Four questions to ask yourself when writing inclusive prayers

Maggie Alsup offers four tips to craft prayers for multi-faith spaces.

Photo by Igor Rodrigues on Unsplash

Crafting prayers for the numerous events we have on campus allows me to explore my creativity as I work to weave words, religious traditions, and life experiences together. It isn’t always an easy task. It sometimes takes a bit of time to achieve an inclusive prayer for a multifaith context like our campus, but it is a necessary thing.

These prayers bring together various faith and religious traditions so that people find ways to connect with God at events. It can be a daunting task to think about crafting such prayers. Being rooted in the Presbyterian tradition can prove helpful in these moments. And there are some key things that help when crafting such prayers.

First, remember God’s providence. God cares for us, walks with us, and holds us. Acknowledging this in the moments your community gathers helps ground people to the Holy and invites them into thinking about the ways that God is with them in that moment and in their lives.

Sometimes for a college community that can look different than a traditional church setting – from blessing dorm rooms, to prayers before sporting events, to memorial services, to dedications at food pantries and gathering spaces, to graduation – I make sure that our community knows that God is with us in all these spaces and events.

Second, why are you gathered? Is it a celebration, a worship setting, or a more somber occasion? That should guide the tone of the prayer. In times of celebration, mention the joys and triumphs of the community, making sure to highlight God’s care to make such a joyful celebration possible. In times of sorrow or remembrance, mention the feelings and emotions of that gathering, noting that God is present with us as a community even in these somber times.

Remembering that the Divine walks with us in all things – the celebrations, the joys, the sorrows, the daily business of college life – is a comfort for our community.

Third, is it too Jesus-centered? Is the main way you describe God or the Divine in your prayer done through the lens of Jesus? In a multifaith context, that can be a red flag that your prayer is not as inclusive as you might think it is. Coming from the perspective of God’s inclusive and radical love, as seen in Jesus, can be helpful in Christian communities, but for communities and gatherings that have varying faiths and traditions, it can cause people to tune out from the prayer or feel uneasy or unable to connect with God.

The Jesus-centered question feeds into another key element to keep in mind. The fourth question I keep in mind when crafting an inclusive prayer is, what language am I using when talking about and addressing God? We all have certain words and descriptors we use for God. We can get into a rut and lean on those attributes for God in a repetitive manner. It is natural to do this, but it also does a disservice to ourselves and to the expansiveness of God. When crafting an inclusive prayer, be mindful of this. And if you are stuck in a rut, turn to the Psalms for some inspiration because they can offer up some creative ways to address God.

Keeping these questions in mind when crafting inclusive prayers helps me to move beyond my way of seeing God in the world. These aren’t profound questions or changes, but they can help create space for others. And in doing so, I believe I not only create space for others to encounter God but I expand my own understanding of God. Think about your next gathering or worship setting. What can these questions do for you and the prayers of your community? Take some time, get creative and see where it takes you and your community.

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