One Friday morning a few years ago, former Chalice staffer K.J. Reynolds and I were the only people in the office, and we were being a bit – well, silly. I was talking about the crisis communication plan my congregation was developing and how our fictional case study was a pastor getting arrested for streaking across the outfield during the ninth inning of a World Series game, distracting the beloved St. Louis Cardinals and costing them the championship. “What kind of a prayer do you offer up in that case?” one of us asked.

But then we seriously thought about it. Where would you start? Praying for the pastor? Praying for the congregation? Praying for a city traumatized by losing the World Series? And what do you pray for – forgiveness, wisdom, compassion, safety? How the heck do you start that prayer?

And so, 99 Prayers Your Church Needs [But Doesn’t Know It Yet] was born.

K.J. and I created a list of about 50 prayers just off the top of our head: prayers for pastors beginning sabbatical, who were expecting a child, who had lost a child, who were divorcing, and so on. But we also knew congregations encounter situations every day we could never predict. To get those stories and prayers, we would need a diverse team of contributors to give the book its unique take on ministry. We knew just who should write these prayers.

The Bethany Fellows is a groundbreaking project that serves congregations and nurtures new young pastors in the first five years of their ministry. Starting with a group of pastors in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and branching out ecumenically, this two-decade-old cadre of pastors would have the diverse experiences needed to write this book with firsthand knowledge of situations that require special prayers.

We brought the book under contract, and editor Cara Gilger wrangled prayers from more than two dozen contributors. The scope of the project broadened into six categories:

  • Prayers for Individuals in Challenging Times: Dealing with suicide, social services, and deportation
  • Prayers and Blessings for Individuals: Sobriety celebrations, name changes, and the deaths of pets
  • Prayers for Community in Challenging Times: Crime, tragedies, community disasters, scandal
  • Prayers for Community Discernment: Beginning new ministries, partnerships, or staffing
  • Prayers and Blessings for Community Celebrations: Supporting a new church, growth in the congregation, or mission work
  • Prayers for Your Pastor: Life changes good and bad, employment changes, and illness and death

You can see both the joys and the challenges a congregation can face, sometimes simultaneously. 99 Prayerswas written with the whole community in mind, and Cara did an excellent job crafting the prayers and balancing the collection’s ups and downs.

Know that99 Prayersisn’t prescriptive – you don’t have to read the prayer verbatim. Instead, think of it as prayer kindling, something to get the fire started so you can create the prayer you truly need.

Julie Zauzmer, religion reporter for the Washington Post, wrote about her experience sharing the book with her congregation: “[T]he lay leaders of my congregation passed the book around the room, commenting on one of these prayers after another. Prayers for overdoses and mental health crises, for a child facing a pet’s death, for the music leader not showing up on a Sunday, for the sprinkler system going off.

“For whatever situations you face this week, I hope you find the right words.”

That last line – that’s a prayer right there. Amen.

Gratefully,
Brad