Prayer Stations for All Saints Day

6 10 2011

As we approach All Saints’ Day this year (Nov. 6), I wanted to share a creative worship service that we did last fall.  At the time, our youth were reeling from the deaths of several friends.  Two local teenagers had committed suicide, another two had died in car crashes, and one had just lost his battle with leukemia.  We wanted to give our students a space to grieve, remember, and think about death and life from a Biblical point of view.  And we tried to make the service generic enough for anyone to experience, while still allowing students to remember specific losses.

We set up seven prayer stations around our church’s Fellowship Hall, and in the middle of the room, we set up chairs in a circle around a cross.  Students were instructed to visit the prayer stations in order (although in hindsight, order may not have mattered as much as I thought it did), to have no more than two people at each station, and to sit quietly in the middle circle when they were not at a station.  I held my breath and worried about our extra-hyper sixth graders, but even they participated without much extra noise.

I’ve included our prayer stations below and tried to indicate when we borrowed our ideas from elsewhere.  Feel free to use or adapt!

1. Tragedy.

Cover a canvas with a black sheet, and post news stories about recent tragedies all over the board.  Include the following instructions:

“It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the tragedies of life.  As we read the paper and watch the news, we sometimes feel like the world is spinning out of control.  When we experience loss, death, and grief, we feel powerless and wonder if our prayers will ever do enough.

In moments like these, we can remember that God is always in control.  Romans 8:26-28 says this:

The Holy Spirit helps us in our distress.  For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray.  But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.   And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Take a few minutes to browse the news stories on this board.  Choose one article and read it all the way through.  Look at the pictures.  As you read, pray for each person mentioned in the article.  After you read, spend a few minutes praying for everyone who may have been affected by this tragedy.

When you are finished, move on to the next station.”

2. Remembrance.

Set out handbells and candles on a table, with the following instructions:

One of the traditions of All Saint’s Day is to remember those who have died: our friends, family members, and fellow believers. These are the “saints” who have gone before us to heaven.

Who would you like to remember today?

Think about each one individually.  Ring a bell one time for each person you want to lift up to the Lord today.  Close with this prayer:

Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray. May these, and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness, and peace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

3. Honesty.

from  Set out markers, paper, and pictures of individual people in various emotional states, along with the following instructions:

Allow yourself to be real with God.

Look at the pictures on the table.  Which ones describe your deepest feelings at the moment?

Write a letter to God telling him your emotions right now.  You may throw this letter away or keep it as a reminder to be real with God.

4. Burdens.

Inspired by the “Burdens” Prayer stations at and at  Place Sharpies and a basket of rocks on the floor next to a cross. Include the following instructions/meditation:

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.  Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.”
–       Psalm 68:19-20

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
–       Matthew 11:28

Are you willing to let God help you rest in this moment?

First, consider what burdens you are carrying around: those doubts, fears, obligations, grief, worries, and feelings of inadequacy that are weighing down your spirit from experiencing God’s spirit.

God doesn’t want us to carry our burdens. He asks us to lay them down at the foot of the cross.  He wants us to surrender our heavy loads to him. But it takes an act of our own will to give up our burdens.

Choose a stone (or several) that represent those burdens for you.  You may choose to write a word or draw an image on your stone(s).  Then, when you are ready, lay it down on the cross and offer it to God.  Imagine God taking those burdens for you and carrying them for awhile, as you seek rest and peace.

When you are ready, move to the next station.

5. Comfort.

Inspired by  Set up butcher paper on a long table, and scatter paint supplies and Bibles on top.  In the middle of the table, post the text of Isaiah 40 (we only had room for an abridged version).  Set up instructions near the Scripture text:

This passage is taken from the 40th chapter of Isaiah.  If you choose to, you may read this chapter in its entirety using the Bibles provided nearby.

As you read this passage several times, meditate on the different images presented by Isaiah.  Paint the images that are most speaking to your heart right now.

6. Hope of Heaven.

This station includes mirrors of various shapes and sizes, and CD players with headphones. I can’t remember exactly which songs we included on the CD, but they all had something to do with imagining heaven.  “I Can Only Imagine” was on there, as well as “No More Faith” by Andrew Peterson…and a few more.  Include the following instructions:

We do not believe that this world is all that we have.  We know that God is bigger than everything we can imagine. We do not believe that death is the end.  We believe that our home is in heaven, and we are just strangers and pilgrims, passing through this earth. We can’t see exactly how God is working all things together for good, but we have hope that there is something good…something wonderful…happening.

“Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.”

–       1 Corinthians 13:12

Look into one of the mirrors and notice the image that reflects back at you.  What keeps you from seeing perfectly?  What clouds your sight?

How is the world that you live in now different from your heavenly home?

Now, settle into a chair and listen to one of the songs on the CD.  Each song describes our Christian hope of heaven.  As you listen, make the lyrics of the song your own as you imagine what it will be like to finally see God clearly.

When you are finished, move onto the next station.

7. Life.

Inspired by  Fill a planter with dirt.  Set out seeds in a bowl, and a pitcher of water.  Include the following instructions:

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”
–       John 11:25-26

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died, so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
–       1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Annual garden flowers bloom in the spring and summer, before wilting away.  To the untrained eye, these flowers may look dead.  But the next year, the flowers will grow and bloom again.  This is the miracle of life, which gives us hope for resurrection.

Plant a few seeds in the dirt.  Pack the dirt all in around your seeds, and then water them.  As  you do, reflect on what it means to be alive in Christ.  Ask God to show you how you can best grow in him.

When finish, return to your seat in the circle.

Prayer Chairs

We also set out two big comfy chairs, with signs that said, “Need extra prayer? Sit here if you want someone to pray for you.” These ended up being the best part of the evening. We had adults on standby, ready to pray with whoever sat there, but the youth ended up gathering together and lifting each other up in prayer.  All in all, it was a powerful evening of worship and healing for all of us!

Planting Seeds

3 10 2011

Last fall, our youth group began an after-school ministry for middle school students who live in the neighborhood around our church.  I am long overdue for a post about the challenges and successes of this ministry, but on the whole, I believe the program has been a wonderful thing for everyone involved: the students, the volunteers, and the congregation.

From the beginning, we have involved high school students as volunteers for the program.  Last night after youth group, I ended up talking to one of our high school seniors about the impact of this program.  He wondered aloud what good we were doing, and whether our relationship with the kids will have any effect on their lives.

I said, “We see small successes all the time, but we won’t know the long-term effect for many years, if ever.  I think we have to hope that we’re planting seeds…that these kids will have a positive impression of the church, that they might one day remember their mentors or something we’ve said, or maybe they’ll be inspired to do something different with their lives.”

“There’s a parable about seeds, isn’t there?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“And in the parable,” he continued, “some of the seeds fall on rocky soil and thorns, right?  So even if we plant the seeds … if a kid goes home and his parents are abusive or addicted to drugs or whatever … then it’s like the seed falling on the thorns, and it will never grow.”

I was completely taken aback by this profound insight and the implications it has for ministry and education as a whole.  Teachers, of course, can only do so much; a child’s learning is dependent on many other factors outside the classroom.  And along the way, we plant many seeds that will end up being eaten, choked by thorns, or prohibited from taking root.

But we still plant seeds, and we never stop planting seeds… because we believe that every once a while, we’ll land on good soil.  And when that happens, it will produce a harvest beyond our wildest dreams.