I drink coffee only on Thursdays. This is partly because I am a weirdly patterned person. It’s also because I feel insecure ordering my preferred tea at a coffee shop; it’s like ordering a salad at a steakhouse. But the main reason I drink coffee on Thursdays is because that’s the day I take a little sign that says “Free Prayer”and sit at a local coffee shop for a few hours.
I like to think I have great ideas, but good advice gets all the credit for my work as a first-call parish pastor. One mentor and professor, for example, shared this: “As pastors, the first thing we have to do is take care of our people.” With that in mind, I focused my first year of ministry on spending time at people’s homes, setting up several visits a week to meet their dogs, applaud their children’s artwork and pray with them around their dinner tables.
A second bit of advice came from a clergyman who offered this: “A pastor is doing the job well when at least half of his or her time is spent outside the office.” Pastors regularly go out on hospital visits or stop by the homes of newcomers, but the administrative demands of parish ministry otherwise keep many of us shackled to our swivel chairs. For me, come Thursday mornings, after too much time within my office walls, I become cantankerous. So for everyone’s sake, I heed that good advice and break out of my sacred confines, fleeing to a local coffee shop for reading and sermon writing.
When I first started doing this last summer, I felt insecure and self-indulgent — an incognito clergyman in shirt and tie munching an “everything” bagel with cream cheese and calling it work. I had to legitimize pastoring in Panera.
That’s when I began wearing my clergy collar each Thursday and setting up at any one of my church’s dozen or so “satellite campuses” (i.e., the coffee shops where I typically run into several parishioners I’ve missed the previous Sunday morning). I bring with me a sign that says “Free Prayer,” with a quote at the bottom from Martin Luther: “Pray, and let God worry.”
And people stop to pray with me every time.
One brisk October morning, a man I had not met walked through the ever-swinging door of the local Starbucks. Amari, from West Philadelphia, had business at the courthouse in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the town where I serve. He looked at me and asked, “‘Free prayer’? What’s that?” I explained that I’m a pastor in town who goes out to where people are during the week to offer prayer. Tears welled up in his eyes. He placed his coffee and courthouse papers on my table and walked outside.
Go and see what happened next. Powerful stuff.
A few Christmas seasons ago, I was inspired by a similar piece to do something completely out of my comfort zone:
Many of those walking by were overtly averting their eyes, not wanting to allow me into their space, into the hustle and bustle this season brings into people’s worlds. I was absolutely ok with this. After all, many of us mistrust, suspect, even judge men with cardboard signs on busy street corners. I certainly do.
Occasionally, I would cry out to the averters within earshot and say simply, I’m not here for your money, I’m simply looking for people who need hugs or prayers or both. Some would pretend I had not been heard. Others would look my way quickly then just as quickly look away. A few would smile and one or two, without stopping, would simply say, yes, pray for me. And I would.
As mentioned in that piece, most people ignored the offer, walking past as if I wasn’t even there but a few did stop and I was rewarded greatly by those brief encounters.
It all brings me back to the title of this post. Should you encounter someone on the streets or in a coffee shop offering prayer, particularly someone wearing the telltale collar, what would be your response? Would you take advantage of the offer? Would you walk on by?
It’s intriguing to me to know what the reasons would be for either stopping for prayer or deciding not to.
H/T to Deacon Greg.
Crossposted at Brutally Honest.