Prayer, Bible Study, Group Discussion
By David Howell
We all have a different idea of what renewal means; for Episcopalians, it centers on renewing our faith and our work.
On February 19, at six locations around the diocese, clergy and lay members met for renewal assemblies with the theme “The Call to Prayer and Discernment.” These meetings, part of the work of the newly renamed Committee on Congregational Renewal, featured a video created by Jeffrey Kemmerer of Grace Allentown.
Bishop Paul opens the video by asking, “What is God calling our church to be?” and explains that the Renewal meetings are an outcome of last October’s Diocesan convention.
He then initiates a conversation with Father John Francis of Christ Church in Reading about personal prayer. Francis says, “Silence allows God to speak to me. Some prayers allow the mind to become silent. It keeps the voices in our minds at bay. The intention is on God’s word and God speaking to us. God is thought of being ‘up there’ and huge and powerful. People don’t understand how close God can be.”
Francis says he devotes one hour in the morning and one hour at night to personal prayer, following Morning and Evening Prayer. The reader may be wondering, as some did at our assembly, “How can he do that?” Francis says that with prayer, “Your body rests along with your mind, and things go more smoothly throughout the day.”
In one of the small discussion groups that followed the video, Father Abraham Valiath of St. John’s, Palmerton, said, “The real problem is finding time. Nobody has the answer.” But he added, “The more time you spend with the Lord, the more time you feel that you have. Active prayer is the most active tool to have joy in your heart.”
Bishop Paul then speaks with Mother Laura Howell of Trinity Bethlehem about corporate prayer. Trinity has Morning and Evening Prayer on weekdays and Centering Prayer on Sundays. Howell says that these small gatherings “feed the body, mind and spirit. People know it is going on, even if they can’t attend,” she says. “It gives a sense of community and connectedness,” adding, “a true Christian can never be alone.”
After the group discussion, participants were led in a Lectio Divina Bible Study, a tool that could be taken back to use in their parishes and personal lives.
The Lectio Divina Homepage (http://lectio-divina.org) describes this work as, “reading which is sacred. Ordinarily lectio is confined to the slow perusal of sacred Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments; it is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aid to contact the living God. Basic to this practice is a union with God in faith which, in turn, is sustained by further reading.”
At the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Mother Hilary Raining said at the introduction to Lectio Divina: “We are feeling a hunger to be fed spiritually. Lectio Divina is a sacred mystical discipline. It helps you connect with the wisdom of the past. It creates a relationship with God. God wants to speak to us, and God will speak to us if we only let it happen.
“The key to this practice is to listen. Its calmness and peace can turn off what Thomas Merton calls the ‘monkey mind,’ the constant chatter that separates us from the divine presence.”
After some extended prayer time with the “Dry Bones” text from Ezekiel (37:1-14), small group discussion followed. Noonday prayer included the Litany for the Mission of the Church. After lunch, closing announcements and future steps concluded the four-hour renewal assemblies.
Following the meetings, Bishop Paul wrote: “Those lay and clergy leaders who hosted, led Bible and prayer times, and in general kept things going, are the subjects of my thanksgiving prayers. In particular, I am grateful to many, many people for this day. The staff has worked literally over-time. I am deeply grateful for the hundreds of volunteer hours that have gone into the event, to the leaders and members of the Congregational Renewal Committee. In particular two Charleses come to mind. Father Charles Cesaretti and Charlie Warwick have invested themselves in this event with body mind and spirit.
“Most of all, I am deeply grateful for all of you who attended these regional meetings. I took some photos that I will treasure, but what will remain in my soul was the person who told me, with some moisture in their eyes, that "the Word of God was truly present today."
The six sites for the Assembly were Christ Church, Towanda, and the Trinity Churches of Carbondale, West Pittston, and Pottsville, and the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. There will be a follow-up session, led by Fr. John Francis and Mo. Laura Howell, on Personal and Corporate Prayer at Diocesan Training Day on April 2.
The video can be seen online in two parts at http://www.youtube.com/user/InformationAtDIOBETH, or without a split at: http://vimeo.com/diobeth.
[Dave Howell, a parishioner at Trinity Bethlehem, is a free-lance writer.]