In the baptismal liturgy, right before a child is baptized, the celebrant asks the congregation, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in his/her life in Christ?” So far in my ministry I have never heard a congregation respond with, “No.” The answer that is always given is, “We will!” Each one of us pledges that we will help this child, in whatever way we can, to grow into the full stature of Christ. But how do we do this as a parish? How can we invite parishioners to support our children?
One way we encourage the parishioners of St. Paul’s in Murfreesboro to support our children is through daily intercessory prayer. Each fall we construct two prayer boards: one for youth (sixth through twelfth grade) and one for children (age 3 through fifth grade). Parents receive a card asking permission to include their child in the ministry, along with prayer needs for their child. After receiving permission from parents, we place individual pictures of youth and children, along with their names, on their respective boards. We then encourage older parishioners to sign up to be a personal intercessor for a youth or child. Because one of our goals is to connect children with adults they would not otherwise have a relationship with, we ask parents not to sign up as intercessors. Children and youth are randomly assigned, with the intercessor making a commitment to pray for their child on a daily basis for one year. While the intercessor cannot contact the child by phone or email, we do encourage intercessors to write notes to the child throughout the year. In addition, we invite intercessors to family events to foster their relationship with their child and their child’s family. Once an intercessor is assigned to a child, their name is added to the prayer board, under the child’s name and photo.
Fostering prayer and intergenerational relationships, this ministry has been a great blessing for our parish. Often I will see older parishioners standing before the prayer boards, making connections. They learn the names of our children. And what a thrill it is for a young child to be addressed by name as they enter the church. Our children are very aware that they have an intercessor that is praying for them, helping them feel loved and valued. In many cases a real relationship emerges between the child and the intercessor. I know of numerous cases where the child and intercessor become pen pals, swapping letters throughout the year.
When the year ends we reassign the children and youth to new intercessors. In this way, the children are able to form an additional relationship with an older adult. What a powerful experience it will be for children who began being prayed for at age three. By the time they graduate high school, they will have experienced the love and prayers of sixteen different intercessors; sixteen relationships that they probably would not have had, except for this ministry. We have found that these relationships do not end after they year. Instead, intercessors continue to pray for, and connect with, their children from previous years.
The Rev. Colin Ambrose, Associate Rector of St. Paul’s in Murfreesboro is happy to answer any questions you have about beginning this ministry at your parish or mission. You can reach him at 615-893-3780 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.