Spiritual Renewal Covenant Blog

In his episcopal address at the 2013 session of Annual Conference, Bishop Young Jin Cho set a goal for at least 10% of Virginia Conference clergy to engage in spiritual disciplines for one hour each day and for 10% of Virginia Conference churches to become "Prayer Covenant Congregations."

Clergy and laity are invited to spend one hour each day in spiritual disciplines (fasting, prayer, spiritual reading, a service of common prayer, etc.).

Congregations are invited to become "Prayer Covenant Congregations" by:
1. Having at least one group that prays each week for the renewal and revival of the congregation, the conference and The United Methodist Church.
2. Offering at least one class on prayer annually.
3. Participating in conference or district prayer training events.
4. Moving toward at least 10% of the laity practicing one-hour daily spiritual disciplines.
5. Indicating commitment to this covenant through approval by the Church Council.
District Superintendents will be sharing the covenant with congregations this fall during local church charge conferences. Click here for a copy of the covenant.

Are you or your church participating in this spiritual renewal? What have you experienced? What would you like to share? Add your story to this blog.

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Prayer Multiplied Vacation Bible School attendance!
4/12/2016

    At St. Matthias United Methodist Church in Fredericksburg, we had been accustomed to having approximately 40 to 45 children participate in Vacation Bible School each year.  About two years ago, after becoming a Prayer Covenant Church, we very intentionally began to pray that we could reach even more children for VBS.  Our VBS leaders created a prayer calendar for the entire month before VBS started, with very specific prayers for each day, and these were given to all of our congregants and all those helping with VBS.  We began to have Saturday morning prayer walks in the neighborhood for several weeks before VBS was to start; we walked in the neighborhood, praying at several locations, handing out flyers about VBS, and making some connections with the folks who live around the church.  The results were amazing!  Nearly 80 kids signed up for VBS that year, and then we had to pray around the church that we would have enough space for all of the children!  Prayer works!  Our VBS attendance has been over 70 children for the past two years, and we anticipate the same results this year.

Mary Ella Fuquay, St. Matthias UMC, Fredericksburg 22405

Praying for A Music Program
3/22/2015

Saxis is a small community on an isolated island of the Eastern Shore.  Although it is accessible by a causeway, it is well off the beaten track. It was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy a few years ago, and the United Methodist Church on the island suffered a major fire about a decade ago from which it has rebuilt.

In the front of the sanctuary for the last few weeks, the congregation has created a worship center with a variety of musical instruments. The display is a reminder of their commitment to pray for the church's music program. Sunday music is provided by CDs, and the church is praying that God will send them musicians.

Today I was in worship there and a young woman who had only been attending a few weeks had volunteered to sing an anthem. She made her way to the front and was given a microphone. There was a long minute before she began and I wondered if she would be able to sing at all. But she introduced the song and, without accompaniment, sang a song of longing for love and the acceptance of God's love. She had a beautiful voice and she was warmly received by the congregation.

After the song, the pastor, William Jefferson, went to the display and rang a child's bell and twirled a rackety clacker. "We've been praying and God has answered."

There are answered prayers in every place. But today I am grateful for the openness of a congregation at the edge of the world in a struggling bayside town that gave space for God to work. And I'm blessed by a young woman who offered a prayer in the form of a song with beauty and grace.

Alex Joyner
District Superintendent, Eastern Shore

Praying for Our Nation
1/19/2015

For the last two years, the Adult Sunday School class at Salem United Methodist Church, Gloucester, joined the Bishop's Prayer Covenant and claimed the verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” They committed to pray at Noon every day. From this time of prayer, a small group emerged and shared with the Pastor that they felt God leading them to declare the month of January 2015 as a month of prayer for our nation, community, all churches, our nation’s leaders, community leaders, our church, our church leaders, and our families.

On December 31, 2014, New Year’s Eve, we held a preparation for the month of prayer, an Owlah Service, letting go of anything that may stand in the way of answered prayers. We had 110 people attend this Owlah Service. The 1st Sunday of January, we distributed a commitment card for the congregations of Salem-Olive Branch Churches to commit to:

1. Praying for our nation for 40 days using a 40 day prayer journal “If My People…”.

2. Come to church every Tuesday night for prayer.

3. And pray every night at 9 pm and invite a friend to pray with you.

We had 60 people in our 2-point charge respond. The 1st Tuesday night, January 6, Salem UMC was open for personal prayer with prayerful music from 7-8 pm and had 7 people attend. The 2nd week we had 20 people attend. The pastor began a 4-week sermon series in January, preaching on the need for revival which must begin with prayer. Each Sunday, one or more of the youth are reading prayers from the Presidents of the United States during the worship service.

Many people have asked that we continue the personal prayer time after the 4 weeks, so we plan to continue to open the church for personal prayer on a regular basis. We will open the church every other Tuesday night, and Wednesday mornings for the elderly that are unable to drive at night. At the end of the 40 days, we will have a celebration service of prayer, testimony and thanksgiving worship time with fellowship afterwards. This is an amazing time to see God working and moving in the lives of everyone who committed to pray.

When God grows churches!
9/14/2014

I am the pastor of The Gathering UMC in Virginia Beach, a new church plant in the conference.  We celebrated our 4th birthday last Sunday and had a lot to celebrate!  Last fall we discerned that God was calling us to move from worshipping in a Performing Arts Center, where we had been for 3 years, into a new warehouse facility a few miles down the road.  There were people at the church who were concerned about our move to a new space with a new worship time and even our church plant coach and other stakeholders at the district and conference level were preparing us for a projected loss of 20% of our congregation after the move.  With these concerns in mind, I asked my leadership team to pray every day for a month about whether or not we should move to a new space and when we took the final vote, it was a unanimous decision to follow the Holy Spirit's nudge to a new location.  

On the day that I left for Korea on the Spiritual Pilgrimage, the church met to begin demolition on the new church space.  In Korea I learned a lot about the power of prayer, especially corporate Spirit-led prayer.  When I returned I met with our leadership team and we set up an Advent Prayer Challenge at The Gathering.  Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would offer free dinner from 6-6:30 and a prayer service from 6:30 to 7pm so that, as a church, we could make our faith and prayer life the center of this season of preparation.  Every Monday we practiced the Korean prayer style of Tongsung Kido, on Wednesdays we had an emergent-style service with prayer stations and on Fridays we would do a prayer walk around the community we would become a part of at our new location.  We had 30-40 people attend each of these meetings and we felt the Holy Spirit was truly a part of our transition to our new home.  

The first full worship service in our new space was on Christmas Eve and both services were packed!  We prepared for our attendance to drop by 20% in January so we decided to only hold one worship service instead of the two services we had in the old space.  Much to our surprise, instead of our attendance declining by 20%, it INCREASED by 20% with our worship average going from 150 to 175 or 200 each Sunday, with 50-60 of those being children under 11 years old!  We had to move to 2 worship services in February because everyone couldn't fit in one service anymore!  God is so good and truly showed us that if we follow the guiding of the Holy Spirit, focus on God's power through prayer and make our faith a priority that amazing things can happen!  We now have a Lenten and Advent prayer challenge EVERY year and are looking for more ways to make corporate prayer a rhythmn of our church community!

Why Covenant
5/23/2014

I will confess that I was at first reluctant to fill out a personal covenant form. It seemed just another piece of paperwork, or a pursuit of another "checkmark" for our church. Moreover, there was something that seemed a bit out of synch in making a covenant publicly when I review the words of Matthew 6:5-6 (pray in secret).

But my heart has been changed. Covenantal participation is a means of promoting desirable practices, and serves to encourage one another. If prayer is not a desirable practice, then how can we call ourselves a church. Encouraging one another is absolutely consistent with scripture (Hebrews 10:24-25). In short, why we covenant matters just as much as that we covenant. It's not about exalting self (Luke 18), but about humbling ourselves and placing all matters great and small under the Lordship of Christ.

Whether I can find my form or not, I am agreeing to enter into covenant to spend at least an hour a day in Spiritual Discipline (since it includes spiritual reading, it isn't that difficult for me - I'm a slow, careful reader).

There's also a church covenant. We're already doing most of the items, and I have already spoken to our pastor about organizing a prayer class in the fall. The 3-point model of faith seen many places in scripture involves:

  • inquiring of the Lord
  • listening to the voice of the Lord
  • responding in faithful obedience

It is that second point that is most important and yet so often elusive, so we will have a day of discovery (at least one) with a particular focus on that topic.

Blessings all in your faith journeys as we love and serve our Lord.

Al Tuten, CLM
New Hope UMC (Harrisonburg District)

WHEN WE ARE ON OUR KNEES
5/15/2014

http://skarenworkman.wordpress.com

I would not imagine beginning my day without covering it in prayer. I spend an hour or more each morning listening and journaling my early morning thoughts. There was a time that I thought if it were going to be a busy day, maybe God wouldn't mind if I skipped that particular morning. I have come to understand it is not what God needs, it is what God wants for our needs. I came across a quote recently, by Martin Luther, "I am so busy today, that I must spend more time in prayer." Yes!

I am thankful to our Bishop Cho for covering our Virginia Annual Conference UMC in a blanket of prayer. And for teaching us to be a prayerful people. As he challenges us all, I find myself more deeply in love with my prayer time. And just as he leads this conference in his passion of prayer, I find myself leading my churches. And what then, if those in our churches begin leading their families? I am excited about the possibilities of who we can be as the church when prayer is the center of our day. "For, 'in Him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring.'" (Acts 17:28, NRSV) The possibilities when the church begins to live and move and have their being in prayer. Living life as a prayer. Well, I want to tell you about a step in that direction.

I am the pastor of three churches. One Sunday morning about a year ago, I stepped to the pulpit for the pastoral prayer. It had become stale. Something was missing. I sensed God leading me to pray a different way. In the first two churches that Sunday morning I knelt at the altar as I prayed. That was better. When the time came for the pastoral prayer at my third church, I am not sure exactly what moved me, but I stepped to the pulpit. Actually I do know it was the power of the Holy Spirit. But to say that is to not do the power that was moving that morning justice. I stepped to the pulpit and said to those folks that I love, "You have been hurting so much lately. There is so much sickness, there is death, there are struggles. I know this because you have shared them with me. There is no better place for us to be than on our knees together." I quietly stepped away from the pulpit and lowered my eyes to walk down and around to kneel at the altar. When I looked up the entire congregation was coming forward to kneel with me at the altar for prayer. I get tears in my eyes even today when I think about that Sunday morning. The power of God filled the sanctuary that morning. There was not even room for us all to kneel, but we were gathered close in one of the most sacred moments I have ever been a part of. We prayed together, others voicing the ones they lifted up in prayer. I am certain mine were not the only tears. And then we all prayed the Lord's Prayer together. Never has that prayer had the power it did that morning. It wasn't my voice in a microphone leading the congregation. It was a praying people with many voices blending into one as it was lifted up to God.

Each Sunday that congregation comes to the altar as we kneel and pray together. They do not all come, but the altar is full most Sundays. Some come each week because that is where they find comfort in worship. Others come as their needs are more than they can bear. Others come to kneel for intercessory prayer. This church has grown in its prayer life. We continue to grow as we are led by the Holy Spirit, exploring other ways we can mature in our faith. I have seen the changes in this church as we take prayer more seriously. They have taken on the Bishop's challenge to be a praying church. Many are taking the challenge to pray an hour a day. And it seems that as we see the power of what can happen, an hour isn't enough. Hearts are changed. Relationships are changed. Love trumps differences. Hugs and a smiles trump arguments and grudges. I am thankful for our Bishop who leads this Virginia Annual Conference UMC. I am thankful that I was able to hear the Holy Spirit in my busyness of riding a circuit of three churches. And I am thankful for my church that knows the importance of being a praying church.

The pastoral prayer is different from week to week, but every week I know that others will come and we will be on our knees together. Blessed be our hearts as we listen and follow where God leads. I am reminded, and will close with a hymn we all are probably familiar with. "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" by John Fawcett.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship our spirit finds
Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one—
Our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes;
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and oneness reign
Through all eternity.

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/860#ixzz31mdrRupu

 

Weekly Prayer Team
4/29/2014

Since last July, a small team of prayer leaders has meet each week (usually on Monday morning) to lift up the congregation, community, prayer requests and praise reports in prayer.  Our communication cards have ample space to share prayer requests, as well as places where we have seen at God at work, and it is made very clear that these will not be shared in a public way, but will be lifted up in a small trusted circle to the Lord.

Our number of prayer requests continues to grow, both from long-time members, and new guests, and there are times that it takes over an hour to pray for each shared request!

Early on (since I was a newly appointed pastor), we used this time also to go sequentially through the church roster, since we have a large number of non-attending members.  This enabled me to become familiar with their stories, and we have prayed for them as well.

Robert Stutes
Mount Pleasant UMC Roanoke

Space for God - at 8am - with college students!
4/14/2014

The Wesley Foundation at UVA has offered a Lenten small group called "Space for God" this spring. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we have gathered at 8 am each Wednesday of Lent to share the struggles and blessings of our prayer practices and to learn about and practice centering prayer together. The first day we had a line (at 8 am!) of 10 college students waiting to enter the Wesley chapel and most weeks we have had 6-8 students praying together. Each week we have increased how much time we spend together in centering prayer. One student invited someone new to Wesley and that student has been part of the group each week, too.

Rev. Deborah Lewis, Campus Minister & Director
Wesley Foundation at UVA, Charlottesville

Prayer Transformed My Life
1/23/2014

I was an Agnostic until a few years ago.  In other words, I rarely thought about God, or trying to do His loving will, until a few years ago. My parents were Agnostics. We did not pray or go to church together. I never saw anyone in my immediate family read the Holy Bible. And, we rarely discussed God.

Then 4½ years ago, my world began to fall apart. I was fired from my job, and worried about finances, and my father had recently passed away. I was extremely stressed. I was at my wits end. I tried all of the things which successfully helped me cope with life’s problems in the past, but none of them were working this time. So, I thought I’d pray to God for His help.

I persistently prayed for about one hour each day, and soon God began lovingly transforming my life.

Many, wondrous things have happened to me, since I first began praying to God, a few years ago. God lovingly transforms us, and our lives, when we follow His Son. God’s Holy Spirit helps us come alive in ways that we have never been alive before.

And, of all the wonderful things that happened to me, the most important transformation in my life is that prayer, and following Jesus’ loving ways, have helped me live a more peaceful life. As the Apostle Paul advised the Philippians:

"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4: 6-7; NLT)

Here are some of the many ways that God has lovingly transformed my life, by making my life more peaceful:

1. I feel much, more content with my life,

2. I worry a lot less about things in my life,

3. I am a more compassionate person,

4. I feel much, more confident about myself,

5. My life is simpler,

6. I am more enlightened, and

7. I have more faith in God.

Barbara Blais
Certified Lay Servant
Bethany United Methodist Church (Gloucester Pointe, Virginia)

God Loves You More, than You Can Possibly Imagine :-)

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My Recent Trip to South Korea and Morning Prayer.
12/31/2013

My recent trip to South Korea was a spiritually fulfilling experience, and life changing for me. The example of the Korean Methodist pastors and laity is so inspiring that I have changed the way I approach ministry and personal devotional life. Every church I visited in Korea had started with a few people and eventually grown to many thousands. Over and over we asked the Korean pastors what the key was to the church’s growth, and every one of them said prayer, prayer and prayer. Each church I visited had an early Morning Prayer service which the pastors led. I was amazed that thousands of Korean laity would come to their church at 5 am to pray most every day. The Korean pastors also pointed out that the pastor must lead by doing. This is why they attend every Morning Prayer service, for how could they expect the people to pray if they were not praying themselves. So I looked at how much I was doing to lead the church into prayer. Not enough, especially after visiting the Korean churches and seeing what their pastors do. On the morning of October 28, 2013, I began Morning Prayer here at Crenshaw United Methodist Church, in Blackstone, from 6-7 am. It is modeled after the Korean Methodist Church Morning Prayer Service. We sing some old favorite hymns of the church, I preach about 15 minutes, and then we pray for 30 minutes tongsung kido, (page 445 in the Book of Worship). I hold this service most every day I am in town. It is my hope and prayer for Crenshaw Church, the Farmville District and the Virginia Conference that we all become people of prayer, just like my new friends in the Korean Methodist Church. Then our churches will grow just like theirs have.

Dr. Stan Thompson
Pastor, Crenshaw UMC
Blackstone, Virginia

 

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