“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 (NIV)
For many Christians the picture of the early church in Acts guides their commitment to Christian community. When gathering to break bread became challenging and even impossible, the community of Knightstown UMC focused on practices of prayer to bind the community together.
At the start of the pandemic’s uncertainty, Pastor Joel Troxell began posting daily prayers from the Book of Common Prayer morning, noon, and night. The congregation was invited to pray together at a similar time each day. Though their bodies were physically distant, their hearts were united in prayer to God.
Shortly thereafter, when the church was completely virtual, Pastor Joel preached a series on spiritual disciplines. Thinking he was asking a rhetorical question, he said, “Who is willing to work out their faith through spiritual disciplines?” The online chat was filled with people saying they were ready to take that step.
As a group gathered virtually to read and discuss spiritual disciplines, what emerged was a monthly service of ‘Centering Prayer.’ Pastor Joel said, “We first started our reading together with Forty Days With the Holy Spirit by Dr. Jack Levison, and then moved on to Forty Days to a Closer Walk With God: The Practice of Centering Prayer by J. David Muyskens. The Muyskens book really moved people in the direction of a contemplative practice.”
They went on to work through 30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher. Collectively, the group has studied Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, and St. Augustine.
Centering prayer is rooted in the contemplative Christian tradition. Early articulations of it can be found in the 4th century from John Cassian, in the Desert Fathers and other mystics, as well as more recently from Catholic Trappist monk Father Thomas Keating. , Keating’s organization, describes it as “a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, that is prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us.”
For Knightstown, centering prayer was a deeply–relational activity arising out of the pandemic’s necessity for distance. Pastor Joel calls it, “The grace of being able to do something in a way that helped them stay connected even though they couldn’t see each other. They knew when they were praying at the same time, doing centering prayer, or discussing—they were still connected as the body of Christ.”
They practice centering prayer monthly as a community and also individually at home. The monthly service is in person at this time and has a simple format: Explanation, 20 minutes of prayer, corporate praying of the Lord’s prayer, and reflection.
“One good thing that came out of the pandemic was the experience and growth in prayer for many of us,” said Pastor Joel. “In a period of time when people were stressed, anxious, and tired with a sense of fatigue, we’ve seen a greater level of spiritual resilience in day-to-day life.”
As the congregation of Knightstown has devoted themselves to prayer, they have found a life-giving spiritual practice that has renewed their relationships with God and one another.