This is the final article in a series about leading prayer.
If you have read the previous installments of this series on leading prayer, you have prepared or practiced strategies for leading group prayer at a gathering or meeting:
- Setting the Stage: Creating the Space for Prayer (When we pray in a space other than church, it is essential to include symbols, sacramentals, images, and more.)
- Best Practices for Leading Group Prayer (Prayer is part of the agenda of any meeting, and it requires our full attention.)
- Make Your Group Prayer Meaningful (When we pray, what we pray about, and who we pray with all make a difference.)
- The Leader of Prayer: Five Skills for Lay Presiders (Lay people need certain skills when they lead the community in prayer.)
But when the day of your gathering arrives, you might feel overwhelmed. There are other essentials that demand your attention: you have to create a sense of hospitality by preparing food and snacks and you have to get ready to receive and welcome the participants, all the while remaining prayerful. How can you be an effective Martha and still be a prayerful Mary?
Here are some ideas to reduce the stress of the experience.
- Complete any physical setup for prayer ahead of time. The moments right before the gathering might be busy with other priorities or unexpected interruptions. Besides, when people arrive and see a well-prepared liturgical prayer table, they know they are at a Catholic meeting!
- Make sure you have everything necessary. Check that all the materials you need are in working order. There is nothing more disruptive than rushing to find a forgotten book, a working candle lighter, or trying to get a balky music CD to play.
- Don’t do it all by yourself. Empower and delegate! Find someone to help with meeting set up, such as hospitality and welcoming, so that you are free to recruit people for any special roles in the prayer as they arrive.
- Pray yourself before the meeting starts. Ask for a short period of silence before the prayer starts to gather your thoughts, or if you need to, make sure you have access to a separate room for a brief moment of personal prayer and focus. (One priest at my parish always disappears into the vesting room for about a minute before the opening procession begins. He is getting in the right mental place to celebrate Mass.) Spending a moment in prayer will help ease unsettled thoughts and reduce any anxiety you might have. This will free you to be a good leader when it is time to start prayer.
- Call people to prayer. Calling attention to the fact that the group is about to pray reminds the people gathered that they have come together in the presence of Christ. Sing a well-known hymn, dim the lights to get attention, or light a candle. Wait until all are silent before beginning. Invite everyone to slow down to the reverent pace natural to prayer.
- Don’t watch the clock. Nothing on the meeting agenda is as important as focusing on the presence of the Holy Spirit. Put the needs of the group before God, and let God lead the meeting.
Prayer is essential whenever we gather as the Body of Christ. Whatever the goal is for the meeting, its ultimate purpose is to bring glory to God. When seen in this light, prayer is more than an item added to the agenda. Once you have prepared for group prayers this way a few times, it will become second nature.