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Prayers for peace are blowing in the wind

Presbyterians participate in Lenten devotional activity

by Donna Frischknecht Jackson, Presbyterians Today | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Buds appearing on the tree mingle with the prayer ribbons that Northbrook Presbyterian’s congregation in Beverly Hills, Michigan, are placing during this season of Lent. (Contributed photo)

A biting March wind blows, but that doesn’t stop a member of Northbrook Presbyterian Church in Beverly Hills, Michigan, from taking off her gloves and quickly tying her prayer ribbon to a tree on the church property. Her prayer is for peace, for wholeness, for healing of not just the local community, but for the world. She ties the ribbon securely to the limb and steps back, the patches of lingering snow crunching beneath her feet, and smiles. Hers is not the only ribbon fluttering in the wind, but one of many placed by church members who are also spending this Lenten season journeying toward shalom.

Like other congregations throughout the country, Northbrook is using Presbyterians Today’s Lenten devotional, “The Way to Shalom,” as a guide to help them delve more deeply into the meaning of shalom, the Hebrew word for “peace.”

Written by the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and his colleagues — Catherine Gordon, associate for international issues; Christian Brooks, representative for domestic poverty issues; Sue Rheem, representative to the United Nations; and Ivy Lopedito, a mission specialist for the United Nations — the devotional explores how in the Bible shalom can also mean tranquility, security, well-being, health, welfare, completeness and safety. Shalom can also be a “hopeful blessing that you are filled with God’s perfect peace and well-being,” Hawkins said.

“It is a prayer that you will have health, prosperity and peace of mind and spirit. Shalom denotes fullness and perfection, an overflowing joy that moves from your innermost being and is expressed in the way you live your life and engage with others,” Hawkins said, adding, “How can we receive this gift of shalom and, in turn, bestow it upon the world?”

One way of receiving and bestowing this gift is to understand shalom’s multifaceted definition. Another way is to commit to praying for that peace to be seen and felt in the world. Enter the prayer ribbon being tied onto Northbrook’s tree on a weekday in Lent. As part of the devotional, congregations are invited to create a prayer tree (or railing, wherever there is a place to tie the prayers to) as a visual call to prayer out into their community. And for communities like Northbrook, where signs of spring in the way of flowers peeking through the hard ground always seem slow in arriving, having strips of colorful ribbon is a sure way to dot the scenery with much-needed life.

Northbrook’s prayer tree, though, is not being adorned by members only. Those in the larger community have also taken notice and are adding their own prayer ribbons to the tree. For the church’s newly installed minister, the Rev. Ben Larson Wobrink, the prayer tree has been a blessing to him as well.

First Presbyterian Church in Oregon, Wisconsin, got resourceful with its Lenten prayer “tree.” Rev. Kathleen Owens says the congregation is enjoying the Lenten activity, especially as it provides an opportunity to see one another in a time of virtual-only worship. (Contributed photo)

“As a pastor making the transition to a new call, during a pandemic no less, the prayer tree has become a focal point for our congregation to gather — safely — in prayer. It’s been especially powerful to see the community respond,” he said.

In Oregon, Wisconsin, the Rev. Kathleen Owens of First Presbyterian Church has also seen a wonderful response to the Lenten activity of creating a prayer “tree.” Without a main tree on the property to tie ribbons on to, the pastor improvised with a metal rod holding a circle of mesh on which to attach prayers. Tree or mesh, it just doesn’t matter. “Our congregation is enjoying the opportunity to stop by the church building as we continue to gather virtually, and neighbors who are not part of our church are also adding their own fabric and prayers,” she said.

Celia Gray, a member of Paw Creek Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, has created her own prayer tree this Lent for her neighbors to enjoy. (Contributed photo)

Peace prayer trees are not showing up only on church properties. Other Presbyterians are creating their own prayer trees on their front lawns such as Celia Gray, a member of Paw Creek Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. While acknowledging she isn’t a “crafty” person, Gray has been enjoying the Lenten practice of adding prayers for those in her neighborhood to read. She laughs, though, that as more ribbons are added, the trunk of her tree is now beginning to look like it’s donning a skirt.

Robyn Myers, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Anacortes, Washington, was inspired by “The Way to Shalom” Lenten devotional to revisit the spiritual practice of painting inspirational messages on rocks and hiding them throughout her community for others to find. (Contributed photo)

Robyn Myers, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Anacortes, Washington, is not turning to prayer ribbons to spread the message of shalom to her neighbors. Rather, Myers was inspired by the Lenten devotional to revisit a prayer activity she holds dear to her heart — rock painting.  At the start of the Lenten season, Myers went to the beach and began collecting rocks. She has been painting them with inspirational words and hiding them around her community for others to find.

“I just decided to ‘take it on’ for Lent and thought it was a way to express the shalom message from the Lenten devotional,” she said.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today.

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