The descriptors “introvert” and “public evangelism” don’t usually go together. These “things” never have held appeal for me and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around town and pray for the uninformed and the unconverted. Yet I had committed to the Rev. Erin Betz-Shank, Bishop’s Warden Heather Armstrong, and the people of Trinity, New Castle, that I’d do whatever their priest did for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday while she was on maternity leave. That promise turned into my first experience of an ecumenical prayer walk.
Due to Erin’s leadership, laity and clergy from the churches of New Castle participate in a prayer walk around downtown New Castle on Good Friday following a humble, draped cross. The experience was entitled “Prayer in Motion”. We began with the library and moved to the police station, Salvation Army, United Way, medical clinic, businesses, restaurants, churches, and local government offices. At each location we prayed for the work done in each profession and for those who live the profession.
The symbolism of the event leapt out of the concrete: in the midst of an economically challenged community like New Castle, this rain-soaked procession was a moving sign of hope. We travelled into the heart of sorrow, poverty, and decay with a message of hope, faith, and commitment. Jesus was here and he was staying. The Church was here and the Church was staying. The youngest person was about two and oldest near 90. We weren’t many. The torrential rains kept many at home. Yet, we moved, prayed, and asked God’s blessings.
Sometimes these experiences affect those around the troop most. Perhaps that’s so; I hope so. The experience deeply affected me. We are called to show up in many ways: shelter, food, medical care, money, legal assistance, counseling, recovery, and the list goes on. We are also called to show up with faith, hope, and love. What a perfect, as in complete, way to worship on Good Friday: to step into the challenges of redevelopment in New Castle, reminding people that Jesus identifies with the suffering and with those who serve those in need. Honestly, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful worship experiences of Good Friday ever for this aging Christian.
Thank you, Erin and Heather, for your leadership and holding me to my promise.
The Rev. Al Johnson is Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation for the Diocese of NWPA.