Experimenting with Prayer Ministry at St. David’s, West Seneca

Bishop Sean is often heard to say that Episcopalians need to experiment for the sake of the gospel. Last month, St. David’s in West Seneca did just that when its rector, the Rev. Claudia Scheda, and several parishioners experimented with a new kind of prayer ministry.

The idea originated when a member of the congregation returned from a visit with family and reported that their Episcopal church was attracting new members by setting up booths at local fairs and events. Not long afterward, Scheda learned that the Taste of West Seneca and PBA Car Show, which takes place on Labor Day weekend each year, permits members of the local chamber of commerce to set up booths.

Laura Adams-Hirtreiter, left, greets booth visitors while Ellen Carl offers prayer ribbons and wristbands.

“The membership fee was discounted for non-profits, and it turned out that we could open a booth for about $25,” said Scheda. “We said, ‘Let’s invest in this and see what happens.’”

To get ready, Scheda and the lay leaders who participated, including Laura Adams-Hirtreiter, Ellen Carl, and Jake Woodward, had some prayer request cards made and produced a brochure with some information about the parish and its upcoming events. They ordered some rubber wristbands that say “God Loves You, No Exceptions,” and made prayer ribbons out of strips of colored paper. Someone loaned a tent and someone else delivered a table and chairs.

“We invited people to get a blessing and write the name of their loved ones on a ribbon of colored paper so we could bless them,” said Scheda. Children, especially several whose grandparents had recently died, “really wanted to write their grandparent’s name on a prayer ribbon,” she said. More than 60 people filled out prayer ribbons, which were hung across the front of the booth.

Scheda also took holy oils to the booth and offered healing prayer and anointing to anyone who asked.

“We had really profound experiences,” she said. “A woman who works at a children’s psychiatric center wanted a blessing for her and her patients. We were also meeting up with a lot of people who have been injured by the Roman Catholic Church. There were some real pastoral needs for people approaching the booth looking for a new church home. They were grieving for their own church families.”

Several people who came to the booth have visited St. David’s for Sunday worship, but Scheda says she doesn’t want to make increasing church membership the sole goal of community ministry. “I like to remind people that if we’re going out into the world for the purpose of recruiting bodies and pledge units, that’s not our mission,” she said. “It was great outreach that allowed us to share prayer ministry with the needy as well as meet folks who are seeking a new church home.

“We are all certain that we’re definitely doing this next year.”