On the blog this Lent, I’ll be sharing some different ways to pray, reflect, and meditate, through words, song, movement, and art. This week’s post looks at one way members of St. Brendan’s pray together—through the Community of Hope.
In case you missed them, here are the previous posts in this series:
Preparing for Lent
Ways to Pray: The Book of Common Prayer
Prayer can be personal--it is how we build our individual relationships with God. But prayer is also something we can share with others. Prayer is a way to connect with our fellow Christians and to serve and support others in our community and across the world.
Every Sunday we pray together the “Prayers of the People.” These prayers are offered with intercession for the Church, the nation, the welfare of the world, local concerns, those who suffer, and the departed (BCP, pg. 383). These are part of our common prayers--shared with Episcopalians and Anglicans around the world, addressing the common events of our lives and our lives together. (Read more about our Book of Common Prayer in last week’s post!)
In the Episcopal Church, a lay person (someone who is not ordained) usually leads the Prayers of the People. Praying with others is not just a job for priests and other clergy; lay persons can also support each other by praying together, whether on Sundays or outside of our regular church services.
This past fall, several members of St. Brendan’s came together to start a “Community of Hope.” The Community of Hope is an international program that “equips lay people to serve in all forms of pastoral care.” Traditionally, we may think of pastoral care as visiting the sick, but it is about more than just hospital rounds. Pastoral care is about being present with that person (whether they are sick or have another spiritual need), listening, offering your compassion and support, and, often, praying together. William Chlebsch and Charles Jaekle write in their book, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective (1994):
The pastoral encounter is not merely an occasion to engage a sick or hurting person in casual conversation. It requires the volunteer lay pastoral caregiver to choose a focus for the visit. The primary pastoral goal is to disclose God’s love, protection, guidance, strength for, and presence with the one who is in crisis or suffering.
The Community of Hope was founded in 1994 to train lay chaplains to provide pastoral care at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Texas. As the Community of Hope grew, this ministry expanded beyond hospitals and members began reaching out to those in their communities in need of the presence of God. Today there are over 125 Community of Hope centers in churches, hospitals, hospices, and care centers across the world working to form praying communities, steeped in Benedictine Spirituality, that “encourage each other in love to be a nonjudgmental listening presence to those we encounter on a daily basis."
Image from Community of Hope International
Though this is an international and well-respected program, St. Brendan’s is the first parish in our area to become a part of the Community of Hope (our closest COH neighbor is in Philadelphia). As Fr. Regis wrote in the Little Log (September 17, 2017), “How fitting for St. Brendan’s, with its history of stepping into the new and taking risks, to be out front with this new approach to pastoral care.”
At St. Brendan’s, our newly commissioned Community of Hope includes four members who completed a 14-module course to train as lay ministers. (We also plan to offer this training in the future to other Brendanites interested in becoming part of the Community of Hope or those just looking for opportunities for continued learning). These members visit and call parishioners of St. Brendan’s, as well as others in the community, to share the ministry of presence and prayer. In January, they also held a focus group at St. Brendan’s to discuss the issues and concerns that arise when extended families share the same household and develop ways to support these families.
Here is what Ruth says about being a part of St. Brendan’s Community of Hope:
Through participating in Community of Hope I have been become much more aware of the world around me and the needs of others. It teaches us to put aside our own agendas and worries and focus on those in crisis. When you are able to do that, it gives you a sense that you are bringing comfort to a person’s spirit and reminding them that they are not alone; God is always with them. Each visit is unique; some persons have asked simply that I pray with them, others have needed a person to listen to their concerns, and others have simply been grateful that someone cared enough to be there.
The Transfiguration of Jesus, Alexander Ivanov, 1824
Supporting one another through prayer and praying together has always been a central part of Christianity. In Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus pray with others at his baptism (Luke 3:21) and in the story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28), when Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up the mountain to pray with him. Praying together is at the heart of the Episcopal tradition, as we are united by our common prayers (read more about this in last week’s post on the Book of Common Prayer).
I asked Ruth to share what she has learned about praying with others through her Community of Hope training. She writes:
“Listen with the ear of your heart.” This is one of the first lessons you encounter when studying Benedictine spirituality, which is one of the foundations for Community of Hope. This means to listen to God’s will for you, and to be willing to be led by Him. It means to listen to those in crisis with your heart - not to offer them platitudes or advice, but just listen and let them know that not only you but also God heard their plea for understanding and support. The experience of praying with and for someone in need is very powerful. It brings a sense of communion with that person as well as a feeling that God is truly present.
Praying together can take many forms--reading the Prayers of the People, sharing a prayer digitally, praying with your family at meal time, or sitting with someone silently and listening to them. Whatever the form, praying together is about being present with each other as God is present with all of us.
Grace and Peace,
A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for future blog posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.