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The Chapel Angel

“I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.”
(Ephesians 3:16-17, THE MESSAGE)

One evening while attending meetings at a university, I took an evening walk by myself and slipped into the campus chapel. I felt wonderfully fortunate to discover an excellent a cappella choir rehearsing in the chancel, and so I settled into a pew at the back. Immersed in the music, I felt myself opening to a time of prayer.

As the peace of the moment deepened, I noticed a woman moving from pew to pew, straightening hymnals, picking up bits of paper, placing envelopes in slots. She was one of the keepers of the chapel, and eventually she made her way to where I was sitting. We began to chat, and she asked what had brought me to campus and I told her about the gathering of bishops. She seemed surprised, and asked if I was a bishop. (I was in running shoes, jeans, and sweatshirt and wasn’t even wearing that little red lapel pin, and so I guess I didn’t look very bishopy!)

After hearing that I was a bishop, she offered a thoughtful observation. She explained that she also helps with the upkeep of catholic chapel services, and she noticed that their communion liturgy is similar to that of the United Methodists. However, their liturgy always includes a prayer for the bishops and priests and servants of the church, and the United Methodist liturgy does not contain an explicit prayer for pastors. She suggested that this was a grave oversight, and that congregants and communicants should always be required to pray for their pastors. They should do it in every service, and they should do it joyfully and unselfishly because it’s the right thing to do. And they should do it because, well, God knows pastors need prayer. She is United Methodist, and she wished the United Methodist liturgy included regular and frequent prayer for pastors.

I nodded and smiled at this unassuming messenger from God (also known as an angel!) sitting in the pew beside me. Now I knew what I was there to pray for. I was there in that chapel on that night to pray for my pastors.

Then she offered a further observation. She said that she did not think anyone should ever be allowed to complain about a pastor unless that person was also in constant prayer for the pastor. We should all desire our pastors to succeed, to fulfill their mission, to be strong and whole and healthy, and so we should pray for them, their families, their work, and their ministry. Imagine if every time we felt annoyed, discouraged, or disappointed by a pastor, we prayed for them with even greater eagerness and sincerity. Imagine if we felt as much or more an obligation to pray for the pastor as we feel to criticize or correct the pastor.

We visited a few more minutes, and then she left me to my own thoughts and prayers with the sweet music of the choir filling the chapel and touching my soul. and I began to pray for pastors—for pastors of my conference and beyond my conference, for United Methodist pastors and those from other branches of the family tree, for those just starting out and those long since retired, for those enjoying every new day of engagement and for those feeling exhausted and weary, for those pastors who continue to surround us on earth and for those who cheer us on from the great cloud of witnesses in heaven.

Part of the great work and calling of being a pastor is how this grants us the rich privilege of praying for the people we serve, of finding ourselves on holy ground at hospital bedsides and family gravesides and at moments of personal conflict, reconciliation, change, and healing. We pray about things most people never know we know about.

The keeper of the chapel reminded me that those who pray need our constant prayer as well. Prayer interweaves people into the fabric of the faith community. The threads of life are fragile, but the fabric of life and the strength of the community of faith are eternal. Prayer binds us to Christ and to one another. And pastors need our prayer as much as anyone else.

Give God thanks and praise for those who lead our congregations, for their life and witness, their hard work and energetic vision, their deep commitment and high calling, their exhausting days and deep nights of the soul, their exultant moments and personal shortfalls, their outward focus and for the immeasurable impact they have on the lives of people and communities.

Pray for your pastor. Pray for your church. Pray for the community that your church and pastor has been called to transform. Pray for the world God has entrusted to us to serve.

Questions

• Why is praying for one another important for a group of Christ followers?
• How do you pray for your pastor? Are your prayers conditional upon the pastor’s performance, or unconditional and constant? Does your pastor know of your prayers?

Prayer

We offer to you in prayer, O God, our soul’s sincere desire for the good of those who serve as well as for those served.

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