Back to the Prayerbook: Telling Time through the Collects

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us…”

The Birth of Christ by William Congdon, 1960.

We are a church whose common life is formed by the prayers that we share.  And yet … praying together is not always easy.  During this month’s discussion with Christian formation ministers around the diocese, we talked about how praying together — even in Sunday School or at youth group — can be uncomfortable, can require vulnerability that we are not ready to offer up.  We talked about how the thought of praying spontaneously sometimes intimidates us into silence.  While the catechism reminds us that prayer is not always expressed through words (see BCP 856),  God’s people have been praying in a liturgical form, with words offered to us by the tradition, since the sixth century BCE.  We are a people who learn how to live  as God’s people as we pray together morning, noon, and night.



The Book of Common Prayer assigns a collect to each week of the church year, and encourages us to repeat the assigned collect twice daily (during Morning and Evening Prayer) throughout the week.  Why add collects to an already cumbersome list of prayers?  The collects root the rest of our prayers, written and spontaneous, in God’s action and in God’s time.   Every collect names God’s action, the specific ways that God (surprisingly, confoundingly, graciously, gently) works in the world.   During this Advent season, the assigned collects address a God who…

… who has promised to come and be with us.

…  will come again to judge the living and the dead.

… has sent the prophets to preach repentance and to prepare the way for our salvation.

… who is at work, preparing us to become a dwelling place for God.

The collects draw our attention to what God is already doing, and compel to pray in response to God’s action.  (And, after all, prayer is responding to God’s action.)  The collects also root us in God’s time.  In Advent, the assigned collects make clear that it is time to for us to prepare to receive God in Christ, to receive God in the distressing disguise of the poor.  The collects root our daily prayers in God’s action and God’s time, so when we pray, we come in a posture that recognizes, and responds to God’s grace, which always, always precedes us.

Back to the Prayerbook: Beginning Again

The BCP’s Daily Devotions



It’s a new year in the life of the Church, and time for me to turn back to the basics. Every week (more or less) for until Advent, 2014, I’ll be using this blog to reflect on some aspect of the prayerbook.  As I reflect on ways the Book of Common Prayer can draw us and those around us nearer to God, I will explore how we might use the BCP in our ministry with children and youth (that is, with folks who may not find it easy to regularly use the BCP at church, at home, or otherwise).  This week, we begin with “Daily Devotions” (pages 136 – 140).

The prayers in the BCP are intended for repetitive use.  They’re beautiful, but the point is not to marvel at their beauty, but  to allow them to turn us again to God. The devotions are tools by which we can work prayer and scripture into brief, unremarkable moments in our lives, whether it is with family at the breakfast table, or by opening a parish committee meetings with the “In the Early Evening” devotion, or by closing an evening Bible Study or marking bed-time with “At the Close of Day.”  The Daily Devotions need not take great effort:  the point is to turn to God, to hear and respond to God in the midst of the activity of life.

One family I know used construction paper to make placemats with five sections, each section containing one photocopied portion of the “In the Morning” devotion.  Now, most mornings, as the family sits down to breakfast, they take less than ten minutes to walk together through the devotion.  It is a way to turn to God before the day begins, a way to keep Scripture fresh on their minds, a way to remember that in the haste of our comings and goings, we belong to God.
This Advent, perhaps one of the prayerbook’s daily devotions might find a regular place in your life or ministry.  Please do share how you use, or how you imagine using these prayers.


Preparing to wait


Carole Baker, “Madonna of Soweto.”  (Learn more about the Mary Paper Doll Project here.)

The weeks to come are set aside as a time to long, to wait together.  If you are still looking for a way to mark the days ahead, perhaps  you will find some of the following resources helpful.

  • Find Advent reflections throughout the season at the website of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.  Find a digital advent calendar here.
  • Read about a beautiful, simple nature advent table here.
  • Read Emily Watkins’ winsome reflections about marking advent with her young children here.
  • Learn about a Jesse Tree here, and download Jesse Tree printables at no cost here.

Youth groups in service to hungry neighbors

Two grants are now available to  support youth groups serving and building relationships with our neighbors who are hungry.  If this post piques your interest, please let me know.
(Thanks to The Rev. Valerie Webster for passing this information along.)
Two opportunities supporting youth service to children who are hungry: 

1.      The First Lady of Montana is looking to support and work with a youth group tackling children’s hunger issues in Montana.  The Governor’s Office of Community Service will provide support, media and outreach materials, undergo the grant process, etc. for a children’s hunger, youth-led project on or around Global Youth Service Day on April 11th-14th, 2014. The First Lady will help with the project, speak at the event, send a press release, etc.  If a youth organization is interested in proposing a project to the First Lady, please have a proposal submitted to Marissa Perry in the Governor’s Office of Community Service at [email protected] by December 15th.

The proposal should contain:

a)      Idea/s for possible projects or events focusing on the issue of children’s hunger

b)      Number of youth involved

c)       Information about the organization (it’s purpose, past projects, etc)

Youth groups that send in a proposal, but are not chosen by the First Lady, will be given the opportunity to apply for one of the Global Youth Service Day $150 mini-grants that the Governor’s Office of Community Service provides. The youth group will still be able to pursue a project if they’d like, but without the First Lady’s involvement (although they would still get support from the Governor’s Office of Community Service).

2.       Youth Service America and Sodexo Foundation are offering Sodexo Foundation Youth Grants, funding up to $500 for youth to lead projects focused on ending childhood hunger in their communities.  If youth groups are interested, check out the link below.

Projects will take place on and around Global Youth Service Day, April 11-13, 2014. They’re especially interested in projects that bring together young people, families, Sodexo employees, and other community members.

Youth ages 5-25 that live in the United States are eligible to apply. Applications are due by 12:00 AM on January 31, 2014.


The Big Picture

We tried our very first conference call/slide presentation for diocesan youth ministers today, and…the technology worked!  We structured our conversation around our “big picture” hopes for the children and youth in our parishes.  When children of our parish “graduate” from Sunday School and youth group, what do we hope they will carry with them?  What objectives might drive our ministry with children and youth?


The following five objectives provided a starting place for conversation.


1. Youth will develop a vocabulary of faith.

  • They will be familiar with the biblical narrative (emphasis on identity of God, self, neighbor).
  • They will understand the “motions” of Christian life together (liturgy, Baptism, Eucharist, Church calendar).
  • They will be able to sort through caricatures of Christian belief and practice.

2.  Youth will be comfortable connecting scripture to experience.

  • Youth will grow comfortable approaching “big questions” with the help of scripture and tradition (for example, creation, sexual ethics).
  • Youth will be able to relate their own life to the stories of scripture.

3. Youth will be familiar with devotional practices.

  • Youth will be familiar and confident with a host of devotional practices (prayer, scripture study, sabbath rest, singing, fasting, Eucharistic adoration etc.)
  • Youth will have a set of devotional practices they actually use on their own.

4.  Youth will articulate and practice self-giving. 

  • Youth will be praticed at caring for the poor, sick, dying, and stranger.
  • Youth will identify with the poor, sick, dying, and stranger

5.  Youth will articulate and practice belonging to the Church.

  • Youth will be practiced at praying for one another, worshipping together, eating together, discussing ‘God things’ in relation to their lives and the world
  • Youth will have relationships with adults in the parish outside of immediate family members.
  • Youth will discern how their gifts might be shared, and will participate in our parish’s common life (eg – properties commission, ushers, altar bread baking, participating in music teams, attending funerals).