Rev. Steve Bonsey is LDI Chaplain and Canon for Evangelism, The Cathedral of St Paul, Boston MA
I probably should not have been surprised, but prayer turns out to be an important part of doing the kind of community organizing we learn to do in LDI.
Back in seminary I had friends that came to ordained ministry from community organizing backgrounds. I was pretty clear then that I never wanted to have anything to do with community organizing.
It didn’t seem like me. It involved too many things I didn’t think I was good at, like going out to talk to people I didn’t know well and recruit them to do stuff. I was much more comfortable thinking about sitting alone with a book in a church office, talking to people who came in to talk to me.
One person who helped to change my mind was a homeless man who, at the time, went by the street name of Shaggy. He stood up to speak one Monday morning in our church basement, where a number of homeless folk from the neighborhood were gathered. He told a bit of his story, beginning with how he had ended up on the streets, what he did to get by, and how one day he found himself doing something he never thought he’d do, just for a bit of money.
The story didn’t end there. He said that he wanted to live differently now. He wanted to do something positive for himself, and in order to do that, he was going to something positive for someone else. That was why he was there in the church basement: he had come to volunteer to help serve lunch to other people on the streets. He asked other people to join him.
They did. And I did. I now work with a circle of more than twenty volunteers from the homeless community who help to serve lunch to 150 people every Monday at the Cathedral.
What I witnessed was the power that a personal story of decision has to make a heart-connection with other people and to empower them to act. I learned the power of Public Narrative.
Prayer, I think, works in much the same way that a story can work, that is, by making a heart-connection that empowers us to act.
We think of prayer as talking to God, but prayer is listening, too. Sometimes I overhear myself in prayer. That is, sometimes it is only when I speak to God from my heart that I realize what is in my heart. There are some feelings – like anger or sorrow or fear – that I don’t like to acknowledge in myself. As they come out in prayer, I realize that they are there.
But because they come out in prayer addressed to God, the feelings come out attached to hope and a desire for joy, freedom and peace. Hope and desire are powerful things. They can stir me to act.
LDI is an action-based program. We take action to empower others and to make a positive difference together in our communities. But we learn in LDI to root our actions in the power that comes from the deepest parts of our hearts. We tap into that power with prayer.
Try it, you’ll see. It makes a difference.