My 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.