Civic prayers are an interesting component of ministry. It’s one thing to pray among persons who think, act, believe in ways similar to your own. It’s another to pray with others who may think, act, and believe differently. For instance, on a Sunday morning, there is a certain pattern to prayer and certain things that are said. “Jesus” gets brought up a whole lot as we offer thanks and praise, as we offer our confession, and as we ask for guidance and help. When we use terms like “Gracious Lord,” our church culture has some understanding of what it means for God to be gracious–saving us from our sins, saving us from ourselves, saving us from each other, saving his people. When we offer up thanksgiving, recognizing that all that we have belongs to God, it springs from a deeply held belief in the Scriptures where all things are created by our God of creation. When outside of the church, these connections are less clear.
Therefore, outside of church, there is a call for the prayers of Christians to appeal to a wide audience. While the one praying may be a Christian, he or she can’t assume that those around them are Christians as well. There may be some who are of other faiths, of no faith, or those who have had painful experiences in churches or with Christian coworkers, friends, or family. It can be tricky as we try to build bridges with civic prayers and not build up walls between us and the culture around us. Nevertheless, public prayers are prayers outside of your own church community.
I have always taken it seriously when I’ve been called upon to pray in an environment outside of the church. While it is true that this is oftentimes paying lip service to a God who has never been involved in the process or who will never once be mentioned during the game or event, it is also true that the presence of the church in civic settings is an acknowledgment of the role that faith plays in the lives of many persons and that there is someone, somewhere, who feels a need to recognize that on a particular occasion.
And so I took seriously the call to say a prayer at the Dedication of the new Seward Community Library Museum last Saturday. I knew there would be a lot of folks there who love the community but have no love of Christ. I knew that there would be good church folk. I knew that I was asked to be there as a Christian pastor and this this is what I had to offer. I knew that, for some, having a pastor bless what has been done would be important.
The following is what I said. With the many positive comments I’ve received since then, I’m assuming it was well received:
My name is Jim Doepken and I am a new member to this community and to the ministerial association that has been asked to offer a prayer of blessing for this dedication. While only being here a week, with a librarian for a wife and five children who are avid readers, it is clear that our family will frequent this beautiful facility. It is an honor for me to pray with you all today.
Let us pray:
Loving God, gathered here today are friends and neighbors, coworkers and family members…a community. Many here have put their time and talent and energy and gifts into planning and constructing and moving all that we see before us. We acknowledge their efforts and celebrate their accomplishments. At the same time we celebrate the efforts of so many persons over the last 9 years who could not be with us today. Together, our efforts have been embracing history and growing volumes. We offer you thanksgiving for all that has been done and all that will come. And, God of wisdom, as a community we pray that this building will serve as a place of knowledge and truth. We pray that is is a place where persons come together for a meeting of the minds, for a reading of the words, for the strengthening of relationships, for the safeguarding and telling of our history, and for the enjoyment of all. We dedicate the Seward Community Library Museum to the glory of your name. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
And that was that.
I believe I was faithful to who I am and faithful to the occasion. I also believe that, while some in the crowd may have disagreed with the words of faith, they would have understood and appreciated the sentiment. I believe that, for those who had never met me before, I was able to offer them a brief introduction to who I am as a person and as a pastor. I also believe it was appreciated that I didn’t talk near as long as some of the other folks there that day.
I hope it was so.
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