In the midst of opening worship, election of moderators and three solid days of committee business, there is a group of prayer warriors who are walking the halls of the convention center, praying in all of the meeting rooms, and inviting everyone to seek and feel the spirit of God move through the General Assembly.
Co-leading this team is Eileen Parfrey, a retired Presbyterian pastor and spiritual director. For months, Parfrey and her co-leaders Jill Holseth and Vicky Brown have been preparing for this. They started by calling every church in the Cascades Presbytery, hoping to find 594 people to volunteer to be a prayer partner for each commissioner. To her surprise, her calls were answered in abundance and she has a list of more than 700 who are actively praying, by name, for each commissioner, each person leading and participating in worship, and each staff member of the General Assembly. Parfrey also provided each of these prayer partners the Scriptures from the worship and Bible studies so that they could follow along and meditate on the same Scriptures that are guiding the commissioners. She said she was initially surprised at the overwhelming response, but it helped her to see God at work. Some churches used the opportunity to reach out to their shut-ins and invite them to be part of the ministry of the larger church. Other churches used it as an opportunity to reflect with their church youth groups on the power of prayer and to get the youth involved in the General Assembly.
In addition to coordinating this vast network of prayer partners, Parfrey and her team of volunteers have been hard at work in Portland this week. They decided pray in each of the committee rooms and spaces each morning before business started. However, once the committees started meeting, Pafrey and her volunteers felt called to pray without ceasing in the spaces of the assembly, so they have had someone wandering the halls and in and out of the committee meetings nearly non-stop for the last three days. Parfrey described her experience as one of the people doing this, “We felt it was important to pray the spaces. We thought we would pray the spaces at the beginning of the day, but after the assembly began, we felt called to pray unceasingly. We have someone walking around praying whenever committees are in session. It has been transformational for those doing the praying and those being prayed for.”
The prayer team has also hosted the prayer room in the convention center. It has been open whenever the convention center has been open to provide a space for rest, discernment, hospitality and prayer. The prayer room is located next door to the meeting room for the Immigration and Environmental Issues committee (committee 9), which debated fossil fuel divestment. While the debates in committee 9 were civil, they were also intense. Many commissioners stopped by the prayer room before or after debate and would pray or request prayers to be said for the proceedings.
Many people who stepped into the prayer room reflected that it felt different than the rest of the convention center, a sacred space. The prayer team was very intentional about creating that sacred space. Parfrey said, “I think that is part of why the room feels different. There is a huge space set aside for something that is sacred. There are logs that came from a family farm to make the space reflect God’s creation in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. There is a sense of hospitality in the space. We were intentional to have tangible ways of praying too: coloring, cutting and pasting to make their own prayer cards, a walking labyrinth, two finger labyrinths, and quiet space with lighting that intentionally creates an environment for contemplation and prayer.”
The prayer team will continue their work throughout the rest of the General Assembly, including a team of volunteers staffing the prayer room while the meetings are going and a spiritual director available at all times. Parfrey joyfully reflected, “We have this insane idea that it really does make a big difference to pray.”