Back to the Prayerbook: “Back Pocket Prayers”

Anne Lamott famously ventures out of the house with a back pocket full of index cards folded lengthwise (“so they won’t make me look fat,” she quips).  The BCP “Prayers & Thanksgivings” offer some excellent back pocket prayers.  Today, I share one that has become the “back pocket prayer” of a dear friend.


Do you have a back pocket prayer?


Mattresses for Camp Marshall: January 31, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 9.14.27 AM

Back to the Prayerbook: Thanksgiving for a Child

On the first day of this month we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and until recently, I hadn’t thought much about it.  But this year I was struck.  For thousands of years we have stopped each year to celebrate, and still we stop.  We hold a feast, we celebrate the way that Jesus’ community named, circumcised, received, and upheld him at eight days old. The scriptures don’t tell us much about how it happened.  Luke tells us only that, “after eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”(Luke 2:21).  We imagine that faithful Jews gathered around Jesus on that day to receive him, and to celebrate the ways that Jesus’ given name would be a sign of the life that Jesus brought to the world. 

GraceduringworshipWe baptize children and adults, and at baptism we celebrate their initiation into the family of God.  Even before baptism, we receive children into our common life with the same joy, hope, and gratitude with which Jesus’ community received him.  Often, this hope and gratitude begins with the gathered community’s prayers for the Blessing of a Pregnant woman (Book of Occasional Services 157).  “As soon as is convenient after the birth [or adoption] of a child,” the prayerbook tells us, “the parents, with other members of the family should come to the church to be welcomed by the congregation and to give thanks to Almighty God.  It is desirable that this take place at a Sunday service.”  The “Thanksgiving for a Child” (BCP 439) gives us a way to receive, give thanks for, and uphold for every child that enters our common life, just as Jesus was received and upheld by his community.  We give thanks with Mary’s own song, finding her words fit to welcome a new child into the life of the church, because “whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself”(BCP 443).


The first Sunday after my premature son was released from the neonatal ICU, I took him to church in a tiny outfit, and cradled his four pound body on my shoulder.  I was surprised to see after the peace, that the priest was approaching me.  She took his tiny frame from me, and carefully held him high, walking around the nave for each member of the community to see him.  (It was a little bit like the closing scene in The Lion King, except that it was…you know…not a Disney cartoon.)  Her bold physical gesture in  holding him high, in upholding his tiny body on behalf of the gathered community remains imprinted in my memory.  As the priest held Isaac high in the air, the congregation prayed for and received him.  I knew, as I watched him held high, that he belonged to that small, gathered community of believers.   And I knew that I belonged too.

As I travel around our diocese, members of parishes speak their worry to me about not having enough young people in their midst.  It is a worrying thing.  And I know that babies don’t come to church every day.  But when babies do come to church, we’ve been called, equipped, and charged to give thanks in public, possibly gratuitous ways. We are called to receive every baby that enters our communities, and to celebrate the gifts those babies bring to God’s world with the same joy with which Jesus was received and celebrated  so long ago.  When babies are upheld in our parishes with publicly joyful hope and expectation, young parents are reminded that  in the stressful, sleepless months and years ahead, there remains a place for (even the noisy, smelly, defiant members of) their family at God’s table.  The Thanksgiving is, of course, just the beginning.  But it is a beautiful beginning indeed.

“Persevere in Prayer…”

Last month, a group of Christian formation ministers from around our diocese met to pray together, and to talk about prayer.  Over the course of our time together, a question emerged:  how can we encourage and provide opportunities members of our parishes (individuals of all ages) to pray with and for one another?

Two simple ideas were offered in response to the question:

(1.)  “This Little Light of Mine:”  A Candlemas Tradition –  One lay minister shared that in her parish on Candlemas, each child is given a candle to color during the liturgy of the word.  (The candle is printed on card stock, using a template like this.)  After the candle is decorated, it is marked with its artist’s name, and a sticky magnet is affixed to the reverse side of the candle.  During the offertory on candlemas, the candles are offered along with the gifts of bread, wine, money, and any actual candles that the parish may use.  After the candles are blessed, each adult household in the parish takes home a  child’s candle to place on their refrigerator, as a reminder to pray for the child.  The candle is a visual cue to recall the light we receive at baptism, and the promise the assembly makes to, “do all in our power to support [the baptismal candidate] in her life in Christ” (BCP 303).


(2.) “Faith Interviews”:   An opportunity to nurture relationships of prayer and encouragement.

This activity facilitated an opportunity for each member of a 4th & 5th grade Sunday School class to spend two Sunday mornings in conversation with an adult in the parish that had been selected as a interview partner for him/her.  Prior to the meetings, the children came up worked together to identify questions to ask.  During the interviews, we asked the kids to spend the first Sunday learning about his/her partner and writing down the adult’s answers to the interview questions.  Writing down the answers allowed everyone to slow down in the conversation and gave the kids something to return to when we reflected on the conversations as a larger group.  (It also helped them feel like investigative reporters, a fun role to play!)  Children spent the second Sunday answering questions for the adult, then reflecting on the process with the larger group.  During reflection time, they discussed which questions were hard to answer, which were easy to answer, what surprised them about the adults’ answers, what they had in common with their adult partner, how their adult partner helped them imagine living faithfully in God’s world. 

Interview questions: 
  • What is your earliest memory related to faith, or to church?
  • Why do you go to church?  Did you grow up going to church?
  • Do you have a favorite Bible story or passage of scripture?
  • Do you have a favorite hymn or song of faith?
  • How do you pray?  Where do you pray?
  • Were your parents Christians?  Did you ever disagree with your parents over what it means to follow Jesus?
  • Do you pray every day?
  • Do you find it difficult to be a Christian in this world?
  • Tell me about someone who has helped you to trust in God.
  • Tell me about a time when you changed your life in some way out of love for God.
Template invitation for adult participants:
“Dear James,
I am writing to invite you to join our 4th & 5th grade Sunday School class on the coming two Sundays [dates].  On this coming Sunday,we will enjoy some breakfast treats and an icebreaker, then will ask adults and youth to pair off for “faith interviews.”  This is an opportunity for students to invite you into an honest conversation about what faith looks like in our lives, how we grow in love for God and for God’s world, and how we sometimes struggle to have (or keep) faith.  On the next Sunday, you’ll have the opportunity to interview your partner, and can help them begin to imagine how they might tell the story of their life of faith so far.
Below, I’ve listed a few questions that our children thought up.  (Don’t worry, we’ll make sure the conversation isn’t too painful!)  The elementary-school students  will be prepared to ask questions on Sunday, and your patience and generosity in answering will help give them confidence to begin to answer some of the questions they ask you…”

Blessing in homes at Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1,


On Epiphany, the wise men were led by the great star to a baby in Bethlehem.  They opened their treasure chests to worship him, to offer gifts to him there.  This Sunday, we celebrate the way in which God manifested God’s only Son to the peoples of the earth by the leading of a star (see BCP 214).  The Book of Occasional Services (2003) reminds us of the traditional blessing of the family home that has long been  celebrated in the week around Epiphany, recalling the hospitality that Mary and Joseph extended to the three kings “in a stable rude.”   Mary and Joseph made space for the three kings to worship the King of the Universe.  Gertrud Mueller Nelson notes that often as a part of a family Epiphany celebration, “the initials of the legendary names of the Magi,  Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are written with chalk on or over the main doors of the house and framed by the numbers of the new year:”


Nelson notes that some people suggest that CMB stands for “Christe, Mansionem Benedica,” that is, “Christ, bless this house.”  [See Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  To Dance with God:  Family Ritual and Community Celebration.  (New York:  Paulist Press, 120).]

As Epiphany approaches, a prayer from The Book of Occasional Services “Blessing at Epiphany:”

Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence, Bless all who live here with the gift of your love and grant that they may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives they touch.  May they grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen them; and preserve them in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever.  Amen.