April 11, 2016

Covered in Prayer

It’s not that we don’t want to be spiritual. We’re lay people serving on vestries that oversee the business of the church. We lend our experience from the workplace and serving on not-for-profit boards to our parish decision-making. These are our gifts and we use them as we have been trained. And besides, we are spiritual… we open our meetings with prayer.

Ah, but what if you covered your meetings with prayer? What if you held up to God your questions about priorities and direction and called on the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions?

Several congregations are utilizing a prayer model that is transforming meetings from secular, office-style business to spiritual, prayerful-style obedience. Authors Catherin C. Tran and Sandra Hughes Boyd explain how to engage leadership in prayerful discernment in their book, Spiritual Discovery: A Method for Discernment in Small Groups and Congregations. Their method is grounded in the Prayer Model developed by Jane E. Vennard, a nationally known spiritual director whose model invites a “compassionate observer” to silently listen and pray while a seeker speaks with his/her spiritual director. 

With a group, there may be three or four “compassionate observers” sitting in a circle surrounding a smaller circle made up of the person seeking direction, and the people who are “responders.” Spiritual Discovery gives clear how-to steps for setting up a group prayer model session, and how it should be facilitated. Those in the center circle speak, but between opportunity for words are minutes of silent prayer. One of the observers is a timekeeper – the person with the responsibility to insure the process moves in rhythm with the prescribed format.

The authors also offer ideas for teaching people how to incorporate Spiritual Discovery Method for group decision making. But they also make it clear that the best way to understand the model is to simply experience it:

"The predictable, repetitive nature of the Prayer Model creates a reliable framework within which participants can invite the Spirit of God to speak. …Elements of the process that don’t seem to make sense at first – such as time limits or rules for speaking – eventually prove themselves to be useful even to the most impatient or skeptical. Because the prayer is learned primarily through practice, it takes time to understand the unfolding power and depth of the discipline. The prayer order creates a predictable, reliable structure that the participants come to trust. …The only surprises in the prayer are those presented by the Spirit!" 
                                                                                                                (pg. 18)

Spiritual Discovery offers many examples of how churches have utilized the spiritual discovery method. One parish invites those nominated to vestry to participate in a prayerful discernment session about their gifts and whether they perceive a calling to serve as vestry member. A youth group used it to help teens prayerfully work through their pain and confusion after the suicide of a friend. An outreach ministry of another church used the Prayer Method to help it prepare for an overseas mission trip. 

Authors Tran and Boyd believe that the Spiritual Discovery Method “facilitates thoughtful discernment, encouraging groups and individuals to attend to how they make decisions.” 

If your meetings seem to lack spiritual depth that informs decision making, the Spiritual Discovery Method may help you invite the Holy Spirit to your table. 

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