Prayer and Confession on a College Campus

Twice a year at Redeemer University College we gather together for a time of extended prayer. We are a young university (established 1982), but from our inception we’ve had a strong tradition of seeking to be grounded in prayer. Our small campus includes a lovely prayer room for small group prayer, with two adjoining prayer “cells” for personal prayer. Every fall the student body organizes a 24/7 prayer week during which many students, faculty, and staff sign up for an hour each of continuous prayer.

But these semi-annual prayer services are something new for us. As chaplain, I faced several challenges in organizing these services:

  • We are a community of professors, staff, and students. Is there a common worship ground where we can be vulnerable together as we gather for prayer?
  • Our community hosts believers from more than forty Christian denominations and theological traditions. Are there ways to pray (and sing) that can draw us together rather than drive us apart?
  • I am convinced that when an institution comes together for prayer, corporate confession of sin is an essential part of the liturgy, just as it was in significant worship gatherings in the Old Testament. How does a Christian university confess its corporate sin?
  • The needs and petitions of the community are so diverse and manifold. How might we bring them all together without compiling a “request encyclopedia?”

We were particularly pleased with two parts of the liturgy at recent prayer services. Feel free to use and adapt these prayers for your own worshiping community.

Prayer of Confession

I invite you to read this prayer of confession for a small university community slowly, pausing between each section for a half minute of silence. Many members of the praying community testified later that this prayer structure helped them to see and confess sin.

Lord, we don’t know, but we wonder if you are calling us to repent of our anxiety. For so long we have been fighting against government policies and systemic discrimination against us. For so long we have lived through budgetary crises. Have those struggles burned an anxious spirit into our being? Do we need to repent of that? We don’t know, Lord; help us to discern.

[pause]

Lord, we don’t know, but we wonder if you are calling us to repent of our pride. It’s very easy to take ourselves too seriously in the academic world. It’s very easy to build walls inside this place between those whose calling is directly academic in nature and all others. Do we do that? We don’t know, Lord; help us to discern.

[pause]

Lord, we don’t know, but we wonder if you are calling us to repent of being an ingrown community. Are we too comfortable in our traditional identity, and do we too easily assume that our ethnic and Reformed heritage is enough for us to hang on to? Do the sins of that heritage—such as a tendency towards legalism without grace—infect us? We don’t know, Lord; help us to discern.

[Petitions followed that focused on the sins of timidity, intellectual arrogance, and a rebellious spirit, concluded by the last section.]

Lord, we don’t know, but we wonder if you are calling us to repent of something that I don’t have a name for, but some of those gathered here will. Help us to lift up to you the things that trouble us. Help us to see the ways you call us to repent. We need your help, Lord; help us to discern. Amen.

Prayer for the Community

Dr. Deborah C. Bowen (professor of English) composed a prayer for the community. Rather than prepare a “shopping list,” she spent time with Paul’s words in Colossians 3:11-14, and then framed a prayer for the community around these words:

If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above. . . . Here there cannot be Greek or Jew (or science nut, artsy type, techie, jock, bookworm); circumcised or uncircumcised (or Christian Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican); barbarian or Scythian (or American, African, Arab, Armenian); slave or free (or student, professor, cafeteria worker, head administrator, security personnel, Student Senate member), but Christ is all, and in all.

Lord God, we confess that we’re a prejudiced lot. You call us to be your body, to let your Word dwell in us richly, to be filled with your Spirit, to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to grow up in every way into you who are our Head. But we still consider ourselves better than others, or worse than others, because of our job, or our status, or our gifts, or our role, or our denomination, or our class, or our nationality, or our gender, or even our appearance, or other things that have nothing to do with why you love us.

Thank you for calling each one of us into this institutional community. Thank you that no single one of us is more beloved by you than any other, no one is more or less important to you than any other. Each of us needed you to die for our salvation. Thank you that to each of us comes your Word through the apostle Paul:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Lord, have mercy, and incline our hearts to keep your laws. Help us to clothe ourselves in these good gifts, and to become more fully the rich and diverse community you have called us to be. Thank you for the opportunity to be with some who are like us and many who are unlike us. Please teach us humility, forbearance, and love, with thanksgiving. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.