In a “Concert of Prayer,” more than 40 congregants in Eastern Pennsylvania lifted their voices and hearts to pray for a commission of United Methodists charged with a sacred mission.
With strength and conviction, the collective voices at Lima United Methodist Church in Media, Pennsylvania, repeated the prayer: “Fill your servants with your Holy Spirit. May they seek you for wisdom, knowledge, love, compassion and clarity as they follow your leading.”
The Jan. 11 service was part a series of events throughout the Eastern Pennsylvania conference designated for praying specifically for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. The 90-minute service also included inspirational music and reading, reflection and prayer stations.
At another event in the series, First United Methodist Church at Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, kept their doors open for prayers until 6 a.m. after a service that ended at 9 p.m.
The Way Forward Commission is charged with developing consensus about how the denomination can move forward amid different theological understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identity.
For 75 weeks, annual conferences and central conferences are participating in Phase 2 of the Praying Our Way Forward initiative. Phase 2 launched Jan. 1 in North Carolina and concludes June 2018 in Africa with the West Angola Episcopal Area.
During Phase 1, 84 United Methodist bishops spent 15 minutes daily for four months in prayer for the selection and initial work of the Commission on a Way Forward. To support the effort, The Upper Room hosts a website with resources and the prayer schedule at umcprays.org.
“The early reports indicate that many United Methodists are engaging actively in the Praying Our Way Forward initiative,” said Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, North Alabama Conference. Wallace-Padgett co-chairs the prayer initiative with Bishop Al Gwinn. “It is inspiring to see prayers and ideas posted regularly at umcprays.org, hear of prayer events hosted by districts and churches, learn of prayer vigils being held by churches and groups, know that many individuals are observing a weekly fast for our church and mission, and read beautiful prayer blogs written by bishops and others.”
When the North Carolina Conference kicked off its week of the prayer initiative, leaders shared prayers written by district superintendents via email and on social media platforms. Throughout the week, churches hosted Circles of Abundant Grace, facilitated conversations about denominational unity in the midst of differing viewpoints. More than 700 United Methodists participated in 50 Circles of Abundant Grace across the conference.
When it came time for the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to take the lead, Bishop Bill McAlilly announced a seven-day, around-the-clock prayer vigil for clergy and laity. More than 330 clergy and laity signed up to pray in 30-minute slots for the commission and the church.
“It is wise that the church goes to God in prayer and seeks the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,” McAlilly said. “As we endeavor to understand one another, as we endeavor to seek God’s peace and God’s perfection and as we seek to follow Christ in this world, prayer undergirds all that we are and all that we are hoping to be.”
The Western North Carolina Conference gathered prayers from both clergy and laity for its designated week of prayer. In addition to posting prayers on the conference website, leaders shared prayers across multiple social media platforms. The prayer written by Bishop Paul Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference was incorporated into a bulletin insert that was shared with pastors and lay leaders.
Even prior to the first European conference, the Bulgaria-Romania Conference committed to praying for the Commission on a Way Forward and the global denomination.
In early January in Frankfurt, bishops of the three central conferences in Europe and cabinet members of the four Episcopal areas met for three days to worship, pray and engage in Christian conferencing on maintaining and strengthening the unity within The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Conference led the group in a Bible study on living in and maintaining unity given through Jesus Christ in spite of differences.
Germany’s Bishop Rosemarie Wenner said the groups realized “we have more in common than what divides us.
“We told one another experiences of how the worldwide connection is a blessing for churches in a continent where Methodists are in a minority,” Wenner said.
This week as the Florida Conference leads, local churches are encouraged to enter into an intentional time of prayer, using umcprays.org for its suggested meditations and prayers, including a prayer written by Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference.
Clergy may also choose a one-day, churchwide fast and all are encouraged to comment about what God is doing in their lives through prayer on the Florida Conference Prays For A Way Forward Facebook page.
“I am grateful for the prayers of many, many people across the Florida Conference on behalf of the church and our future mission together,” Carter said.
With the prayer initiative off to a strong start, Wallace-Padgett expects the movement to gain momentum.
“I anticipate that Jurisdictional and Central Annual Conferences will continue to creatively design ways to participate in Praying Our Way Forward,” she said. “The prayers of United Methodists around the world are providing a strong foundation as our church seeks God’s leadership in discerning a way forward.”
Caviness is a public relations specialist for United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee. John Coleman, director of communications, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, contributed to this article.