Last Sunday in our worship services, I used a prayer by William Sloan Coffin, the chaplain of Yale University and pastor of Riverside Church in New York in the 1980’s. The prayer is entitled, “A Prayer for the Church in These Times.” Even though the prayer was written many years ago, it still rings true as we face challenges and difficulties in our own time. You can find the prayer printed out below.
I came across this prayer while reading a book by a Gil Rendle, a church consultant and author. Rendle shared that he had used this prayer throughout his professional life to reflect on the ways that God can be at work in our lives when times are difficult and answers are not clear. Rendle writes of this prayer:
“For almost thirty-five years it provided me one of my dependable spiritual anchors that consistently invited me to see God’s hand in the dilemmas and disappointments, in the chaos and conflicts that are a staple” in the life of congregations. “Hope does come from our mistakes and failures, from our limited resources that force us to see and think differently…” (Quietly Courageous).
As we move through this time of trouble and difficulties, it’s helpful to be reminded that people of faith have been in such paces before. It’s even better to know that wrapped up with the loss and frustration, the sorrow and weariness, that God is present and working to bring us blessing and hope.
Grace and peace,
A Prayer for the Church in These Times
O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who art our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us, we beseech thee—for we are in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment. We need an anxiety about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things but does not un-nerve us. As a people, we need to remember that our influence was greatest when our power was weakest. Most of all, we need to turn to thee, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be thou our sole strength in time of trouble. In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings—the simple ones: health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over, a nation which, despite all, has so much to offer so many.
And, grant us to count our more complicated blessings: our failures, which teach us so much more than success; our lack of money, which points to the only truly renewable resources, the resources of our spirit; our lack of health, yea, even the knowledge of death, for until we learn that life is limitation, we are surely as formless and as shallow as a stream without its banks.
Send us forth into a new week with a gladsome mind, free and joyful in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.
—William Sloan Coffin