After reading Mark Batterson’s Draw the Circle, the Bi-District staff felt compelled to get a bit creative in how we would “do our part” for the prayer challenge for “A Way Forward” this week. We asked every church in the District to designate one day during which they would pray for the Commission on a Way Forward. But we wanted to do something ourselves that embodied our hopes and dreams for every church in the District, as well as for the denomination as a whole. What could it be? Casting about, we got an idea from a story Mark tells about Rodney “Gypsy” Smith, a powerful evangelist from the 19th century. Gypsy never had formal schooling, but rose to great heights: lecturing at Harvard, being invited to the White House (twice), traversing the Atlantic Ocean 45 times, and preaching the gospel with all his heart. It is said that he never preached without someone coming to faith. Of course, people flocked to Gypsy, wanting to know his “secret.” He told them:
Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle. (Batterson, 9).
So, on Wednesday, four of us piled into a car and literally drove the boundaries of the District, praying as we went. We stopped at 9 church buildings, with 12 worshipping congregations along the perimeter of the District—driving out to Centreville, north to the Potomac River, southeast along Georgetown Pike into McLean, then east into Arlington, and then west along Route 50 back to the District office.
Of course, we had to stop at Floris, to drop off a special card for Tom Berlin, who is on the Commission. Much to our surprised, he was in the office, eating his lunch. So, we sat him in a chair, and laid hands on him, and prayed. We left a card at each stop, with the following scripture passage:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:20-23 (NRSV)
And, spurred on by Sarah Calvert’s sense of play, we “chalked” prayers at the entrance to each church, drawing hearts, and leaving a sign of who and what we were praying for.
At the Bishop’s Convocation on Prayer, Juanita Rasmus invited us to pray opening our hearts and minds to what God wants for a person or situation. It might be just one word, or a phrase. But the key is to listen for what God wants us to pray for. So, as we “circled the District” we prayed. At each church, we stopped, got out of the car, and saw who we could find at the church to pray with. At each stop, we asked:
- Lord, what do you want us to pray for this church?
- Lord, what do you want us to pray for the future of the United Methodist Church, and the Commission on the Way Forward?
And here’s what we heard for churches in the District:
- God’s will be done
- Rooted; growing like a vine
- Connect with social media
- Hurt and excluded people being healed
- Love your neighbor, all of them
- Welcome the stranger
- Light to be shared
- A harvest of pumpkins and people
- Desire to connect
- Opportunity for joy and laughter in the hallways
At Galilee UMC, we heard the testimony of a staff person who was at the church when someone arrived on their doorstep, saying, “I want to be a Christian, I want to be baptized.” At Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington, we felt the faith of the people who served there; we felt a powerful sense of the Holy Spirit; and experienced the appreciation of those with whom we prayed. At Dranesville UMC, some children were on the lawn, playing outside. Three were huddled together, and we overheard them saying:
You can’t give up on God, God will never give up on you!
At Arlington Forest UMC, we saw a pictorial history of the church in photos on the walls.
For the Commission on a Way Forward, we heard:
- Ears to hear and eyes to see
- Strength for the Journey
- Overcoming obstacles and division
Sarah Calvert, the Bi-District’s Coordinator, Revitalization and Leadership Development adds: “There are a couple of precious memories that stand out to me from this trip including: the clergy at Trinity on their knees chalking their prayers at their church; praying for the churches ‘on the move’ so much we missed them – like Koinonia, Restoration, and First Vietnamese; the ‘chalking prayer crawl’ we all developed during the day; the beautiful weather that lightened the journey, and the community of praying folk in the car together.”
For us on the District staff, it was a powerful day that brought us into closer connection to Christ and to the district churches whom we serve.
Yours in Christ,
See photos from our prayer journey on facebook!