Guidelines for Writing Prayers of the People
Keep them short. A good rule of thumb is a maximum of 500 words (not including the concluding collect).
Prayer is offered with intercession for:
- The Universal Church, its members, and its mission
- The Nation and all in authority
- The welfare of the world
- The concerns of the local community
- Those who suffer and those in any trouble
- The departed (with commemoration of a saint when appropriate)
A consistent structure is extremely helpful. Each prayer should include a call and response that can be as creative as you like but should be brief and consistent throughout a particular set of prayers (e.g., “Lord, in your mercy,” / “Hear our prayer.” or “Holy God, holy and mighty, holy immortal one,” / “Have mercy on us.”) Consistency matters because it’s easier the people to follow, and also possible to print just the call and response in the bulletin instead of the full text of the prayers. It’s also possible to write prayers that involve more varied congregational participation (e.g., Forms 3 and 6, BCP pp. 387 and 392 respectively), but that means the full text has to be included in the bulletin.
A concluding collect for the celebrant to offer at the end. (See http://anglicanpastor.com/the-collects/.)
These are appropriate types of prayer:
- Blessing (human response to God’s gifts)
- Adoration (humble acknowledgement by human beings that they are creatures of the Creator)
- Petition (a request that God act in the world)
- Intercession (a request on behalf of one or more other people)
- Thanksgiving (offering our gratitude to God for all we have)
- Praise (worship and glory offered for the simple reason that God exists)
These are NOT appropriate types of prayer:
- Announcements to the people and/or violations of confidentiality under the guise of prayer (e.g., “We pray for Phyllis, who is going into the hospital today for her third surgery following the incident with her ex-husband, whose drinking seems to have tapered off lately.” or “We pray for the homeless, fewer than half of whom have access to basic health care.”)
- Lecturing God or explaining things to God (e.g., “Lord Jesus, when you multiplied the loaves and fishes, you provided more than food for the body, you offered the gift of yourself, the gift which satisfies every hunger and quenches every thirst.” or “We pray for those who are unable to secure food because hard-hearted legislators have demanded that California law prohibit obtaining a CalFresh card without establishing citizenship.”)
- Editorializing. Gospel good. Bully pulpit bad.
Pray for what you want, and not as a critique of those who hold different views (e.g., Good: “We pray that all may enjoy freedom from prejudice, hatred, poverty, and shame.”; Bad: “Take away fear and hatred from those who oppress others because they don’t share our enlightened politics.”)
- If you’re praying for a ministry, pray for what that ministry works for, and don’t use prayers to try to describe the ministry (e.g., Good: “Bless the ministry of the Society of Cheese Makers, that all may enjoy the goodness and mercy of fine cheese.”; Bad: “Bless the Society of Cheese Makers, which offers fine cheese through a network of offices serving 17 communities in 6 counties of Southern California; visit http://www.cheesemakersforjesus.org.”)
Don’t be cutesie (e.g., “O Lord, this whole big ole world of yours, the big blue ball: Weejus ask that ya give it all a big hug and bless the bunnies and even those goofy lookin’ critters outside our windows.”)
A lot of short prayers are better than a handful of wordy prayers, especially when they get preachy.
Address prayers to God (the one triune God, e.g., “God” or “Holy One”), or to one and only one person of the Trinity (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and normally Father). It’s then possible to refer to the others, but don’t switch around (e.g., Bad: “Almighty Father, we thank you for your sacrifice on the cross.”; Good: “… who with you, the Son, and the Holy Spirit live and reign forever and ever.”) Don’t address the congregation in a prayer that’s properly addressed to God (e.g., Bad: “We ask your prayers for …”; Good: “We pray for …”)