Let’s Pray for Peace Better

PrayerForPeaceMy congregation in downtown Toronto is not a young congregation. We have two of the little supplemental hymnals, but it’s a rare Sunday that we sing any hymns out of either of them.  When we aren’t sticking to the familiar old Hymns of the Saints hymnal, the speaker usually makes a special effort to explain that the hymn can be found in the little gold hymnal (almost to prepare the congregation that we are about to enter a strange, foreign land).*

However, there is one “new” Community of Christ tradition that my congregation has successfully incorporated into our weekly service: the Prayer for Peace. I’m a big proponent of this part of our worship because I believe it is done with a very positive goal and it is a practice that unites Community of Christ as a denomination, allowing all of us to use the temple as a focal point for good everywhere in the world even when we’re individually far away from it.

Because the Prayer for Peace is newer and less familiar than other parts of the service, members of my congregation have less of a sense of it and are more likely to read materials from the church’s website verbatim than they are, say, with the sermon or the Disciples Generous Response.  Unfortunately, I feel that the material provided by the church falls short of the Prayer for Peace’s potential in a couple key ways:

The first problem I have is with the Prayer for Peace Calendar.  We definitely want to be inclusive of all the countries in the world and all the peoples of the world who aren’t recognized nations, and those can be spread across our 365 days in the Temple. But most of us aren’t yet doing this every day (like they do in the Temple); most of us only do this weekly on Sundays. With that in mind, I think it makes sense to schedule some of the countries that could use more attention on Sundays (for example, Syria could clearly use some extra attention right now). Two weeks ago, San Marino got a Sunday. I don’t want to suggest that anyone in the world would not benefit from prayer.  However, there are only 52 Sundays a year.  Devoting 1/52nd of the denomination’s annual focus on world peace to San Marino seems like miscalibration of the calendar.  Perhaps Syria could be scheduled for a Sunday and San Marino for sometime Monday-Saturday?

I’d actually like to shake up the calender more than that.  We have essentially produced the schedule as a national roster for several years, with just a couple days here and there for “Indigenous Peoples of North America” or “Children of the World.”  Going forward, I would like to have a lot more of the latter at the expense of the national roster. In order to give more attention to indigenous peoples who aren’t recognized as internationally sovereign or to groups and classes of people in the world who do not experience peace and justice, I think we should begin to combine nations into groupings. In other words, if all “Indigenous Peoples of Africa” get only one day — which it’s very good that they get one — we might decide to group “European Micro-States” (San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Vatican City) on one day. Although they might seem to get less attention that way, we might actually benefit by considering the special needs that peoples in micro-states have by grouping them. Likewise, we might want to have regional groups (e.g. Scandinavia, Lesser Antilles, central West Africa), again so that we can focus more. For us in Canada, having just one day to focus on (all) “Indigenous peoples of North America” (on a Wednesday this year), is probably not enough.

I feel that the resources for the “Invitation” to the Prayer for Peace also routinely fall short of their potential to make the practice meaningful.  Consider, for example, last week’s “Invitation” to pray for Cambodia, provided on the church’s website:

Today we remember the people of Cambodia in our prayers. The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. Rebuilding from decades of civil war, Cambodia has seen rapid progress in the economical and human resource areas. Strong textiles, agriculture, construction, garments, and tourism sectors led to foreign investments and international trade. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia’s territorial waters, and the oil revenues could profoundly affect Cambodia’s economy.

That was read word-for-word in my congregation.  Cambodia is a country that definitely has some recent history and current issues that could be highlighted in a world peace context.  But heard very little about those things.  Instead the Invitation read like something taken from the CIA world factbook or a global investors guide to the Cambodian petroleum industry.  I don’t want to hear about GNP and the export of textiles — unless we focus on a peace and justice issue (such as underage workers in textile factories). Can’t we find the words and experiences of an individual Cambodian or two, having lived through their horrific civil war, and/or where they are today, to teach us inspiring lessons about world peace?

Looking ahead to the next couple Sundays, we’re praying for Australia (March 31) and then Sierra Leone (April 7). The materials aren’t yet online for the latter, but we do have the Invitation for the former. Although the text notes that “Community of Christ has been established in Australia since 1840,” there are apparently no stories about that 170+ year experience.  Instead we read that:

The dispute of replacing Britain’s queen with an Australian president as head of state remains an issue of concern, but the government has yet to make a definitive statement. Australia’s multicultural inhabitants and visitors enjoy the natural beauty from the top of snow-cloaked mountains to the coral reefs in the bottom of the sea.

I’m very certain that people in Australia need our prayers for peace and justice issues (since everyone in the world does), but our invitation seems to miss the mark.  Considering that we have a well-established, multi-generational presence in Australia, would it be possible for anyone in the church in Australia to write a few sentences about what members there are doing to work to achieve peace and justice in their nation?

I don’t know who at headquarters is in charge of creating the Prayer for Peace materials.  I do know that everyone at headquarters has a thousand, thousand, thankless jobs, and no time to do any of them.  So, my criticism here is not meant to attack anyone or to complain in vain.  Complaining is easy; we all see problems.  What we need is for everyone to pitch in and help to provide solutions in a constructive way.  One way I’m intending to help out is by working on alternate Invitation and Prayer for Peace materials, which I’ll post here and on the Beyond the Farthest Hills Church Resources blog.  Any help readers here might contribute is also welcome.  For example, if you’re a member of the church in Australia, we’d love to hear from you in the next couple days so that we can share your story in our congregations.

Let’s all pitch in so that we can pray for peace better.

________________

*I’m looking forward to the new Community of Christ hymnal, but I do think as a whole my congregation will have to go through a lot of deliberate effort to learn to love it.

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9 comments on “Let’s Pray for Peace Better

  1. Rick C. says:

    Australia is going to an election in September where the national government will be elected. Australia has benefited greatly from multiculturalism, but still faces struggles with xenophobia in some parts of the community. Frustratingly, both of the major parties pander to this xenophobia and perpetuate it, promoting policies which force asylum seekers into sub-standard detention centres built on remote pacific islands, where many succumb to depression and self-harm.
    While Australia’s economy has been strong through the Global Financial Crisis, it has come to rely more and more on mining and natural resources, which brings challenges to not only environmental justice, but also Aboriginal native land rights. Australia was recently elected to the United Nations Security Council and is in a position to contribute to major decision making on peace and conflict issues around the world.

    There are other issues Australia is dealing with (walking past the homeless on my way to work makes it clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done on economic/housing justice), but I hope this will help those planning a prayer for peace for the coming Sunday.

    • John Hamer says:

      Thanks, Rick — I appreciate that update! Canada has had some of the same issues in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, including the controversial focus on exploiting tar sand oil (an extremely dirty fuel that is extracted and transported only with large environmental impacts) and also the rights of First Nations peoples.

      Could you also give us a paragraph about the roots of the church in Australia and perhaps something the church in general there or even a congregation is doing that relates to mission initiatives or peace and justice issues in the country?

      • Rick C. says:

        Hi John,
        Having only lived in Canberra (where there is no Community of Christ congregation) since returning to Australia after a few years absence, I’m not all that up-to-date on the efforts of our congregations or Mission Centre to take peace and justice action.
        I also don’t have a lot of my church history notes on me, but I’ll see what I can find.

      • Karli Smith says:

        Hi John, I’m also from the Australia Mission.

        A have an example for you from one of our congregations – Frankston, in Victoria. Seeing a need in their community amongst families of a lower socio-economic status, they took initiative to run free camps for families in the area to “get away”, who otherwise would not have the opportunity to step out and take some R&R (and connect with other folk). To my knowledge they have recently facilitated their second family camp at our campgrounds, Kallara. Some of the families have begun to take part in regular congregational and state-wide activities. One family even moved to another town, and looked up the church there to attend worship and participate in community. It’s turning into a great outreach community, supporting mission initatives (Congregations in Mission, Invite People to Christ, End Suffering).

        The Perth congregation also run a fantastic Food Pantry and outreach service – you can contact Ben Smith (bsmith@cofchrist.com.au) for more information on that. I believe they recently won a Government Grant to extend their services.

        You could also visit this link for some more info (I’m not sure when it was last updated but as far as I know these activities are still ongoing) http://cofchrist.com.au/saints-care/congregational-compassionate-ministries/

        Hope this helps! Cheers – Karli

      • John Hamer says:

        Karli: This is wonderful, thank you!

  2. Rick C says:

    I have had similar issues with the prayer for peace for years. Back in 2006 I pointed out to them that their information about having mostly Labor governments in recent memory was completely out of date neglecting that for the previous 10 years we had had a conservative government. I feared that so many of the others were out of date.
    Not long later, I attended a prayer for peace in the Temple for Hungary. The person leading the prayer for peace followed the script and was apparently unaware that there had been rioting there in the previous day or two.

    We need the basics of the countries’ long term issues to be clearly stated, but we also need the person leading the prayer for peace to at very least do a google news search for that country before leading the prayer.

    The prayer for peace is a responsibility, and on the whole, I’m not sure we’re doing it justice.

  3. John Hamer says:

    I agree, obviously!

    For me, a best case scenario would be a brief overview that talks about the people, the richness of their culture, what the country takes pride in. Then a discussion of a particular peace and justice issue struggle the country faces and, where possible, an individual story of a real person. Then have the prayer tied into that issue.

    All the countries should be presented with the same degree of dignity, so that this isn’t a roster of rich nation smugness and poor nation atrocities. Rather, we see the worth and dignity of all persons and acknowledge and pray on behalf of the individual peace and justice struggles that everyone faces.

    And then, if you’re the one tasked to give the prayer that day, like you say, you have to be prepared to Google your country that morning in case there is something immediate going on. :)

  4. jcduffy says:

    An Episcopal congregation I worshiped with did something that might be adaptable to the Prayer for Peace as a way to address some of the concerns John identifies. The Episcopal Sunday liturgy includes a section called “Prayers of the People.” The congregation I’m thinking of incorporated a couple different “prayer cycles” into their weekly Prayers of the People, akin to Community of Christ’s custom of praying for a different country each week. In one of the congregation’s prayer cycles, the “Anglican prayer cycle,” the priest would name a diocese somewhere in the worldwide Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is part) which the congregation was including in their prayers that day. In the other prayer cycle, their “ecumenical prayer cycle,” the priest would name another Christian denomination for special inclusion in that day’s prayers.

    In addition to these prayer cycles, the Prayers of the People included periods of silence in which any member of the congregation could voice prayers that rested on their hearts. Someone always prayed for the U.S. president. Someone usually prayed for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan; someone else would mention the Middle East. A social worker in the congregation regularly prayed for children in the state foster care system and for their providers. People would chime in with personal concerns, or with needs that had been in the news lately.

    A Community of Christ might follow that pattern for the Prayer for Peace: prayer cycle + extemporaneous petitions. As one part of the Prayer for Peace, a worship leader names the nation specified in the church’s “world prayer cycle.” In addition, a period of silence is observed, in which members of the congregation are free to either pray silently for whatever additional peace-related concerns weigh on their hearts, or to voice those prayers aloud. These might be prayers for peace in other nations,within our own nation, in our local communities, or in the lives of specific families and individuals. So someone who’s concerned about Syria can name Syria, even if Syria isn’t the nation that came up in the world prayer cycle that day. Someone else could pray for an end to gun violence. Someone else can pray for constructive bipartisanship in Congress. Someone can pray for the peace of mind of a friend experiencing difficulties, etc.

  5. Julie Webb says:

    Hi there, I’m jumping into this “conversation” two years after it was initiated by the article and I find the the published Prayer for Peace calendar hasn’t changed as per your recommendations, as far as I can tell. I came to this discussion because I felt that this Sunday it would be much more appropriate for us to be praying for Syria and specifically for Syrian refugees rather than the scheduled country, Lebanon. (Which is another peeve I have: folks don’t feel they have the license to switch out countries if there has been a dramatic world event which warrants our prayers, say, France last Sunday, after the terrorist acts on Friday.) So I initiated a search for the past PFPs for Syria and found exactly what you mentioned, John: GDP and so forth. So I’ll do what I find myself doing far to often when presiding….craft my own text portions of the service.

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