Does it matter that I prepare ahead of time to lead Prayers of the People?
Yes, I believe it does. It matters that the person who leads the prayers has an understanding of the purpose of the prayers, their place in the liturgy and the role of the Intercessor.
In a previous article of Prayer Matters, I wrote that Intercession is a relationship in which we share our concerns with each other and with God. It is appropriate that we should hold before God those people and situations in need of prayer. The Intercessory prayers should focus on God’s reconciling, transforming, and healing love. The Prayers of the People are the prayers offered as a Christian community. The worshipping community’s prayers are an expression of our belief that people, and the circumstances in the world that affect the human family, can be touched and changed through Jesus Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. The prayers are given shape both by our awareness of human need and the Gospel vision of God’s Kingdom.
The Prayers of the People Gathered
In acting as an Intercessor in public worship one is bringing before God the prayers of the people gathered together. Ideally, the Intercessor expresses or vocalizes the prayers that the people have presented to him/her to offer on their behalf. The challenge facing parishes is to find ways in which the Intercessor can truly act as the gatherer of prayers and the encourager for others in the congregation to express the prayers that are in their hearts.
The Prayers of the People Are: an expression of what we are concerned about; what we are excited about; of our joys and of thanksgivings; about the world in which we live; about the concerns for the whole human family – both local and wider church concerns; brief, but clear; intended to challenge people to continue to pray about issues on their own; and a response to the church season and theme for the day.
The Prayers of the People Are Not: a sermon; long; the announcements; an occasion for promoting a personal point of view on issues; or a monologue in which the people have no part.
Preparing the Prayers
When preparing, the leader should pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, remembering that prayer is a gift from God. St. Paul says, “The spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27 – NRSV). Prayer is more than what we do; it is what God does through us.
When preparing: the bulletin should be checked; the order of service read; the appointed Scripture readings read, and the prayer focus they suggest, noted. The intercession format for the day needs to be chosen. Often churches use different formats each week with seasonal emphasis appropriate to the occasion. Individual parishes have different ways of encouraging parishioners to include particular prayer requests into the Intercessions. In some congregations, before the worship service begins, people are invited to indicate a name or situation for which they want prayers in an Intercession Book that is placed near the entrance to the worship space. The Intercessor expresses these needs when offering the Prayers of the People.
Various formats can be used. If special prayers have been prepared, or adaptations of the chosen form used, including the parish, diocesan, and world-wide Anglican cycle of prayer, they should be written out ahead of time. This will help to keep the prayers an appropriate length as well as avoid any embarrassing lapses of memory or confusion. The prayers can creative, and include current events, local, national, and international. Both thanksgivings, as well as petitions should be included.
There is sometimes a tendency to focus on prayers for local concerns and the healing of the sick. It is important to look beyond the immediate local concerns and pray for our political leaders, for business people, teachers, scientists etc., whose decisions affect the whole human family.
Leading the Prayers
It is important that the congregation understand that the Prayers of the People truly come from all of the people. Therefore, if practical, the Intercessor can lead from the midst of the people gathered. However, as with the Scripture Readings, it is very important the prayers be heard by the whole congregation. If a microphone is necessary to accomplish this, it should be used. The place from which the Prayers are led would be selected with this in mind.
When introducing the Prayers of the People it should be made clear to the congregation what the expected response to each petition is. In order to reinforce this, the Intercessor can introduce and join in the response. The response could also be printed in the bulletin or projected on a screen. During the Prayers, members of the congregation should be given the opportunity to express their concerns, and the intercessor should make space and time for them to articulate their cares and joys, either aloud or in silence.
Let God Work
Leading the Prayers of the People is a privilege and a responsibility. Be assured that, having been prepared well, God will hear the prayers and honour all that has been offered.