Like many churches, the church that I go to (Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena) has a time during Sunday morning worship for "Prayers of the People." Different churches handle this element in different ways, of course, but Knox follows the pattern of having a worship leader step down into the congregation, often with a pad of paper and pen in hand, so that when they ask if there are any requests, the requests can be written down so as not to be forgotten when it actually comes time to pray.
I've seen this method used in many churches, but what has always impressed me about Knox is that, when the congregation is asked to share their joys and concerns, a considerable number of people consistently take the worship leader up on the offer. Although I've never kept a formal tally, I'd say that it's not all unusual for a dozen or more people to raise their hands and share what they would like to have prayer about. I have never seen a congregation where people are so fully able to trust and be open about those things in their lives that are hard, or that they are struggling with, or those sometimes seemingly little things that they'd just like to say "thanks" for.
This sense of community, demonstrated in how readily people are willing to share these elements of their lives with one another, is a large part of why I decided to join Knox. I wish I could say that I've found it that easy to participate myself. It's not that I never have--I was certainly looking to have prayer before my recent trip to Montreat, and during another time recently when a member of the church in which I grew up passed away suddenly. But there is definitely a sense in which I feel... I'm not sure if "unworthy" is the right word or not. I'm thankful for the fact that I can't point to many serious tragedies in my own life recently. This is certainly not the case for a lot of other people, both at Knox and elsewhere. But I'm also definitely in need of prayer for various reasons that are important to me, yet seem somehow too insignificant to mention during that time. Things like my continuing vocational search, for example. Things that have actually been true for a long time, and there's not a particular crisis or significant event that brings these things up now (although I will say that my time in Montreat has demonstrated to me that I'm not quite ready to "let go" of my search for church ministry work just yet!). And how dare I complain about my current job when there are those in the congregation who've just lost theirs, or who've had a serious accident, or who have a family member that is near death or has recently died? I'm lucky to have the job I have, even if it's not (and those I work with already know this) what I consider God's ultimate call on my life for employment.
Truth be told, this is more my problem than that of those with whom I worship. To the extent that I have gotten to know these people, I know that they are sympathetic and caring people, who would take no offense at my honesty about whatever struggles I'm dealing with. I'm sure it's also true that there are many others in the congregation who also have needs who have not yet felt comfortable sharing those needs publicly. It is at this point that I can only affirm what I know to be true even if I don't always feel the truth of it: God cares about our needs, big and little, and not only wants us to share them with God, but also with God's people. I hope, perhaps bit by bit, to grow more comfortable with this truth as I continue life with this community.