ELCA congregation inspires prayer
Grace Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Loves Park, Ill., finds itself on a journey of faith as it responds to God's love.
Founded 86 years ago, Grace faces the challenge of how to demonstrate the love of God to new neighbors.
How can we love neighbors whom we do not know? Any mission undertaking begins and is sustained by God through prayer. Here is a glimpse into Grace's recent spiritual journey.
By using a brief survey in worship, a helpful tool was provided for planning and evaluation. Distributing bookmarks monthly and teaching a lectio divina (a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures), daily Bible reading among worshipers increased from 19 to 31 percent in one year.
The number of people who said they prayed almost daily grew from 61 to 74 percent after using Grounded in Prayer during Lent. Consistency and repeated encouragement in newsletters and sermons, and the offer of a variety of opportunities to participate, bolstered confidence and spiritual competence in prayer and meditation.
A weekly intercessory prayer group was formed three years ago at Grace, and letters were sent out to each family inviting them to come and pray. It took nearly a year to complete this prayer discipline, but it helped Grace's senior pastor, Brent Dahlseng, learn more about Grace?s members, and it deepened the spirituality of the congregation.
Grace focused on health and healing two years ago, with a six-week series of sermons on the healing stories of Jesus. One Sunday featured a question-and-answer session with a family practice doctor from another ELCA congregation who actively offers prayer as part of his practice with patients.
For a whole weekend, Bill Vaswig, an ELCA pastor who has taught and practiced healing prayer for over 30 years, shared his insights on the subject. The series was capped off with a "health fair" that offered vision and hearing screening, blood pressure measurement, holistic herbal and vitamin information, and spinal assessments.
Partnerships with other area congregations enable participants to draw on each other's strengths and share their gifts and passions. Recently Grace entered into a partnership with an Episcopal church and two other ELCA congregations around healing prayer. All four congregations will join The International Order of St. Luke the Physician. This partnership will sponsor a Quiet Day retreat that offers centering prayer.
Grace now hosts ten mobile food pantries. As food recipients wait to get their food, prayer teams are available for any who are interested.
Grace also partners with a local elementary school and offers three hours of after-school skill building at centers where adults build relationships with 150 kids. Prayer teams present gifts to the teachers at the beginning of the school year and silently pray for each classroom.
And during the past year, weekly neighborhood relationship-building has begun, as members of Grace go door-to-door in a program called Adopt-a-Block. During Lent 2010, more streets were added to the effort, and ten neighborhood families from Grace prayed for the volunteers.