KOH2RVA: Day 177

prayer_hands_goldAt the close of every staff meeting at Richmond’s First Baptist Church we stand, join hands, and pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Richmond, as it is in heaven…” It’s a way of reminding ourselves of our mission, and for nearly five years it has served that purpose well.

But last night I attended worship at Richmond Hill, where people have been praying for this city and the surrounding region since 1866. Here are some excerpts from last night’s prayer—astonishing for its depth and breadth—led by a woman named Deborah who said:

Please join me in prayer for Metropolitan Richmond. When I say, “Hear us, O God,” please respond by saying, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

O LORD, we pray for Metropolitan Richmond, for the welfare of all of our fellow citizens, for the establishment of your order in our community, and for peace. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For the city of Richmond; for the counties of Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield; Charles City, Powhatan, Goochland, and New Kent; for the cities and towns of Ashland, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, and Petersburg; for Dwight Jones, the Mayor of Richmond, and all the members of the City Council; for all the Boards of Supervisors and Town and City Councils of metropolitan Richmond; for all the City, County, and Town managers of our metropolitan city. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For our schools; for all teachers, students, and staff; for all young people in our metropolitan city; for all day care centers; for our universities, community colleges, and technical schools. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For an end to racism and racial prejudice in metropolitan Richmond; for the dismantling of inequalities and healing of distress established by our racial history. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all of our businesses and business people; for all who are employed and all who are unemployed; for our economy, for healthy work and distribution of wealth among all our people. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For our hospitals and nursing homes, and all who work in them; for our jails and prisons, all inmates and staff; for our probation officers; for all shelters, feeding programs, and social service institutions in metropolitan Richmond. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all our churches, seminaries, and religious institutions; for all our clergy and church leaders; for all religious communities; for the Sisters of the Visitation of Monte Maria.* Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who work in public service; for all those who work for local and state government here; for Bob McDonnell the Governor of Virginia, for Bill Bolling the Lieutenant Governor, for Ken Cuccinelli the Attorney General, and for all members of the General Assembly. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who are sick, for victims of abuse, for victims of violence, for the dying, the grieving, for those who are in poverty, for those who are alone, and for those who are in need of friendship. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Please ask your prayers silently or out loud for those persons who are on your heart, and for whom your prayers are asked. (After a period of silence) Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Grant, O Lord, that your Kingdom may come here in this city of metropolitan Richmond, as it is in heaven. Help us to be a part of its coming; help us to minister to others in the Spirit and to accept your ministry for ourselves. We pray in Jesus’ Name. Hear us, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer.

When it was over I felt as if we had showered metropolitan Richmond with the love of God. I could almost see every wilting leaf in the city lifting itself toward that gentle rain. If the work of prayer is real work (and it is), may this be the kind of work that will help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to metropolitan Richmond.

Lord, hear our prayer!

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*the nuns who started praying for Richmond in 1866

KOH2RVA: Day 10

I went to a worship service at Richmond Hill last night, where they always have worship at 5:30 on Monday evenings and where the worship is always a mix of Episcopal liturgy and Gospel music that makes you want to clap your hands, throw your head back, and sing.

I went as part of KOH2RVA: First Baptist’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

I went because the good people of Richmond Hill have been praying for Metropolitan Richmond for as long as anyone can remember, a tradition that started just after the Civil War when some Catholic nuns came to pray over the smoking remains of our city. While Richmond Hill is no longer a convent, it is a place of spiritual retreat where a resident community continues the work begun by those dear sisters in 1865.

I like to go up there from time to time to study, pray, read, and reflect, to look out over the city and ask God to bless it, and to worship with the gathered saints on Monday evenings.

Last night during prayer the liturgist asked us to pray for the City of Richmond, and for the counties of Henrico, Hanover, Chesterfield, Charles City, New Kent, Powhatan, and Goochland. We did, and as we did we joined that great cloud of witnesses who have been saying prayers in that place–for this place–for more than a century now. It felt right to find myself in that number last night, and to remember that although we can do our part in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, in the end it is only God who can make it so. That’s why, in addition to doing the Lord’s work, we pray the Lord’s prayer:

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

“I Love the City”

FE_PR_richmond-vaI was invited to a retreat at Richmond Hill recently where area pastors were going to be talking about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.  Well, how could I resist?  That’s what I’ve been talking about since I got to Richmond!

So we gathered for worship in that beautiful old chapel, and then had a delicious meal in the refectory, and then moved on into a meeting room that looks out over the city, a place where people have been praying for Richmond since 1866 and still do.  Pastoral Director Ben Campbell got us started with prayer and then invited each of us to share our vision for ministry.

There were about twelve of us around the table, from Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Christian, and Pentecostal churches.  We took our time, talking about the work we do and the neighborhoods in which we do it.  But as we talked it became clear that our primary concern was for the churches we have been called to serve, about how to make them bigger, stronger, happier, healthier.  When we finally got back around to Ben he said, simply, “I love the city more than I love the churches.”

I suppose I should have expected that.  Ben is not the pastor of a local church; he’s the director of a spiritual community that has as its mission praying for the city of Richmond.  But something about the way he said it made me realize that we pastors have a tendency to focus on what is happening within the walls of the church rather than what is happening in the neighborhood, the city, the nation, or the world.  We could easily end up with glittering edifices perched on top of garbage dumps. 

But not Ben.

I pictured Ben driving around Richmond jotting down notes about the people and things his community needs to pray for:  sanitation workers, educational institutions, police officers, and prisoners.  He has lifted his sights above the concerns of a single church to take in the concerns of the whole city.

But here’s the thing: God’s sights are even higher.  Not only does he love and care for Richmond, he loves and cares for the world.  That’s his mission, and he’s looking for churches that will help him do that.  So, at Richmond’s First Baptist Church we’ve been asking not, “Does the church have a mission?” but “Does the mission have a church?”  In other words, does God’s mission have a church?  Will First Baptist, Richmond, help him love the world? 

Well, we want to, of course.  We want to do whatever God asks.  But it will require lifting our sights a little higher.  Instead of seeing only the beautiful buildings and grounds of First Baptist Church we will have to start seeing the whole city, even the parts that aren’t so beautiful.  And then we’ll have to lift our sights even higher, to see the world God loves and to think about how we might share his love with that world.  That’s not easy for us, or for anyone.  It goes against the grain of our human nature.  But it does seem to be essential to the divine nature, and part of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples. 

In him the love of God dropped into the world like a stone into a pond, and began to ripple outward.  As we follow his example may that same love ripple outward from the church to the neighborhood to the city to the state to the nation and, finally, fully,

to the world God loves.