On Sundays, we always have a section of the worship entitled “Joys and Concerns and Prayers of the People.” It’s a time where congregants can sharing their prayer concerns or a prayer concern on behalf of another with our entire worshiping community. As any truthful pastor will tell you, this is worship segment can be stressful because it is a time when we must relinquish control. It is a true test in organizing chaos.
In mere moments the worship leader can go from receiving a political statement veiled in prayer to attempting to gently censor detailed, unsolicited medical information. We receive prayers for animals, prayers for the dying, prayers for sports teams, prayers for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, prayers for financial challenges, prayers for our churches, prayers for our president, prayers for the military, prayers for our family and friends, prayers for businesses and so many more. Some Sundays there is total silence, others we go on for 10 minutes. Talk about a wildcard in worship planning!
Despite the chaos and unpredictable nature of joys and concerns, it just might be the purest moment on Sunday. They are often messy, but God welcomes them all. Why wouldn’t God? After all, our Creator invites us, messy people, into relationship. Joys and concerns also request participation whereas so many other elements of worship seemingly get by without it.
At the beginning of the pandemic, our church went to fully online worship. I would be at my home, logged onto Facebook Live and inviting worshipers to share their joys and concerns in the comments – typing them in real-time. But, as we now know, there are seconds of lag in between the live broadcast and the received broadcast. And so, for the first time, I would await those joys and concerns with anticipation. I would anxiously and excitedly watch those comments and then repeat them aloud, acknowledging that those requests had made their way through cyberspace. We also quickly pivoted to the first name and last initial, recognizing our worship services were now publicly broadcasted. And now, worshiping in a hybrid format, a volunteer relays these typed joys and concerns to our faith community gathered in the building. Adding to the chaos, these sometimes come in “at the very last moment” and I almost get interrupted as I am going to pray, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While I think every pastor or worship leader can relate to hearing the beginning of prayer requests and thinking, “Oh no … where is this going?” I think our church is always learning. I was extremely proud a month ago when a member of my congregation offered prayers for our military exiting Afghanistan and for all the Afghan people. I am always amazed at the boldness of our kids who raise their hands to pray for a family member in need. And there is something so beautiful, vulnerable and sacred when we speak these requests aloud before one another and the Holy Spirit and our voices crack or our eyes water and we are joined together in our humanity. For that is what church is all about, isn’t it? It is a human gathering before God, a reminder that we call upon Jesus for thanksgiving and for healing and strength.
We are all broken; we are all in need; we can all relate. And, like so many churches, our joys and concerns create our prayer list throughout the week where we independently pray together for those we love until we meet again on Sunday. And, like so many churches, we are faithful in doing so. If the prayer list is missing or missing a name, our church is quick to notice.
I have heard many times that joys and concerns do not work the same in a large church. And, while I know this has some truth to it, I have come to love this roller coaster time in worship where “anything” might happen. I have come to love the earnest words spoken before God and one another, the awkward moments of stepping in and moving someone on from medical details to the true spiritual need and the challenge of reframing a prayer that was more of a statement in its infancy. Because God is in all of it. We are human, and in this time of worship we recognize our humanity and call out for the Divine. What could be more worshipful than that?