When to pray

I was asked the other day, “Why don’t you ask people to pray with you at the end of a visit?” It’s a good and fair question. I am one of the very few Ministers who visits parishioners without a reason. In other words I make it a point to visit each and every household connected to the church. I know of two other Ministers who do this, both are retired, though still serving churches in the Maritimes. When I call people to arrange the visit they are usually hesitant, they want to know what my agenda is. I tell them it is about getting to know people, establishing a relationship so that down the road they can feel comfortable calling on me anytime they need me. It is also about me knowing the gifts, questions and passion they bring to the congregation so that when time comes for nominations to various Boards and committees I can suggest names and know the topics of sermons most likely to resonate with the people.

Early on in my ministry (26 years ago) when I started doing this one of the barriers was this memory of clergy coming to their homes in a rather formal setting, in a special room, with special china, ending with a formal prayer given by the Minister in his (most Ministers were male then) collar, often with everyone on their knees. While that may sound rather inspiring to many of us for many others it is a source of some awkwardness. More often than not when I would leave someone’s home they would be smiling, delighted by the conversation (who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?), thankful for my interest in them and say, “I thought you were going to come here and make us all pray with you for a half hour.”

When I visit someone who is alone, usually in a hospital or nursing care, when the visit is 100% about their feeling of isolation and lament for more connections with people, I always end with a prayer. But I confess on all other visits I end with a handshake and a thank you. Lately I am starting to wonder if I need to rethink this. Last year a retired Minister asked me why I had not offered to pray with him and his wife as we stood at the door. Leaning against the wall, putting on my shoes, I immediately went into an informal yet discerning prayer. It went very well and we all agreed something special had happened.

Earlier this summer I was called to a home because a family member was not feeling their best. I listened to the household. I confess I had just left the church for home and was not in a mindset of prayer. So after listening to the challenging times of this family I told them I was available to come again any time. I was feeling some pride that I had come to their door so soon after church, most Ministers would not do this. Later I learned this household wondered why I had not prayed with them at the end of the visit. Good question! So much for my pride. In my weariness I had misread the situation.

When is it appropriate to end a visit with a prayer? I would argue that it is not always a good idea to interject with a prayer, it can and does put some people ill at ease and “colour” the visit, even if it had been a very good visit right up till that moment. Still there are also many times when a prayer, a seeking of discernment, an openness to something beyond us, a thankfulness for our time together, is appreciated and necessary. I confess I have let myself get into a habit of not thinking about how a prayer can be a powerful way to end a conversation. I will need to be more attentive to the Spirit.