Home base: Prayers of the people

10:30 a.m. Sunday worship, Congregational Church of Birmingham, United Church of Christ, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

My New Year’s worship was at my current home base church, Congregational Church of Birmingham, United Church of Christ, in Bloomfield Hills. I’ve been a member … nine years? Something like that. CCB is where I found myself after the birth of my second child, but that’s a story for another time.

In a big congregation, you can sit in the pew and slip out without speaking to anyone (see yesterday), but not at CCB. Maybe 100, maybe 125 souls turn up for Sunday worship. You can’t hide. You can’t even get through a coffee hour without being (gently) recruited for a committee. And I say that with love.

Is so much … community … comforting, or terrifying? I go back and forth. But I would say when a congregation is small, that fact changes the worship experience: Everything becomes personal. The announcements, the sermon — everything is an occasion for our pastor (or anyone else in the pulpit) to share details from her life, to make jokes with the people in the first pews, to name people by their first names. You are known in a small church, and that is as much a part of the worship as prayer and singing.

Which bring me to “the prayers of the people.” The Catholic in me was puzzled by that aspect of worship, the “lifting up of joys and concerns” to God in the presence of the congregation. I cringed at so much exposure. I wondered what I was supposed to do with all this information, all those babies born, parents buried, biopsy results awaited, job interviews anticipated, etc., etc., etc. I couldn’t remember all of it, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t praying for the whole congregation individually and specifically every day. And I resented being (made to feel) guilty. Aaaurgh.

But this New Year’s service, I slipped into a Zen state and was able to listen to the prayers offered without the little me-me-me game that usually runs in my head. No, I don’t remember most of the concerns, but I did notice one: A member was battling a stubborn kidney stone. Aiyee.

But with the wince, I felt a reflexive yearning that my friend be healed and eased that instant, a petition to God that came without words or thought. It came so quickly and so fully I realized it only later, in the traces it left. Sometimes your heart opens, and you know it was the Spirit who pried it open, against your defenses.

Who was healed? That is the mystery of faith in a small church.


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