By Sharon Frank
Recently, I completed my annual eighteen hours of Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor training.
This year we had a new format: six blocks of three hours each spread over ten days. One of the aspects that really resonated was that the opening and closing of each on-line gathering was supported by such a variety of meaningful prayers. The varied and different modalities reinforced that on-line prayer does not have to be one dimensional. Following each session I had a digital copy, allowing me to use these offerings in my private prayer life. A gift!
During this season of thanksgiving, we need to give thanks that we have been given this (zoom) technology to connect people all across the country from the convenience of their home, on-line. As prayer is a core value of Anglicanism it is important that we offer prayers that can be both meaningful and reflective. Anglican events are more meaningful when they begin and end in prayer.
Prayer can be simple words read or spoken from the heart. A poem that conveys real meaning. There can be inspirational music in the background as verbal prayers are offered, or music alone. What about listening to a song that in and of itself is a prayer offering? Music can also be used as a time for personal quiet. There can be creative “office of the day” prayers (I especially connect with Celtic evening prayers) or litanies offered and shared by all participants. Sometimes prayer with a general response can be said and the response can be a cacophony, of joyful noise (with everyone unmuted) or a clear response (everyone muted and only hearing one’s own voice). What about two people alternating prayer offerings as everyone else follows along from a shared screen. Prayer can also involve all the on-line participants being given the opportunity to each offer a verse, a response, a line so everyone is involved. The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination.
Sharing of screen means that everyone can see and participate, and save the planet from too much paper. Pictures, music, documents, videos can all be shared but we need to be willing to play with trying new ways of sharing and creating a cohesive group. We must not be critical of “newbies” exploring a new skill, as we can all learn and laugh together.
The sisters of St John the Divine (SSJD) offer a quite meditation opportunity on Sunday evenings. One only need register. The use of a singing bowl helps set the mood. Again, there are people from around the whole country.
Make sure during this prayer time you remain mindful. Listen really listen and pay attention to the moment, instead of planning in your head what comes next. Notice the sights and sounds coming from your device, like the sounds of music, written words, verbal cues, the sound of different voices or the sound of silence. Avoid outside distractions concentrate on the prayer alone. Be present in that moment. Instead of just going through the motions, really notice the sensations that come over you as you participate in the prayer time, regardless of your role.
Do these ways of prayer replace the face-to-face experience of a community gathering together? No! But they do allow a type of communication or way of staying connected. In our new reality a total on-line or hybrid on-line and face-to-face may just be the new normal for prayer groups, meetings, educational sessions, and trainings. It certainly opens the door to a wider audience, helps the environment, and is better than not being able to connect at all.
When the world is right, perhaps we can gather in person, pray, and be together. God willing. In the meantime, the important thing is that we are mindful and offer genuine prayers in the way that meets the needs of the presenter and the group. Always remember, there is no wrong way to pray!
Sharon Frank is a lay member of the Huron Anglican Fellowship of Prayer Executive.