As Presbyterians we understand that the ministry of prayer is an essential aspect of our baptismal calling. In a recent edition of Regarding Ruling Elders, we were reminded that ruling elders — who are charged with the nurture of the congregation — can and should lead the prayers of intercession and supplication (Book of Order, W-3.0308).
Laurene Chan, a ruling elder at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, in San Francisco, believes that being prayerful while preparing a liturgy and practicing its delivery builds confidence and trust in it. She finds that centering herself and praying, “OK, God; use me,” helps her trust that God will use her to do amazing things.
Incorporating prayer into every aspect of her life, Chan approaches her ministry as a ruling elder thoughtfully and with care, serving as a leader and liturgist at her church. The Presbyterian Church in Chinatown holds services in Mandarin, English, and Cantonese every Sunday with little time between, making it a challenge to find enough time for prayer without delaying the worshipers gathering for the next service. Chan believes it is important to find more time for prayer. As she puts it, “When the Spirit moves you can’t say, ‘Oh wait, we have a time limit here.’ We can’t ask members not to share their prayer concerns because we may go over!”
Although Chan does not work in a church setting, prayer is still an important part of her personal and professional life. She works with young people and groups who are not all church-goers, and she often introduces them to a sense of covenantal community through club programs. They share joys and concerns at the end of these gatherings, in response to bidding questions:
- What’s going on with you; what’s up?
- Who are you worried about; are you worried about yourself?
- What are you happy about; what do you want to celebrate?
- What do you want to share?
In this gathered community, which provides necessary space, these young people sense that they are among both people their age and adult allies who care about and want the best for them. They feel safe enough to share some of the deepest things they are thinking about.
Chan said, “Modeling all that comes to the surface through gathered community and prayer is a powerful way to address the challenges that come our way. As we become aware of what’s happening around us, we rely on the movement of the Spirit to soften hearts and open minds to new possibilities. With the support of our community, we can create change and transformation in our lives. When we come together in prayer and fellowship, the Spirit moves in powerful ways, guiding us toward greater understanding and deeper connection.”
Chan’s advice for those who are building their praying capacity is to start with addressing God, getting God’s attention, and easing into it. Just bring yourself to God. No need to fake it or pretend. Sit and listen for a bit. Even a prepared public prayer is a conversation with God and can give comfort, provide strength, and inspire the people. Ask. Listen.
- What are ways in which your congregation receives the prayer concerns of individual members during worship? How might ruling elders be active in praying over these prayer requests during the week?
- A pivotal moment in Chan’s life happened in middle school camp. Jackie, the youth group leader, prayed to God in the same way that she talked to people. This experience inspired Laurene to pray similarly — talking to God in a natural way. How are you most comfortable talking with God? Consider praying to God in a natural and easy way about the people and situations you encounter as you move throughout your day.
- Take a moment to reflect on the people who have influenced your prayer life through their own practice of prayer. Consider how their example has influenced your formation and shaped your approach to prayer. Say a prayer of gratitude for this gift of modeling.
valerie izumi is a ruling elder serving the Office of the General Assembly as an assistant stated clerk, coordinating the General Assembly nominations process.
Throughout 2023 and 2024, monthly "Regarding Ruling Elders" articles will alternate between a deep dive into the ways ruling elders discern and measure the life of a congregation through the ministry of members and stories about how ruling elders are using their call and gifts as they move within and beyond the walls of the congregation.
Subscribe to receive notifications of monthly Regarding Ruling Elders articles. Visit the PC(USA) Leader Formation website for more resources for ruling elders and deacons. For more information, email Martha Miller, editor of "Regarding Ruling Elders."