I grew up in a Congregationalist church, and the prayers of the congregation were usually pretty general. Whatever list the minister had of who was sick or needed work or was lonely, no one would be mentioned by name. Once you had died we would mention – once – to pray for your family. Otherwise, it was never Edna, who feels desperately onely now that her husband has died and her children have moved away, but only “Those who.” Those who are out of work, those who care for relatives, those who seek justice.
It was a little different when we went to prayer meetings in the 70’s, when suddenly you were hearing more than enough detail, thank you very much, and more than enough personal information. But even those settled down into the strictly medical, plus occasionally, prayers for the salvation of someone-or-other, or thankfulness that a job or a car or a needed item had been found. It became a family story forever when we visited a Baptist church on Testimony Sunday and I sat steaming as we passed the 2.5 hour mark and one woman was heading to the microphone for the third time. But my eight-year old loved it. This was far more intersting than most church stories! Drunken fathers, beatings, cheating husbands. Whoa, way better than listening to Psalty, http://psalty.com/ eh?
Our small congregation in Concord dared a bit more in openness, over time. But it comes naturally for neither Swedes nor New Englanders, so for evangelicals even we were on the high-privacy end of the scale. In my current congregation we are back to medical-with-narrow-exceptions. We don’t really want much more broadcast.
So it hit me like a wall when we had worship at the state hospital today and when prayer requests were sought a woman blurted “I just want reconciliation with my son,” and another said “I just wish I could go home.” I know the stories behind both. In both cases their mental illness is a factor, but less than half of why their lives are ripped apart. The selfishness and stupidity of others is the greater portion – and not very obviously fixable. Still, they prayed and sang and lit the Hope Candle.
Tears well up whenever I worship with deeply broken people. I can barely endure even remembering it or thinking about it. I think you should remember to try it.