A reflection by prayer team volunteer Kim Bryan
Anyway, I thought about all these things and pondered them in my mind while my husband Courtney Haden and I trekked to the campus. When we joined the other Prayer Team players, I was tickled to see several good friends, with whom I had prayed on other sacred occasions. It was like, you know, church. Like the communion of saints.
Then came the first prayer, offered at the first site of our prayer route. Then came tears. Quite unexpectedly. Turned out God showed up. At a nice, tame, United Methodist prayer-in-the-round tour, for heaven's sake. The prayers were intimate, specific and uniquely United Methodist. Each lifted the needs and concerns of what was to take place in the particular setting. As these supplications were lifted, memories flooded. I wondered if Bert and Claude were praying along. (Or, looking up and smiling. Hahaha.) I missed Gerry Hearin. I missed the splendid anthems sung by choirs at Huffman and Highlands. The heartfelt anthems sung with abundant zeal (though less-than-abundant tunefulness) at Roebuck Drive. The sorrow that demographics and diminishing congregations necessitated closing the doors of churches such as Roebuck Drive United Methodist.
I wondered who and where I would be had it not been for my church, the foundation of my beliefs. It had been the paradise of my childhood; the haven of my youth. In my 20s, it brought spiritual formation. In my 30s and 40s, the church led me to discover my convictions, and gave me the courage to act on them. It led me to prison. (Hmm. Perhaps THAT'S where I'd be.)
One of the prayers focused on service, and the pray-er spoke of the joy that came through serving God. I remembered how happy I was when kids I taught in MYF invited me to their graduations and, later, weddings; when an inmate I visited invited me to be among the small number of people allowed to be present during the hours before his execution.
Another prayer at another stop was for those who were to be ordained at this conference. I thought of unforgettable messages brought by Dale and Kelly Clem, Lawton Higgs, WG Henry, JW Hallman, Dean Bowers, Melody Christolear, and the nonpareil Deb Welsh.
A prayer was lifted for those clergy who had died during the past year, and while I prayed for their families, I missed the Rev. Gerry Hearin all over again. Gerry's sermons were so compelling, that I stopped by the church on Monday mornings to pick up the special-order cassette tape that would be waiting for me. I got to listen to Gerry's sermon every day of the week. It has made me a better person.
I loved the prayer at the site where Kids' Camp would be held, and my two grandchildren, Alexa and Mick, would be attending. I loved hearing the prayer for the children, and for their camp leaders. My assignment was at the site of the Clergy Spouse gathering. I planned ahead with a prayer about how clergy spouses were so supportive, willing to move around, and that kind of thing. But having reminisced about my own experiences at the other sites, the words I had intended to say were replaced by a spontaneous prayer. The Spirit had moved us all, I am certain, and the Spirit moved me to pray for those precious United Methodist women and men I had known and loved, my own grandmother, Ella Goodwin, June Hearin, both Connie and Edna Whitehead. Their names and faces, things we had done together, moved me tremendously.
When I arrived at the chapel, Pam Townsend, head pray-er, explained about the index cards that had been placed on the altar. It was the first time I had been inside the chapel, and I loved it. I particularly liked the circular altar, which was perfect for our purpose.
Each card on the altar contained a prayer request, written by a person attending, or associated in some way, with Annual Conference. Some cards, judging from the content, may have been contributed by sources not present on campus; members of individual churches, perhaps. I didn't ask, and it certainly didn't affect our intentions.
I liked the flexibility to do what I wanted while in the chapel. It was nothing like what was likely going on in the various meetings and services elsewhere on campus. I could use my time there to pray in whatever manner I chose. Pam liked to be busy, and is quite the muti-tasker. She assembled information packets of sort, and afterwards picked up where she'd left off in making prayer beads. The color and placement of each bead was significant and could be used to stay focused or to remember items to include in prayer.
Bob Bentley was another friend on The Team. He is a gifted musician, and I asked if he'd fetch his guitar, which he always keeps close by, and provide some music. He obliged, and his selections were perfect for the occasion. Bob left the chapel a few times to walk the campus, which I believe gave him insight and ideas.
A couple of hours (glorious hours!) into my "shift," my sister Lyn walked in and handed Pam a stack of fresh prayer requests. At intervals throughout Conference, more requests were delivered, and again and again, we had the pleasure of having to rearrange the altar to accommodate. I attended no meetings, nor did I have any conversations about what was going on outside the chapel. But I knew plenty about topics of discussion, areas of concern and controversy, congregations and their various challenges, by lifting those requests to God in prayer.
By the final day of conference, the altar was completely covered with cards that had sprouted like so much kudzu. We wanted folks to bring on the prayers. I actually gave thanks for THAT a few times!
It was like being away from the world, and away from all that was going on outside the chapel, for that designated time.
I began my time there by kneeling at the altar, taking a card, reading the request, and praying. I then shifted a little, picked up the next card, and repeated the steps. As the requests multiplied, I walked slowly around the altar, touching each prayer request and moving on.
By the end of the first afternoon, I had memorized the requests. I would sit in one of the pews and examine the stained glass windows while praying. Or close my eyes and listen to guitar music and pray. I wrote, too, snippets of devotionals or whatever inspired. I wrote a letter to a good friend, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years, when I read on one of the cards that her mother-in-law was very ill.
The next day, a new card appeared on the altar. The request was for my friend and her family, who were grieving the loss of a loved one ...
A man wandered into the chapel one afternoon. He was simply strolling around and was curious to see the inside of the chapel. He seemed surprised to find it "in use," but we welcomed him, explained what we were doing, and asked if he'd like to stay. The man didn't respond right away. When he did, he had trouble talking and his eyes welled with tears. Finally, one of The Team members asked if he would like us to pray. He nodded, and whoever that woman was, said a beautiful prayer.
I don't believe the man ever introduced himself.
We were surprised by another man who walked in, but this one was an extrovert. He opened a hymnal, found a number he liked, and started singing! Bob tried to follow on guitar, but gave up. Simply (and kindly) put, he made a joyful noise.
Someone wrote asking us to pray for rain; someone else wanted the United Methodist Church to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Some folks requested prayers of gratitude for their incredibly amazing pastors; others requested new pastors (in so many words).
Cards were strewn like seeds of controversy at the altar—which, seems to me, is the perfect place—and elicited different emotions in The Team. But one-ness of Spirit. Hallejuia. (I never COULD spell that.)
Grace also visited the chapel. Grace in the shape of four teens. Bob, also a veteran youth director and overall kid at heart, initiated a conversation, which meandered around to the topic of—guess what!—music. The kids jumped all over it. Ends up, they were in a band. A CHRISTIAN band. Bob was enthusiastic and curious. He and the kids started speaking music, which may have well been tongues to me.
The young people got around to announcing that they'd dropped by the chapel to pray for an upcoming performance that day. That's when we learned about the band competition at our very own United Methodist Annual Conference. Another miracle!
This time, the young people asked if WE would like to pray with THEM, and so we did. We joined hands and listened to the next generation of United Methodists as they asked God to use their music to minister to others.
Tears came again that day, but this time, it was The Team who cried. Our hearts, I suppose, had been strangely warmed...