Praying by Name for School Teachers and Staff

On Sunday my congregation prayed for the teachers and staff of our community’s schools. We prayed for them by name – over 100 of them.

I asked each student in my church to make a list of their teachers and their school staff – office staff, cafeteria staff, maintenance staff, etc.. To help them with this task, we had an online form on our website that families could use to submit names. We also had a My School Prayer Worksheet kids could download, complete, and bring to church. We also had blank forms at church that many kids filled out that morning.

The prayer took place during the Children’s Message, and also included a Blessing of the Backpacks (a “back to school” theme for the Children’s Message). I spoke briefly with the kids about the good and holy things they are doing at school, and the people whose holy work it is to care for them and help them learn.

After thanking God for all who care for our children and help them grow and learn, I read all the names that were given to me. It was a bit ridiculous, and it took some time to read the 100+ names (which I tried to do with speed yet also with dignity), but it was so worth it. Praying by name for our teachers and school staff was a powerful experience, and a very vivid reminder of all the people in our community who are committed to the care and education of our children. One member of the church commented that it was great not only to pray for her kids’ current teachers, but to pray for teachers her children had in previous years whose names were submitted by younger children in the congregation.

At the end of the prayer the congregation cheered and let out an enthusiastic applause. It may have been a cheer of relief at the end of such a long prayer … but I’m much more inclined to think that the congregation was truly joy-filled by naming in prayer so many teachers and caregivers whose vocation it is to nurture our children in learning and growth. Such people truly merit not only our prayers but also our cheers. I’m glad we did both.

11870924_10206321051079286_7337353756989982197_nAfter the Children’s Message and prayer, I spread the prayer sheets over the altar. Those names were there as I preached (yes, I preach from the altar), led the Prayers of Intercession, and as I presided at Holy Communion. It was particularly powerful for me – and I shared this observation with the congregation – to prepare to serve the food and drink of the Lord’s Supper as the names of cafeteria workers graced the altar. Holy Food. Holy People. Holy Callings.

It was a good Sunday, and an experience I’ll certainly do again in the future.

Do it now. Go say Thank You.

Larry House died last week. He was my first boss, hiring me for my first wear-a-shirt-and-tie-everyday job at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in the development office. I will be forever grateful that he took a chance on me, a young, not-ordained, 20-something fresh out of seminary with lots to learn.

Larry was a real mentor to me. He taught me three things that I didn’t necessarily appreciate at the time, but which have proved essential in my ministry several years later:

  1. Larry taught me how to be a professional.
  2. Larry showed me how to give, and he expected me to do so.
  3. Larry modeled a great love for the church and its people.

A few years later, after I left the seminary and was working elsewhere, I called him on the anniversary of my hire date and thanked him for giving me my first job. He was touched and surprised by the call. Yet,  I’m not sure that even then I truly appreciated how much he shaped me. As a pastor, I am grateful for the lessons Larry taught me, and I am continually trying to learn those lessons and practice them in my daily work. And I wish I had fully expressed this to him before his unexpected death early last week.

Who is that person in your life who gave you a chance when perhaps you didn’t deserve it? Who taught you life lessons and professional skills that have proved helpful over the years? Who shaped you into the person you are today?

Figure out who that person is, or who those persons are, and track them down. Give them a call or, better yet, write a letter. Write a letter describing what they did for you and how appreciative you are. In fact, write the letter, copy it, and send two copies – one for that mentor, and one for their spouse or safety deposit box or otherwise for safe keeping. Not to be morbid, but if this person is that important to you, you want these words to be available to their family upon her or his death. And, you want to write and send this letter now, if for whatever reason your death predates hers or his, so that she or he and their family has the chance to know what they mean to you.

I have three letters to write – for starters, anyway. The first letter is to Larry’s family. Though I’ve shared some of these thoughts in person, I want them to have it in writing. I only wish I had done this earlier.

I’ll also be writing letters to two men with whom I have little regular contact these days but who were deeply influential in forming me into the man and pastor that I am today. Indeed, not a week goes by in my life and ministry when I do not think of them. They need to know that. And I need to tell them that.

I have three letters to write. How many will you write?