Prayers from Our Hearts
As many of us have learned over the past year and a half, even the best laid plans, when disrupted and uprooted, can result in unpredictable new opportunities. The pandemic exemplified just that for youth education at St. John’s Church in Rockland County’s New City. When members of St. John’s Sunday School community planned on finishing fifth grade or their junior year of college, instead we were getting into the swing of remembering to unmute to say “Amen” and clicking the raise hand button to add an additional prayer to our worship.
We were all feeling a little bit alone as the summer rolled around last year, as the days got longer but we still couldn’t play with our friends, spend late nights at baseball games, and all those other favorite activities that inevitably become hazy summer memories. Margaret Gillespie, one of the Sunday School teachers who had been adjusting to teaching on Google Meet, suggested that we might like to add a midweek evening service to cut up the long week before our after-church Sunday meetings. An amazing idea!
After a little group discussion, we decided that the service could be an awesome opportunity for all of our families to come together with one another after work, socially distanced playdates, Zoom music lessons, etc.: and so “Family Compline” was born. We began following the evening prayers found in Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J.S. Seamans and have been using that service ever since. Though Margaret organized the first handful of services—sending out all the sign-up sheets and service reminders—that role didn’t last long before Brayden (age 12) took charge of the operation.
Brayden, who is already more tech savvy than most adults in our parish, not only took on the responsibility of reminding us all about the upcoming compline services and inviting new guests to join, but also tested several different formats for our sign-up chart to determine the perfect way to let everyone choose what parts of the service we would lead that week. Brayden says that he likes having that level of responsibility as he grows into a young adult, and it felt good to help the church in a new way since we couldn’t be there physically.
It’s a good thing that Brayden was able to optimize the sign-up sheet quickly, because all of the young people are ready to jump on the page as soon as Brayden sends it out. Since Family Compline is a more intimate service, we each get to lead a different part every week, and there’s less pressure to get every word right on the first try. One of our favorite parts to lead is the “reflecting on the day,” in which one person asks the congregation a question such as “Where did you see Jesus’ light in your life today?” and we get to hear everyone’s answers. Jonathan (age 7) often likes reciting the song, and Brayden, who started as an intercessor in church this year, has a particular fondness for the scripture portion of the service. But, as Jonathan says, what we love most of all is learning new prayers and getting to pray for whatever is going on in our own lives and in our communities in a given week.
Some of our other favorite things about Family Compline are getting to pray with our families and invite new people to worship with us (Jonathan), praying and thinking about God more often (Keilana, age 10), and getting to hear others’ prayers and reflections on their days (Luke, age 8). The service’s accessibility and flexibility has also been convenient and often necessary as our schedules change. The short, online format has allowed us to tune in on family vacation, fit in between dinner and bedtime, sign in from the Little League field, and attend from a college dorm room five hours away (the author, age 22). Even on days full of hours of virtual school, we still look forward to hopping onto the computer once more for moments of peace and fellowship before bed.
Participating in Family Compline, a service by kids for everyone, week after week for over a year now, has been one of the greatest unexpected blessings that 2020 has borne. For some of us, it was another moment to see our church friends, even if through a screen. For others, it was a chance to recite prayers from our heart for community health (Jonathan) or for new growth in our garden (Keilana). Many of us have participated in worship in ways that we never had before: trying our hand at the difficult, multisyllabic words in some verses or leading the congregation in a new form of the Lord’s Prayer.
For Sophia and Margaret, we’ve been able to see a group of wonderful young people grow their prayer practices in depth, time, and compassion. Talking to God through a young person’s eyes can mean sometimes praying for the safe removal of a loose tooth and sometimes praying for peace during international conflict. More often than not, it means remembering that God’s hand is at play in even the most mundane moments like walking the dog or waiting for the bus, that worshipping with our friends through a screen can be just as important as worshipping next to our mom and dad, and that trying something new, even in times of struggle and uncertainty, can bring us closer to one another and closer to God, week by week, day by day.