After Easter: Prayer Stations

Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays deal with heady theological stories and themes, so it’s especially important to reinforce them in concrete ways that interact with our senses. We learn best when not just our brains but all of our human capacities are engaged.

This cycle of stations is designed to be used, one a week, in coordination with Scripture texts for Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, and two additional Sundays. You can use them with the worship plans for these weeks or on their own. The texts for each week are not drawn from one particular year of the Revised Common Lectionary. In fact, the themes are general enough that even a congregation that is not following the RCL would be able use them with little adaptation.

For each week, there's also a recommended question for public comment, to be written at the top of a sheet of paper posted on a wall, or perhaps on a whiteboard. Giving space for people to post some of their reflections provides an opportunity to move these stations from individual to communal. Position this paper or board near the prayer station, but not in a place where people can read it while they are at the station itself. This way people are able to experience the station individually before joining in the communal part of the experience.

These questions will engage older teens and adults intellectually. A younger child will be able to participate with some guidance. Remember not to be overly worried about how much the youngest children “get” from the experience. Even the smallest things they experience at their own level will benefit them.

Setup Notes

There are a number of ways to approach the setup and use of these stations. Your choices will depend on the size of your congregation, the traffic patterns in your facility, and your own worship habits and customs. A narthex or entryway might be the easiest choice. But if your narthex is often a busy or bottle-necked space, this might not work. A brave choice might be to set up the station in a corner of the worship space itself. For some congregations, it might work to encourage use of the station before and after worship. For others, it might even be possible to use the station throughout worship, or at designated times.

Whichever options you choose, make sure to find ways to let your congregation know about the opportunity to use the stations.

Keep people of all ages and abilities in mind when considering the setup of these stations. The lower children's tables often used in Sunday school rooms are a great option for keeping the display at a lower eye level. Some people might welcome a few floor pillows on which to sit and take some extra time. Those with mobility issues may need a chair that's easy to sit in. Print the meditation guides in a large, clear font so that they are easy to read.

Be thoughtful about how things look, smell, sound, and feel. Keep in mind that the objects that are important to the meditation should be given center stage: anything you add to the table should add to, rather than distract from, the main objects.

Recruiting a small team of people to help with these stations is essential. Ask one person to help assemble the necessary materials. Find a few volunteers who enjoy making things look beautiful. And try to recruit someone to quietly and unobtrusively monitor the station each week. I often ask for a volunteer who will both pray for those who are using the station and keep an eye on things in case the setup needs tweaking or straightening while it is being used.

For each week, there is a materials list, a setup guide, and a meditation. I recommend printing each of these as a separate document. Print the meditation directions and mount them on stiff paper or place them in a table-top frame. If you have different volunteers gathering materials and doing setup, you can hand the appropriate guide to each person.

Ascension Sunday

Texts

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:15-23

Materials

  • table
  • light cloth for draping the table
  • construction paper, assorted colors
  • scissors
  • pencils
  • length of butcher paper laid out on the floor like a path
  • glue sticks
  • (optional: several prints of ascension artwork that highlight Jesus’ feet; find these online and print if you have access to a good color printer)
  • small bin to recycle scraps of construction paper
  • placard with the meditation directions on it
  • butcher paper, chalkboard, or other place to collect responses
  • markers, pens, chalk for responses

Setup

Drape the table with the cloth. Set the table with the construction paper, the scissors, the pencils, the ascension artwork prints (if you’ve chosen to use them) and the meditation instruction card. Lay the butcher paper “path” on the floor.

Near the table but placed somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table, hang a large sheet of paper. At the top, write “Where are you called to be the body of Christ in the world?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

(Note: If you anticipate that your station will cause a bottleneck if everyone takes time to trace and cut out their own hand- or footprints, pre-cut some hands and feet for people in advance. You’ll have to decide if the trade-off of a less “individualized” path is worth this modification.)

Meditation

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
—Acts 1:10-11 (NRSV)

Imagine the disciples standing surprised, confused, and unsure. After the resurrection, there were days when Jesus appeared to them. But now he is gone, leaving behind only footprints and questions: What has happened? Where has Jesus gone? What does this mean for us? What do we do now?

Generation after generation of Christians has asked the same questions as the disciples. It’s important to ask these questions about the Ascension. But as those mysterious visitors at the end of the story in Acts remind us, we can’t just stand and stare. Jesus has called us to do more: to be his people—his body, even—in the world.

Trace your hand or foot, then cut out your tracing and attach it to the path using a glue stick. Jesus left behind his footprints, and much more: Jesus left us here to be his body in the world.

Pentecost Sunday

Texts

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27

Materials

  • table
  • light cloth for draping the table
  • two baskets
  • headlines clipped from recent newspapers
  • strips cut from newspapers, about 1½ x 6 inches (4 x 15 cm)
  • strips of red crepe paper, cut into 6-inch (15-cm) pieces
  • markers, crayons, pens, or pencils
  • frame with chicken wire stretched over it, or a bulletin board and tacks
  • placard with the meditation directions
  • butcher paper, chalkboard, or other place to collect responses
  • markers, pens, chalk for responses

Setup

Drape the table with the cloth. Tape the news headlines to the tablecloth. Set out a basket with the newspaper strips; label the basket “Prayers for the World.” Set out another basket with the crepe paper, labeled “Prayers for Ourselves.” Place writing utensils and the placard with meditation directions on the table. Secure the bulletin board or chicken wire frame against the wall behind or near the table.

Near the table but placed somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table, hang a large sheet of paper. At the top, write “What has the Spirit taught you about prayer?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
—Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

Life can be overwhelming. We worry about our families, ourselves, and our friends. And that’s even before we look at the news and wonder about the future of creation, the state of politics, wars, and rumors of wars. On a good day, we can even become so flooded with gratitude that we don’t know how to express ourselves! Where do we even begin, then, with prayer?

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as a comforter, a companion, and a helper in our prayer lives. The Spirit can guide us as we pray for ourselves, the people closest to us, and the whole creation.

Use the newsprint strips for prayers for the world; use the red paper strips for prayers for yourself. You might write your prayer, but you might also leave the paper blank as a sign that the Spirit helps us to pray when we don’t have the words.

Attach your strips of paper to the board so that our prayers are joined together today.

Trinity Sunday

Texts

2 Corinthians 13:12-14
John 15:1-17

Materials

  • table
  • light cloth for draping the table
  • grapevine wreath
  • basket of beautiful fabric and ribbon scraps
  • framed picture of a Celtic knot (you can find this image online; look for one with a theme of “threes”)
  • placard with the meditation directions
  • butcher paper, chalkboard, or other place to collect responses
  • markers, pens, chalk for responses

Setup

Drape the table with the cloth. Set the table with the wreath, the basket of fabric scraps, the picture of the Celtic knot, and the meditation instruction card.

Near the table but placed somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table, hang a large sheet of paper. At the top, write “How do you stay connected to God and God’s people?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
—John 15:4 (NRSV)

When Jesus spoke to the disciples the night before he died, he reminded them that they would never be alone. Even after he had gone, the Spirit would come. Through the Spirit, everyone who follows Jesus continues to be connected to God.

The Trinity—Three in One—is a model of community. We are connected to the Trinity and to each other. This is how we bear fruit. This is what makes our lives beautiful.

Select a piece of cloth or ribbon. Pick one that you find beautiful. Weave it into the wreath. Weave it together with the strips others have chosen. As the wreath fills, we see the fruit of being community together.

God for Us

Texts

John 16:12-15
Romans 8:31-39

Materials

  • table
  • light cloth for draping the table
  • large bowl filled with water
  • clear and/or blue marbles (more than enough for everyone who will use the station to take one)
  • placard with the meditation directions
  • butcher paper, chalkboard, or other place to collect responses
  • markers, pens, chalk for responses

Setup

Drape the table with the cloth. Set out the large bowl, place the marbles in it, and add water. Add the meditation instruction card to the table.

Near the table but placed somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table, hang a large sheet of paper. At the top, write “What reminds you that God is with you and for you?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

If God is for us, who is against us?
—Romans 8:31 (NRSV)

Think about who God is: Creator, Redeemer, Giver of Life; Father, Son, Holy Spirit; ever so mysteriously Three in One. It’s hard to understand. It’s easy to praise. It’s easy to get lost in wonder.

It’s also easy to forget that God is for you. God cares for us, as creatures, as those who follow Jesus. But God also cares for each one of us, and names each of us his children and heirs.

Reach into the water. As your hand gets wet, remember (or anticipate) your baptism. Take one of the marbles in the bottom away with you, and carry it around as a reminder that you have been (or will be) baptized in Christ; you have been loved by the community of the Trinitarian God; you have been called and are carried by a God whose love for all of creation, but also for you, is infinite.

God for the World

Texts

Psalm 47
Matthew 28:16-20

Materials

  • table
  • light cloth for draping the table
  • world map affixed to corkboard or thick foamboard
  • short push-pins or thumbtacks (you should be able to sink the pins flush into the map on the cork/foam)
  • string or yarn
  • scissors
  • placard with the meditation directions
  • butcher paper, chalkboard, or other place to collect responses
  • markers, pens, chalk for responses

Setup

Drape a table with the cloth. Lay the world map, backed with the corkboard or foamboard, on the table, or mount or prop it on a wall next to the table. Add the meditation instruction card to the table.

Near the table but placed somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table, hang a large sheet of paper. At the top, write “How does God connect you to the rest of the world?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
—Matthew 28:19 (NRSV)

When Jesus promises the disciples the presence of the Spirit as a companion and advocate, it’s very personal. But it’s also global. We remain connected to God in Christ, even after he ascends. We are nourished by the Spirit. And we are called intimately and by name, but not just for our own sakes. We are called to labor alongside the Trinity to do God’s work in the world.

By calling each of us intimately, God opens our lives to a web of relationships with people we might never encounter. You, in your connection to Christ, are connected to people all over the world.

Map some of these connections: is there a place, a person, a culture, that your journey as a Christian has connected you to? Is there a place in the world the Spirit inspires you to pray for? Place a pin in that location. Use the string to connect your pin to any other pin on the map. Come back later and see how the map becomes a web of relationships.

Erica Schemper is a PC(USA) pastor, mother (current emphasis on the mother part) and displaced Chicagoan living in the San Francisco Bay area. She blogs at Don’t flay the sheep.