Portrait of a Congregation at Prayer
How can pastors encourage their parishioners to live out the Word of God every day of the week, using the Sunday Divine Service as a foundation? The Hausvater Project invited Pastor Rob Lawson of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Escondito, California, to explain the resources he uses to promote the prayer life of his congregation.
The concept, format, and title of the resources are taken from the Lutheran Catechesis material of Rev. Peter Bender, Pastor of Peace Lutheran Church and the Concordia Catechetical Academy, Sussex, Wisconsin. Though the prayer sheet follows the outline and includes most of the same parts, the content is obviously edited to fit our congregational situation.
Consider Sample 1 and Sample 2 of our prayer sheet. A few general observations are in order.
The purpose of the prayer sheet is, as Pr. Bender writes, “to unite the congregation around the same sections of the Word of God and catechism, and give a common language for prayer and meditation upon the Scriptures.” The purpose of the prayer sheet is to give the congregation a concrete devotional outline so that their days lived from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day may be “sanctified by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5), and so that in those devotions they may “live from the themes established on each Sunday of the church year and also look forward to the coming Sunday.” Therefore:
- The weekly Psalm, which may be read each day, is almost always one of the Psalms from which the Introit, Gradual, or Hallelujah Verse of the Sunday Divine Service is taken from. The Daily List of Psalms is the list appointed for the particular Sunday, taken from The Lutheran Hymnal, pp. 164–166.
- The Sunday Collect is used for the Collect of the Week and is to be prayed every day. It is either the first or second option out of the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
- One of the hymns from the Sunday Divine Service serves as the Hymn of the Week. This hymn is usually the Sunday Chief Hymn, but it may vary.
There is, in my opinion, some tension between Bible lectionaries and catechism schedules that “fit” the ebb and flow of the church year, and those that are more “continuous” in their approach. Both have their advantages, but when it comes to the Learn by Heart Catechism portions and the Bible lectionary, I have tended to follow the continuous approach.
- For years, while we had a Sunday School, we followed the Lutheran Catechesis continuous Bible Story lectionary. Starting with Genesis 1, the Old Testament is divided into a three year cycle, focusing on the narrative sections so that the entire history of God’s Old Testament people is covered in that three year cycle during the course of the academic year. The New Testament lectionary (reserved for summer months) focuses on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, working in select portions of John. I found this approach most helpful for the families with kids so that the kids would learn the Bible stories in chronological order.
- For some years, I also included the list of readings and devotions from Bishop Nils Laache’s Book of Family Prayer on the prayer sheet (many years ago the congregation purchased a copy for each family). The Laache readings, for those who used them, did a good job of keeping family and/or personal devotions tied to the Sunday pericope.
- The learn by heart catechism portions also follow a continuous pattern. The cycle follows the academic year (during which time youth catechism classes are held). The six chief parts are covered from September to the end of May, and the Table of Duties are divided over the summer months.
There are a couple of differences between Sample 1 and Sample 2. Since the children are now through Sunday School & Catechism classes, two years ago I replaced the Bible story lectionary with the daily lectionary from The Lutheran Hymnal, pp. 161–164. I also replaced the readings from Laache with the schedule of readings from the Concordia edition of the Book of Concord, as I felt more attention needed to be paid to the Lutheran Confessions.
The themes for daily prayer are a heavily edited version of the list on Pr. Bender’s prayer sheet. Many years ago I produced an edition of the Small Catechism for our parish’s use with an appended section of collects for each daily theme. This, I think, has made it easier for people to actually pray for the comprehensive list of needs in their daily prayers.
The Congregation at Prayer may be used by the family and it may be used by the individual. Its use is only suggested. If someone’s devotion consists of other resources that’s fine (as long as they are orthodox Lutheran resources). But everyone needs a devotional life. Prayer and meditation on God’s Word each day are the “snacks” in between the “meals” of the Sunday Divine Services.
In my opinion, Pr. Bender’s creation makes the three main books of the faith—Bible, catechism, hymnal—usable altogether at a practical level. As the rubric at the top of the sheet indicates, as much or as little of the devotional outline may be utilized as family size and ages dictate, as well as time constraints (or lack thereof). Obviously, mileage varies when it comes to “learning by heart” Bible passages, catechism sections, and hymn verses. Learning by heart is, nevertheless, encouraged for everyone in the parish.
The members of the parish are not discouraged from using Matins and/or Vespers for their daily prayers, as well as the Litany from the hymnal. I have, however, found that “less is more” when it comes to daily devotions. Devotions that are too long are usually not sustainable in the long term for most of our families, especially with the business of life these days. Even if the entire prayer sheet is utilized, it only takes 15–20 minutes a day.
Rev. Robert A. Lawson is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Escondido, California.
TAGS: Home Devotions, Liturgy