The General Conference Prayer Room — a cross between an oasis and a refuge — is a place of prayer and discernment for delegates and visitors from around the world in Fort Worth for the United Methodist legislative assembly.
Located in an exhibit hall at the Fort Worth Convention Center, "A Space for Prayer" was organized and prayed into being by the Rev. Len Delony, a former hospital chaplain, Judy Tutt, the co-chair of the Central Texas Host Committee Prayer Ministries Team, Martha Jacobson of the North Texas Conference, creator and designer of the prayer spaces, and others who have worked with previous General Conferences.
The Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room Chapel in Nashville, Tenn., serves as consultant and spiritual guide to the prayer room committee. He hosted a meeting of those who participated in the prayer room at the 2004 General Conference to make certain that all the important lessons and insights gained there were passed on to the committee for 2008.
"At General Conference there is so much to do and less time to do it in," Delony said. "This is a space where delegates can listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit — space for quieting and slowing."
"Each time we came together we prayed using lectio divina and using the Scripture from Ephesians 3:16-21 that talks about being deeply rooted and grounded in love," Tutt said.
"They provided words, and I visualized what they saw," Jacobson said, describing how the sacred space was designed. "We wanted God to lead their prayers and for people to feel that God is calling them to pray."
'There is something different here'
The Prayer Room has seen a steady stream of visitors using the various prayer stations or walking along its labyrinth.
Many have commented about the clear spiritual sense of God's presence in the place. "What is the source of this wonderful feeling?" asked one General Conference translator. "There is something different here."
"As you enter the Prayer Room the gates are open, and they're like open arms," Jacobson explained. "The drape around the labyrinth has an opening that draws you into the heart of the Prayer Room. The whole interior space is shaped like a cross."
A Space for Prayer includes five chapel areas, each with symbols of the Christian faith. The Eucharistic Chapel has areas for kneeling and sitting. It invites silent, centering and breath prayer, and may be used alone or with others. Recorded on the tree are the names of every annual conference in the U.S. During General Conference, someone has added the names of all 992 delegates, written on cards.
"We prayed for peace for the delegates," Tutt said. "Every delegate's name is now listed in the Eucharistic Table with the bread and cup."
The Chapel of the Cross, the most private of the chapel areas, is reminiscent of Jesus' practice of taking time for solitary prayer.
The largest space, The Chapel of Our Servanthood, accommodates small groups who wish to gather and pray in community. The design elements include shepherd's staffs, towel and basin, and an artistic rendering of the Last Supper that includes women.
The Chapel of Remembrance is an open area suitable for prayer while dancing, moving or sitting. Images of water throughout invite visitors to remember their baptism as well as the biblical calls for peace and justice. The organizers are hopeful the theme and mages will also help guests remember the connectedness they share as the Body of Christ.
The Chapel of the Word, featuring tables spread with Bibles in the official languages of General Conferences, pens, paper and colored pencils, invites visitors to feast on God's Word through prayerful reading, journaling and art. "Resurrection Appearances," created by Texas artist Billy Keen, depict the Risen Christ in a modern context.
"One can not put into words what they feel here," Jacobson said. "The images transcend the words. Doing the visuals is one of my forms or prayer. When people enter it, it is not just items they see. It is prayer, and God's presence with them."
In addition to the prayer chapels, a "prayer path" is suitable for fast, energetic prayer walking located around the outside perimeter.
According to the hosts, the labyrinth is the most popular space among delegates and is at the heart of A Space for Prayer.
"Delegates frustrated by legislative committee work have come, walked the labyrinth and returned to their work, and found others open to prayer without ceasing," Deloney said.
Prayer Room volunteers pray for prayer requests individually throughout the day. "Sharing in Prayer" cards may be found in delegates' packets, at the Prayer Room and at the welcome center.
Delegates are also using "second breath prayer tents," which Deloney calls "oasis outposts," located in the main concourse surrounding the plenary area.
*Pinkston is director of media relations for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Tim Tanton or Kathy Noble, e-mail: [email protected].
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470.