An investment with holy dividends
There were more than 100 people in the room when our pastor, Fr. James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation, said, “Let’s all move to the front of the room here and lay hands on your bishop and pray for him together. If you can’t reach him, place your hands on someone else who can.” I saw mixed reactions. Some parishioners marched swiftly to the front of the room and their bishop; others eyed the exit. What was going on?
Occasionally visitors to our parish find us a bit weird. But I believe what’s going on here is bearing much fruit. We’re weirdly wonderful — because as a community we have a passion for God, a love of our faith, and a mutual bond.
One of the special things about Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is our prayer ministry. After every Sunday Mass there’s an invitation that goes something like this: “If you’d like to receive prayer or want someone to pray with you, there are prayer teams in the chapel who would love to do that for you.” And you know what? People go. It’s not unusual for 30 or 40 parishioners to be prayed over and prayed with on a Sunday.
So what is going on in that little chapel?
Our prayer ministry after Mass involves teams comprised of two laypeople who stand and
wait for someone to come to them. They then ask what the parishioner would like prayer
for. Sometimes it’s health, or family. Or perhaps something said during the homily has really moved them; it could be anything. Yet all that is needed is an openness to pray together and minister to each other.
After getting a sense of what to pray for, the prayer team will ask if it’s okay to place their hands on the shoulders of the person seeking prayer. They will invite them to close their eyes if they’re comfortable. And then they’ll pray. Taking turns, the two prayer team members try to be open to whatever words or stirrings God might be communicating to them as they lift the intention in prayer. And in those moments in the chapel, there are often tears.
We all need prayer, and we all need others to pray with us. God calls us into community together, but so often that community starts when Mass starts and ends when Mass ends. It’s moments like these in the chapel with the prayer ministry that make us known to one another in little ways — ways that actually knit us together as a community, strengthen our faith, and ensure that we don’t feel alone in the struggles we face.
It wasn’t always like this at Saint Benedict Parish. We had to grow into our prayer ministry. We use the Alpha course as our primary evangelization tool. Midway through the course is the Holy Spirit Weekend Away. At this weekend we invite guests, if they’re comfortable, to go up to a prayer team and receive prayer. Where do these prayer teams come from? They’re the Alpha table hosts we’ve recruited who were guests from a previous Alpha.
The Holy Spirit Weekend at Alpha is often the place where people experience a true moment of conversion. Sometimes guests are totally unchurched. Other times they’ve been sitting in a pew for years but never really embraced their faith. Whoever they are, they find themselves taking a courageous step toward one of our prayer teams, and in that moment, many surrender to Christ. We have countless stories of how that moment changes someone’s life forever.
Prayer teams after Mass are an extension of what we do through Alpha (see AlphaUSA.org/catholic). We now have hundreds of people trained in prayer ministry. At first we did prayer ministry after a single Mass once a month. Then we expanded to the same Mass every week. And now our pastor and leadership team have encouraged us to do it after all the Sunday Masses.
Our weekly attendance is more than 1,500. Fr. James, or any pastor, can’t always pray personally with every individual on a given Sunday. Yet the prayer ministry allows for anyone to receive personal prayer for whatever is going on in their lives. We now help encourage other parishes to bring about this culture of prayer — a culture founded upon Alpha. (Read more about Alpha at CATmag.us/2uuwdWs.)
If praying with and for people makes you “weird,” then I can’t recommend weirdness enough.
Dan O’Rourke is executive director of Divine Renovation Ministry, a ministry founded by Fr. James Mallon that works with pastors, priests, and lay leaders around the world to equip them to bring their parishes from maintenance to mission. For more information visit DivineRenovation.net
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, October 2018.
PHOTO: JANTANEE RUNPRANOMKORN/SHUTTERSTOCK