratorial power, as I don’t see that situation as one where oratory is necessary – even as I don’t mind at all sincere, humble prayers that could be considered good oratory, as well. Some of my favorite memories, in fact, are of a former Protestant minister who joined the Church in a ward I used to attend – listening to his sincere, heartfelt, classically Protestant prayers. I just didn’t value those prayers more than the prayers of my other friends in the ward.

  13. “sincere, humble prayers in our Sacrament Meetings”

    That’s the underlying question — are they sincere, humble prayers or rote recitations made to fulfill an obligation (as assignment to give the prayer)? If a prayer is sincere and humble, even if it only asks that we make it home from Church safely, I am not complaining.

    I can remember the prayer I heard on First Advent in St Paul’s Cathedral today, five years later. I can’t remember any prayers from our Sacrament Meetings, even from a few weeks ago. I can remember a few prayers from General Conference but mostly in the context of “so-and-so is using this prayer as a chance to give a talk on a particular teaching” and not because it supplicated God to give relief to people and situations entirely outside of our immediate cultural context.

  14. Meldrum the Less says:

    Ray: I see what you are saying and I am just completely in disagreement with you on this. I mean nothing personal and I will try to be respectful but you know J.Golden Kimball is in my Priesthood line of authority and sometimes ….

    You are saying that ministers who devote their entire life to uplifting people spiritually are not sincere and humble in their well-thought out prayers? That something is wrong with developing oratory power and putting it to good use in calling upon God in church on Sunday morning? That those who develop their talents are to not be held in the same regard as those who do not?

    There is a difference between childlike humility/teachability/curiosity and plain foolish childishness. Weak prayers are those given with little thought and even less inspiration. Weak prayers are when a top-notch attorney who argues cases at the state supreme court comes off sounding about like a clueless primary boy when he prays in church. Weak prayers are when good decent investigator friends visiting look at you after one of them and say was that really the prayer?

    What is the proper prayer in front of hundreds of people in church? Some of the repetitious over-used meaningless garbage we say? I remember giving this controversial lesson once when I was a smartass teenager on how to pray. It really hacked people off because it was too true. I wrote 10 common statements on 10 pieces of paper and put them in a gallon bucket. All you do is open and close with the usual formula and pull out these statements randomly. I kid you not most of our prayers in church are not far from my prayer-from-a-bucket approach. I can’t in good conscious let you make excuses for them unchallenged. Only maybe claim that your ward might be less crappy to some degree than mine.

    I watched a certain movie hundreds of times that showed a Protestant minister working for the devil. I find it impossible to not form a first impression of every minister that I ever meet based on this tape running in my mind. But time and time again observation and rational thought proves that I am wrong. Totally wrong. Every minister I know personally is sincere and a good person. I disagree with them only on matters of doctrine. I am sorry to report that not the same is true of every Bishop I have ever had and I disagree with some of them on a few points of doctrine too. I constantly cut Mormons tons of slack and hold ministers to a higher standard and constantly I still can’t deny how much better they do. I am getting tired of it.

    I recently ordained my son to the Mel. Priesthood. I spend several weeks thinking about this responsibility, memorized some scriptures that I wanted to quote. I meditated and prayed many times about this prayer. I am worried about the boy; he is good-hearted and struggling with decisions that will determine his future and his experiences in the LDS church have not been very good. I felt filled with the Spirit and I blessed him far beyond my natural ability. It was a 20 minute ordination blessing. The bishop stood in the circle. At the end everyone was speechless except the Bishop who said “that was the most remarkable blessing I have ever heard.”

    I am far from the most capable person in this area. Many others could do as well if they tried. But you know I didn’t have one person ask me about it and I have not seen any imitation which is highest complement one can give. Too much effort required? Thought I was a bit crazy? Not that important? I really don’t care what they think about me but I do care that our prayers are a joke. I refuse to contort my ears around in the kind of mental gymnastics you are suggesting above in making excuses of what is clearly a serious problem.

    If I had any depth of spirituality I would be praying for you and perhaps I will if I can get my attitude about it right.

  15. No, Meldrum, that is a terrible distortion of what I wrote – in just about every way imaginable. The questions in your second paragraph, especially, assume things I never said and would never imply.

    Seriously, your summary of my comment is about as far from accurate as it is possible to get.

  16. it's a series of tubes says:

    Ray, you know well that this wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last. It appears that the Meldrim response is often: take statement, apply GLOOOOOOOM, and bundle with a strawman.

    Meldrum, there are reasonable positions between “the sky is falling” and “fingers in the ears singing na na na all is well”. Ray tends to take such reasonable positions; I’m surprised at the vehemence of your response. Perhaps I shouldn’t be.

  17. Ray’s good people and does, indeed, take such reasonable positions on almost all issues that I have observed.

    Meldrum, I am sorry that your experiences in the Church have not been uplifting or transcendent for you lately, in many respects. I pray that will change for you in due course.

  18. Meldrum the Less says:

    Perhaps I have misunderstood and over reacted to Ray’s position. It was a emotional response. I apologize.

    But Ray and everyone else, are the questions not valid for what generally goes on in the ward? I may have misunderstood you and mischaracterized you but I have not misunderstood my own experiences.

    Here is my problem. I have a member of my immediate family who attends a Protestant church but has not resigned from the LDS church yet. I have watched people work for months and years to get a friend or relative in a similar position to come back to church even once. We have an arrangement that when I am not working we attend a Protestant meeting in exchange for attending the LDS ward sacrament meeting. This I see as a great victory. And every week I am faced with the question; why would anyone want to go back to that (expletive ) church? And I am left speechless. This discussion is about our superficial public prayers put to shame by a minister and that is one of the problems, but my concern is also about the music and the preaching, teaching and all of the rest. These other churches have us whooped in so many ways it isn’t even funny. For me the sky is falling. It is not a straw man, but the cold hard steel of my reality.

    You know what this is like? Imagine a die-hard BYU football fan base who have been led to believe that their team is the best in the country. Every poll in Provo has them at the top. Yet every Saturday afternoon this BYU team gets their arses kicked something like 70-0. The team continues to strut around pretending like they are the best while the coaches quietly want to make a few minor adjustments. A fan named Meldrum shouts this team sucks and we get defensive or hope he feels better.

    Maybe I should just leave the LDS faith and go to a decent church. Many have recommended it and one extended family member told me in anger that he was kicking me out of the LDS church. Except I can’t swallow the trinity, Biblical infallibility, original sin, heaps of guilt, anything goes for authority, and about the first 200 pages of a popular book on general Protestant theology. I can accept maybe 90% of Mormon doctrine on a good day but only about 40% of Protestant theology or less depending on the flavor. For most people doctrine doesn’t matter, these other characteristics matter more. But not me. So for now you are stuck with me.

    Many years ago I realized the LDS faith was far less than I was taught and I made a choice to stay and try to make it better. I have tried hard in many creative ways and largely failed with only a few isolated successes. Now, I am getting old and angry at the wasted time and energy. I offer you a gift, during these season of emphasis on rescue, the opportunity to see into the mind of one person of the kind who usually leaves the LDS faith.

    Is it asking too much to belong to a LDS community to which I am not completely embarrassed to bring my friends? One that can offer a plausible option for a family member on a journey possibly out? One that has an ounce of authenticity amid a sea of make-believe that all is well in Zion? It would be something else if we were so small and poor that we had to sweep the proverbial cigarettes out of the pool hall before the Sunday meetings. But we are actually the richest church per capita in the richest country in the history of the world. There is no excuse for our mediocrity. We chose it and we own it. Does it make sense to put 16 young full-time missionaries in my ward where before 2 were not busy; while the real problems of why we are hemorrhaging members are left unaddressed?

    I have served as EQP twice for 10 years. Although the sky was not exactly falling it was drifting down like a London Fog. Our convert retention (< 5% at one year) and youth retention (<50%) was pitiful. Honest home teaching (<10%) This was right before the Internet effect kicked in. We are going to lose half our active core every generation if only niggling nuisances and minor adjustments are made.

    I am sorry that the experiences of as many as 70-80% of the members of the LDS church have not been uplifting and transcendent and they have left or are heading out the door. Most of the best friends I ever had are among them. Because unlike most, I was blessed to bring many of my friends into the LDS church when I was a young adult. I am especially sorry for members of my family I love.

    Pray for me and the others.

  19. Meldrum, I feel for you and do not disagree that the way we often pray needs work. I said that in my comment. As I said in my comment, “There is a lot to consider here, John, and I agree with a lot of what you wrote.”

    I just cringe a bit when I sense a dismissal of simple prayers that are not grand oratory or that do not ask for earth-shattering blessings or world-changing intervention. John responded that he wasn’t attempting to do that, and I believe him. His response is good enough for me.

    I was making one very narrow, but important, point – and your comment turned mine into a great and marvelous defense of all things LDS and a sweeping attack on all things non-LDS. I have never been a proponent of, “All is well in Zion,” or, “All is horrible outside the LDS Church” – but I also am not a proponent of, “The LDS Church is the suckiest sucking church on the planet, and it is going to Hell in a hand basket.” Ironically, perhaps, my extensive exposure to and study of other churches has bolstered my more moderate position.

    That’s why I responded the way I did. I would appreciate your prayers and would be happy to include you in mine, as well. God bless you as you try to walk your own difficult line in this life and finish crafting your own individual faith. I hope it can continue to be within the LDS Church, but, if not, God bless you still.

  20. Meldrum the Less says:

    I agree with you Ray. My apology- now I think I get what you say. My son is a master of brilliant one word answers. Didn’t get that from me. I can conceive of a simple but authentic prayer and I have heard pompous wind bag prayers requiring great oratory skills. i am grateful for all of y’all’s patience with me.

    I realize that I live in the South where Protestantism is strong and has been for centuries.
    Everyone says SEC football is better than anywhere else (I have my doubts) but it is possible that in a like manner the churches around here are quite strong. We have no obvious mechanism to allow local strengths (and problems) to flow into our community.

    I am almost at where you describe “going to hell in a hand basket.” Especially if you abide by the idea that “the church is no larger than your ward for you.” In fact we had a GA (70’s) come to our ward counsel more than a decade ago and after everyone else gave glowing (false) reports I did say: “I don’t know about the rest of you but my report is the _____ ward EQ is going to hell in a hand cart.” He smiled and thanked me for my frank and honest evaluation and we proceeded to discuss specifics.

    I would like to issue a challenge. Select a different non-LDS church to attend each week for say 3 months. Compare it objectively with the afternoon session in your own LDS building. I predict two things: First, I will be surprised if you find a Protestant church with worse music and prayers than ours. (Market forces around here simply would not allow it.) Second, if you keep an open mind, you will discover many interesting ideas of ways we could do better. But in my experience you will not be able to implement them in your ward unless you have skills far beyond mine, which is quite possible and then you will succeed where I have failed.

    The LDS church may not be going to hell in a hand cart but I don’t see it going anywhere at all if drastic improvements are not made in basic visible aspects of our worship service encountered by first time visitors. 100,000 surging zealous boy and girl missionaries falling all over each other like too many rats on a sinking ship not withstanding.

  21. marginalizedmormon says:

    well-written and much to think about–

    Meldrum the Less, I appreciate what you have to say–

    I needed this blog essay–

  22. “Select a different non-LDS church to attend each week for say 3 months.”

    I’ve attended enough services outside of the LDS Church in my life to appreciate what you mean and what we can gain from observing others, but that is a course I won’t be following.

    If you want to understand my perspective a little better, read the following post:

    “Seeing the Beauty in Other Denominations and Religions” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/08/seeing-beauty-in-other-religions-and.html)

  23. At my children’s Anglican school each student must prepare and present an assembly to their form, and forms to years groups, several times a year, giving a religious perspective on an assigned topic, and drafting and giving a prayer in conjunction with the assembly. It has been very interesting for me watching them draft their prayers, and very different from the extemporaneous prayers I grew up with in the church.

  24. Yes, I loved it when my daughters had to draft prayers to read at their annual Christmas presentations.

  25. Meldrum the Less says:

    “Seeing the Beauty in Other Denominations and Religions”

    Ray: I seldom agree with 100% of anything I read, but I do agree 100% with this. it reflects the feelings of my heart.

    What to do about it?

  26. Meldrum the Less says:

    What to do about it? Here is one answer from above (ji 9/23 at 3:36 am) :

    “But there is something to be done — any person who feels the need for better prayers can start writing a prayer now, and edit it from time to time to keep it current, and then when an invitation comes to offer a prayer, pull it out and read it. Set the example for the rest of us.”

    About a year ago I had the opportunity to try something like this, but…

    My ward has a most unusual arrangement for sacrament meeting prayers. We have the same person assigned to do it in the bulletin almost every week . On paper he (or she?) is one of the most visible people in the ward. But I have never actually met him. Because he never actually gives a prayer, someone else does it for him. Strange it is. He has a most unusual first name, “By.” I have contemplated the possible ethnic origins of it. Chinese? Islam? African? His last name is a familiar English word: “Invitation.”

    I saw a young counselor in the Bishopric on the train and ribbed him about Brother Invitation giving all the prayers in sacrament meeting and queried if he knew how flaky it makes the Bishopric appear when they can’t ever seem to get it together enough to call someone to pray ahead of time? He laughed and said it is worse than that. Most of the time (like 80-90%) they call and ask someone to give the prayer, they are refused. They don’t like putting people in a position to refuse a calling. And it takes many calls and several hours every week to line up the prayers since nobody answers their phone any more.

    And then when they do get an affirmative answer, most of the time the person doesn’t show up. The Bishopric sits there sweating during the opening song wondering if the person is going to make it, wondering if the counselor in charge forgot to ask someone, wondering if they made a mistake and mixed the person up, since we have a highly transient ward. They tried having everyone show up a few minutes early for a prayer meeting but that just made it even more chaotic and difficult to get anyone to agree to give the prayers.

    When the opening song mercifully ends and after a pregnant moment of silence when the entire congregation realizes that the named person isn’t going to pray, the counselor who is not conducting has to give the opening prayer. Or they ask the old stake patriarch and retired army colonel who likes to sit on the stand. But then later he gives them a stern lecture on leadership being about telling people what to do, not asking them kindly or begging them. That might work in the army and maybe it did in wards of yesteryear. But it doesn’t work around here no more.

    By the closing prayer they generally know what is going to happen and can smoothly ask another person on the spot to fill in. At that time I was conducting my own little experiment, to determine the percent of people who show up late for church and if I could detect any patterns. Like some weeks as many as 60% come wandering in after the beginning of the meeting. I suggested to my Bishopric counselor friend the possibility that if a fairly new person shows up a little early and is asked to pray and really doesn’t want to do it but goes through with it anyway; if that doesn’t motivate them to come late in subsequent weeks. I think this tendency is enhanced in a transient ward and I blame Brother Invitation for a big part of our tardiness problem.

    I timidly shared my idea with the Bishopric Counselor of giving a prayer in sacrament meeting after the manner of the deeply heartfelt prayers I heard in Protestant churches, blabbering on about God’s glory, confessing congregational sins, graphic descriptions of the fear of death and hell, and begging God for mercy. He sternly asked me not to do that, it would definitely make it that much more difficult to get other people to pray. Since then he has avoided me when he is trolling around right before the meeting trying to get someone to take the place of Brother By Invitation.

    Where is the middle ground and is it my gift and talent to find it? Perhaps we could have some of the best among us compose these prayers and publish them on line or maybe even in a little book. What title should it be given? How about Book of Common Prayer or St Meldrum’s Prayer Book. Whoops, there I go apostate again.

    We are trapped by the traditions of our Fathers that don’t work very well anymore. The fact is few people want to voice prayers in church and the rest will predictably do a crappy job when asked. I really don’t think a few enlightened ones tinkering around are going to make much of a dent in the problems I see at my ward. This is a top-down church and it needs to come from there.

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