Each day in Lent 2015, I’m writing about experiences I’ve had in parish ministry, from my seminary internship in the summer of 1968 to my retirement in 2008. Today, I recall the longest forty days of my pastoral ministry.

I treasure the years I served the Bon Air Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Va. I’ve previous described that church as one of the shining lights of the Presbyterian Church (USA). My first contact with the congregation was in 1966 when I was assigned to “shadow” the Rev. Dick Perkins on his rounds as the then-pastor of the church. Upon ordination in 1969, that church supported the youth center where I began my ordained ministry, and after our family had moved to the Bon Air area of Richmond, we eventually joined the fellowship of that worshiping community. While Joan was directing music at others churches in Richmond, our children and I became active at Bon Air Presbyterian Church. And eventually, I went on staff there as Associate Pastor for Liturgy and Congregational Care.

It was during that time that I endured the longest forty days of my ministry. Attending the annual Montreat Worship and Music Conference each year fed my spirit and expanded my liturgical vision. When the (then) new Book of Common Worship was published by the denomination, the Montreat Conference provided an invaluable introduction to the book and its rich collection of liturgical resources. Among them, the resources for services of Daily Prayer.

At Montreat we experienced both Morning Daily Prayer services and those for Evening Prayer.  Whether beginning or ending the day, the services had a similar form: prayers, psalms (sung or spoken), scripture readings, and silence. There was no “sermon,” unless one’s private meditation inspired individual interpretation and application of what had been read aloud by someone in the small group. Services tended to be over in twenty-five minutes or so.

Once back home, I looked for a way to experiment with those services with our Bon Air congregation, and along came Lent. Perfect. I invited church members and friends to join me (and Joan) at 7:30 each morning in Lent, that is, for forty days (not counting Sundays). I had no idea if two or three or twenty people would join us. Since Bon Air didn’t have a small chapel, we decided to meet in the choir loft, in a circle of folding chairs. We knew that at that time of day, we’d not have any interruptions.

Since this was a new thing for us, I promoted the services as a Lenten “discipline,” urging folks to commit to the daily aspect as best they could. I explained the value of the spiritual fellowship, our daily engagement with the Word, and shared prayer time. And then, I began using the Book of Common Worship resources to fashion our own version of Daily Morning Prayer.

I was pleased that several people joined us for that series. As expected, the numbers dropped slightly as the days went by. Good intentions, you know. The time slot wasn’t right for everyone every day, of course. But many could slightly adjust their work day to stop by the church on their way to the office. For Joan and me, and no doubt for others, it meant getting up a little early every day. But sitting quietly together in that circle day by day, the low key murmuring of prayers, the quiet singing of psalms, the silences shared… it felt good.

But I must confess, with the preparation involved on my part, with every day beginning the same way at church, after about two weeks, I was already beginning to count the days until Lent’s end. The third week came, and I was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea. Some days, we had as few as four or five; other days as many as twelve or fifteen. Some folks came every day, and a few stopped by only occasionally. Every morning, we’d drive to church, sit in our circle, and use the printed guides to move through our service.

It sure seemed like a very long forty days. But all in all, it did feel good. As we entered the last week, heading toward Easter Sunday, we were both gratified that we had participated but also (it pains me to admit it) relieved that we could have our mornings back. And we agreed that come the next year, we’d all surely engage in the process again.

We did Morning Daily Prayer during Lent the following year. And the year after that we tried switching to Evening Prayer. By meeting at 6:30 each evening, we reasoned, we could offer this opportunity to people unable to start their day with us, and with Bon Air’s various meetings beginning at 7 p.m., we thought that people might stop in before their meetings. The Evening Prayer services met in the church “parlor” and with the lighting of a candle signaling the winding down of the day, the quiet ambiance made for an intimate setting for our prayers.

When I moved to my Vermont church, we tried Lenten Daily Morning Prayer there too. But finding a good morning time for those who wanted to engage in the discipline was difficult. Each farm family had its own schedule, and the church had far fewer members to begin with. So our experience there wasn’t quite the success it was in Richmond. Still, truth be told, numbers were not that important. The Daily Prayer Lenten discipline was a substantive addition to our journey toward Easter, even if there were only two or three gathered in Christ’s name.

Those may have been the longest Lents in my pastoral career, but also the most fulfilling.

“Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we shall live this day in joy and praise.”

Next: How Getting Scammed Built a New Ministry

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