Today’s question comes from a pastor who writes her own prayers. One of her questions is about working with someone who may not share the same theology and assumptions about prayer. She also would like to hear from others who write their own prayers.
I am an intern-minister at a small congregation in Vancouver Island in Canada.
I've recently found out that when I write prayers myself for each Sunday worship, especially Call to Worship and Opening Prayer (or Prayer of the Day), it can really touch people's heart and communicate something greater than when I borrow someone else's very well-done prayers.
I think it may be mainly because my own prayer contains the element of locality, the congregation's emerging issue and the day or the week's concerns and shows a kind of common spiritual culture or landscape we share as a congregation.
English is my second language, so I am helped by a congregant's volunteer in editing. Sometimes I find that she may misunderstand and may not always fully reflect what I originally intended to say. Her understanding of prayers may be different from mine, and so our theologies are. But I begin to be convinced, nevertheless, that I receive and share great benefits if I keep writing my own prayers for each Sunday worship service. I got very good responses, sometimes. I am very glad to discover that this practice is very rewarding and great. It helps me redefine and refine my spirituality, theology and languages; but at the same time it does take time, leading me to wrestle with languages, of course more time than native English speakers would need.
I'd like to ask seasoned ministers and worship leaders who write prayers for each Sunday worship about what is the greatest strength they have found with this practice and about whether they would recommend this practice, no matter what. If yes, then I'd really like to hear why.
Dear matriarchs, would you like to help me to get some responses from this wonderful circle of sharing wisdom.
Several matriarchs responded that they didn't have advice this time because they don’t often write their own prayers for public worship. Here are two thoughtful responses from RevGal matriarchs who offer encouragement from their experience in writing worship prayers.
Rev. Red offers this advice:
Your questions have taken me on a journey back to the beginning of my pastoral ministry. One of my fears as I started out was that my prayers would not be "good enough". Some weeks I spent more time writing my prayers than I spent on my sermon.Writing the prayers also helps me focus my sermon when I was having a hard time developing it's thesis. The result was and has been that my prayers have ended up being a strong part of my ministry. I often have people, both men and women, comment that my prayers touch them because of the language and images they use as well as their relevance to the current moment. I no longer spend as long writing my own prayers and other liturgical elements as I did at the beginning of my ministry, but the time spent then helps me today. I have both overcome my fear and also built a strong spiritual base and language for those times when I am asked to pray with little or no advance notice. I believe that writing our own prayers and liturgy do help us to reflect theologically and frame the whole worship service with them. I hope that you will continue to take time to write prayers and liturgy. I know that it will bless you both now and in the future.
Shalom, Rev Red
Jennifer also writes her own prayers:
Good for you for adopting the practice and the discipline of writing prayers and having them translated! That’s amazing and wonderful! What a gift to your congregation! To be sure, it is also a time-consuming process, and it sounds like it’s worth it.
It sounds like your translator may be offering some interpretation in addition to translating. I wonder if that’s a conversation to have with your volunteer. It may lead to a closer translation and to the intended words.
I’m a writer of my own prayers, too, and I encourage others, when they are joining in worship leadership to consider writing or praying their own prayers. I think there’s something special about hearing an authentic voice, and as you mention, the references to what’s going on in a community’s life.
Would I recommend it? Of course!! Would I recommend it, no matter what? I think the next best thing is to adapt the prayer of another, still striving to offer words that seem natural and authentic from the one leading the prayer. I’d be sure to give credit for such in the bulletin.
Whatever your practice around prayers and liturgy, I’m sure that the practice of preaching in a second language is arduous, too. May it all continue to go well for you and the congregation you serve.
Thank you, Rev Red and Jennifer!
Do you write your own prayers? What advice can you offer the rest of us who might like to?
And, do you have any experience with “mistranslation” or unfortunate editing?
Please let us hear from you in the comments!