In this time of isolation/quarantine much about our church has changed. We cannot meet together in person and our worship has moved to a mix of online, videocast format, and regular Zoom meetings. Many of us are living lifestyles of disruption and limitation.

 John Ellerton’s hymn ‘The day you gave us Lord is ended’ has a wonderful verse that says:

As o’er each continent and island
the dawn leads on another day,
the voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away.

This nineteenth century reflection on the global worship of the people of God is a helpful reminder than though we might not see things, they are still continuing.  One of the challenges for us as a community is how to be aware of ‘the never-silent voice of prayer’ in a time of great anxiety and challenge. How do we maintain ‘the voice of prayer’?

This year has been particularly challenging. It opened with the apocalyptic days of bushfires in Australia that we have rarely seen in our history. The smoke drifted across Bass Strait, and then across the Tasman and finally across the Pacific Ocean to South America. The news images travelled even further. Individuals and communities were profoundly affected physically, emotionally and economically. Before they had an opportunity to recover the global covid-19 pandemic led to a series of quarantine and self-isolation restrictions that have severely limited our capacities as a society to travel, to meet, to work and to worship.

We have included prayer in our online services in a variety of ways – songs and hymns, the Psalms, spoken prayers we can hear, written prayers we can read, images inviting and focussing our prayer.  Hopefully you are ‘praying along’ with us through these channels.

One thing you may have noticed is that we have not prayed for individuals in need through the medium of our videocast worship. This does not mean that we are not praying for people. We have intentionally reflected upon the possibilities and limitations of worship channelled through the internet and realised that privacy is an issue: our services are on the church website and visible to anyone in the world who has an internet connection. Revealing people’s names and needs to (potentially) the whole world is hardly an act of loving concern!

The leaders of the church have thought about the values and ethics that should be reflected in our praying. These include confidentiality and privacy. Sharing the nature of a person’s troubles may be appropriate in a gathering of friends where we can see faces, gauge just how many are hearing the news, and register their loving concern. It is hardly so in the less personal and far-reaching medium of the internet. Also important are timeliness and covenant – that a person knows that others are concerned for them and lovingly supporting them through prayer in a prompt and committed way. Finally, sensitivity and respect will guide how we frame and express our prayers for others in ways appropriate to, and respectful of, their understanding of prayer and community.

Given the limitations of our current situation, can we do more to foster prayer is ways consistent with these principles? We would like to present two initiatives in prayer.

The first is reforming a ‘prayer chain’, something that was for many years a part of the life of Box Hill Baptist Church.  The idea is simple: you let us know if you would like us to pray for you and a group of praying people will take on responsibility of praying for you.  If you would like to be part of that group, please contact Barbara Davison through her contact details in the church directory or through email at prayer@boxhillbaptist.org.au  The group is committed to those previously named values of confidentiality and privacy, timeliness and covenant, sensitivity and respect.

The second is an initiative in contemplative prayer or meditation. Prayer has many aspects and ‘modes’. Intercession focusses on addressing human need and experience through lament and request. Contemplative prayer engages with deep listening and openness to the mysteries of life and love encountered in the depths of the divine. We as a community have  people experienced in, and committed to, contemplative prayer. Mary Edgar is keen to facilitate a group sharing in this mode of prayer. If you would like to explore this further, please contact Mary through her contact details in the church directory or through email at meditation@boxhillbaptist.org.au 

Throughout the history of the church times of struggle and disaster have often been times of spiritual renewal and the resurgence of prayer. The worldwide experience of quarantine has seen various unexpected but very creative responses to the limitations imposed. Who could have foreseen the theatrical spectacle of ‘bin night’, where neighbours have dressed up to make wheeling the rubbish bins out to the kerb a costumed and dramatic event? Home baking has seen a resurgence in households with little capacity to go outdoors for other leisure opportunities. Perhaps the disciplined and focussing experience of prayer might become an important new element of the changed way of life that is emerging in 2020!

Romans 8, a passage on which we have reflected over three recent Sundays, speaks of the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness and interceding for us with sighs and groans too deep for words (Romans 8.26). Let is continue to be aware of the presence of God with us in challenging circumstances and rejoice in the various blessings that sustain us in dark days, not least the health and care services that continue to support us, and a society that adapts to and continues to provide basic necessities. As the people of God, we too are adapting and changing, and I invite you to consider how you can be involved in loving and supporting others in this time of great need.

Jim Barr

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