Private Prayer and Public Worship – there is a difference!
In some traditions, the intercessory prayers are called 'the prayers of the people'.
This helps us to realise what is happening at this stage of the service.
Although one or more people will actually say the prayers, they are speaking on behalf of the whole church community.
Public praying is not saying one's private prayers publicly.
Nor is public worship simply a larger version of a housegroup.
A Sunday service will include newcomers and strangers as well as regular members of the congregation whom you hardly know.
You need to be able to draw their concerns and their occasions for thanksgiving into the prayers too.
Personal sincerity, concern and conviction of God's goodness are a good starting point but in themselves they are not a guarantee of intercessions that will speak for the whole assembly.
Taking the people with you
to be recommended:
- let thanksgiving come to the fore
- study the readings for the day
- be aware of what is going on in the world, in the community and the congregation; make use of the Diocesan Prayer Diary
- arrive early to be available for prayer requests and to look at the intercessions book in the porch
- do not be afraid of using silences
- if possible insert into your prayers phrases which pick up on the theme of the sermon, the readings or the hymns.
things to avoid:
- telling God what is happening in the world or what he should do about it
- preaching a sermon or expressing opinions about what is going on in the world. Will everyone be able to say Amen to what you have said?
- "shopping lists" (God understood as Santa Claus)
- going on too long or grandstanding. Remember you are there to express the prayers of the whole congregation, not ride your own hobby horse.
(Remember Matthew 6:7. Five minutes is ample time)
- muddled language: the prayer should be addressed to God (using "you" throughout). It is not a series of instructions for the congregation, nor an extension of the notices – if you need to tell people which Mrs Jones you are praying for, say so at the beginning, before you start the prayers.
- use a different response to the usual ones. NB If you do so, try to have the response shown on the beamer or give clear instructions at the beginning
- do not feel you have to use an “official” opening or closing formula. You could use words that pick up a phrase from the readings.
- have more than one person share in leading
- use a sung response (examples below)
- ring the changes with the order of concerns.
- use candles, pictures etc
- pray for the frontline (where people are the rest of the week). The intercessions should challenge sometimes!
Where to stand?
Remember, you are talking to God, not to or at the people.
Saying the prayers from the body of the people is to be recommended.
Most people will need a microphone for this.
Do not be afraid to do this!
But be sensitive – God knows why someone needs prayer or wants to give thanks.
Remember, the person leading the intercessions is doing so on behalf of the people.
Names called out are appropriate in a prayer group but less so in public worship.
What/who to pray for
You do not need to use all of these each time but the usual areas are:
- the Church – NB we are part of a larger family
- the world and those in authority – NB don't forget troublespots that have faded from the news headlines.
(It is also suggested that on the Sunday nearest to a country's National Day, we pray for that country - there is a list of National Days available.)
- the local community, neighbours and family
- those in need – NB don't forget the long-term sick
- the departed, either people who have died recently or those whose anniversaries occur
- the saints we commemorate this week
Do not be afraid of structure.
It does not hamper the working of the Holy Spirit, but enables the flow of the Spirit, just as water flows better through a carefully dug channel than through a rough ditch.
- Preparation, preparation, preparation – not just what you are going to say but how you will pray it.
This is especially true if you want to do something creative like using slides or a sung response.
- Watch your language: avoid churchy jargon that the in-crowd understands but others may not.
- Spontaneous or informal prayers are all very well in a small group but for public worship articulate and well thought-out phrases are more likely to take the congregation along with you.
Few people can do this without a prepared script.
Examples of sung responses (NB most of these are best sung unaccompanied)
- Kum ba yah - sung quietly, with intercessions between the verses
- "If you believe and I believe and all God's people pray" - after sections of the intercessions.
- Taizé chants
- O Lord, hear my prayer
- Bless the Lord, my soul
- Confitemini Domino
- Wait for the Lord
- Ostende nobis etc, etc
Some Taizé chants can be repeated quietly by the congregation or a group, or they can hum a note between the verses, while the intercessions are spoken over the top.
This can be very effective.
- Kyrie eleison (Ukrainian setting and others)
- Iona songs
- Don't be afraid
- Wonder and stare
- Send out your light etc, etc.
These two websites are full of helpful advice and theological insights about intercession.
Help for Christians
Notes from the Diocese of Lichfield (with further links)
Additional resources are:
Suggestions for intercessions
Church of England resource of topical prayers
More thoughts on intercessions
The "regular" outline for our intercessions is that on page 281 of Common Worship
This page was last modified on 3 July 2016