By Paul Dumbrille
Does it matter where we pray? Yes and no. If one trusts that God is in everything and everything is in God, then God is available to us in prayer at any time and in any place. The important thing is not where we pray, but that we pray, and in what spirit it is done. However, my experience, and the experience of many others over time, is that physical place makes a difference. The outer place impacts our ability to tap into our inner space, where we can more easily access the Divine Presence. In seeking a meaningful relationship with God through prayer, it can be helpful to ask ourselves some questions related to space and place. Where are we most comfortable in prayer? What does our prayer space look like? We may find that the place or the space we normally use for prayer is no longer working for us. Maybe there are distractions within our spaces and places of prayer that did not initially exist. In past eras when crime inside churches was rare, the church sanctuaries were open most, if not all, of the time, ready for anyone with spiritual needs to come in and pray in peace. Sadly, the fears, expense, staffing and effort to keep churches always open today is too much for most congregations. But then, where can we pray? Anywhere, but often our lives and our world get in the way. There is still a need for a place to go, set aside for prayer, set up to help us in the act of praying.
Often, many of us find that the outdoors, amid God’s creation, provides a place for meditation and prayer. Jesus prayed in an outdoor place in Gethsemane as he struggled with his coming execution. Even if our churches cannot always be open for prayer, perhaps creating a place outdoors on church grounds is a reasonable endeavour. Such things as including benches or a labyrinth pattern on the ground would make the place more likely to draw people to prayer there.
While the main sanctuary of a church is mainly configured for corporate worship, it can also serve as a place for individual prayer. In my home parish of Julian of Norwich, we have recently set up a sound system that continually plays quiet background music (usually Gregorian Chant) at all times, except when specifically turned off for worship events. This allows individuals to feel that, despite its large space, it is a place for individual prayer. Another possibility is to create a “Prayer Station” set aside at the back or side of the sanctuary, with a
combination of candles, crosses, icons, Scripture passages, devotional questions, a notebook (for sharing thoughts and asking questions), a box for prayer requests, perhaps photos, art, video images, music (through headphones), and a soft place to kneel or sit. These are not all needed, just what is right for your church. It can be as simple as a portable kneeler and/or basic altar. Many places that have these stations allow people to use them freely, even during worship services, sermons, classes, and meetings.
If possible by the architecture and construction of the church building, setting aside a special room for the purpose of praying is a good idea. Ideally the room would be large enough to accommodate a small group and would allow for silence. It would be simply furnished with the possibility of people sitting or kneeling in prayer. Ideally it might even have its own outside door, so it could be used when the rest of the church is closed. The room could have a headphone music capability, icons or appropriate art, and some helpful literature and written guidance for those who might need help in being led into actual prayers. A place for prayer journaling with a table, pad, pencils and such would also be useful. In some churches, a chapel might double as a Prayer Room.
If a church is serious about prayer, it needs a place where people can do their own self-starting on the road to a prayerful life. In addition to a place for prayer, there is also a need for a place where anyone can find information about prayer and prayer ministries. The best place for this is somewhere near a place set aside for prayers, but not directly in it, in the form of a kiosk or table. Material that provides information about: the church’s prayer opportunities and leaders; prayer in the Bible; what prayer is and why Christians do it; how to start praying as a part of daily living; prayer disciplines; how to get in touch with a prayer chain or with intercessors; devotional materials; and signup boards for a prayer vigil.
Personal Prayer Places
A personal space for prayer can be just about any place where we can remain (relatively) undisturbed. Perhaps there’s a quiet place in a park or woods or field, or a garden (as Jesus did). Maybe there’s a good rock to sit on, overlooking the beach and the sea. The place may be up on the roof of a flat-roof apartment building or dorm, or maybe on a balcony or even a fire escape. Indoors, maybe it’s the bedroom the children grew up in and left, or a corner of the den. It’s only a prayer room when someone’s praying in it. There are some good things to have on hand in personal prayer places. A Bible, perhaps a notepad and pen for thoughts or a journal for journaling, perhaps headphones and some music or nature sounds. Indoors, a lamp is a good idea; outdoors, it would help to bring a flashlight. The prayer space is not chosen so people can see you pray, nor is it a spot to relax and chill out. It is a place to go deeper, to lose oneself or to lose track of time, a place to connect with the Creator. What matters most is not the place itself. What matters is that it helps us to be able to pay full attention to the most important of all relationships. The challenge, should we decide to accept it, is this: to actively create places to pray.