Many congregations are beginning to imagine strategies for returning to worship and in-person community life after a year and half of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as we think about what it means to “come back,” I find myself wondering what it means to gather again as a community in the neighborhoods and communities where our ministry is rooted.
What stories have we missed from our neighbors over the last year? How have our neighbors been affected differently by COVID-19 based on their race, class, or economic status? Where is there evidence of grief, hope, or resilience in the neighborhood?
I think it is essential that we get curious about questions like these and identify some ways to focus our attention on the communities where God has placed us. In my opinion, one of the simplest and most profound ways to practice this curiosity is by taking intentional prayer walks in the neighborhoods around our places of worship.
What is a prayer walk? It really is as simple as it sounds. Prayer walks are intentional meditations on our community where we allow the sights and sounds of the neighborhood to inspire our prayers. This can be simple, like meditating on a short prayer like the “Jesus Prayer” as you walk, or more focused like praying for schools one day, and rental properties the next.
My preferred method focuses our attention and our prayers on a few themes that are almost always visible in our communities. Pick a route to walk and pay attention for the following themes:
- Where do you see signs of people in this community coming together? Are there intentional gathering spaces that you might pray for?
- Where do you see signs of grief and hurt in the community? Imagine how this pain might be felt by individuals and by the community.
- Where do you see signs of hopefulness and healing in the community? How is that being manifested?
As you encounter these signs, offer a short prayer of gratitude. Keep the images of these places, people, and signs in your mind and bring them up again in your prayer before meals or before bedtime.
The simple act of devoting our attention to our communities and neighborhoods and offering a prayer will remind us that God is already active in the places surrounding our worshipping communities. And we may begin to see our neighborhoods with new eyes, attentive to the community as a living thing, holding grief, hope, resilience, and creativity in ways that connect us one to another.
I can think of no more healing way to “come back” to our worshipping communities, than to offer our attention and our prayers to the communities that sustain and support us.