A woman prays during the opening Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom June 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review
— As Detroit celebrates the beatification of perhaps one of the city’s biggest advocates for prayer, the need is still ever present.
Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., advised all who saw him for healing and counsel to pray and evaluate their relationship with God. Now Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron in his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel
, instructs the 221 parishes of the Archdiocese of Detroit to establish intercessory prayer teams to pray for the mission of the parish.
Parishes already began forming intercessory prayer teams in the buildup to Synod 16, and after seeing the power of organized prayer groups at the parish level, the archbishop wants to see them established at all parishes, according to Mary Martin.
“During the preparation for Synod 16, parishes were instructed to come together and create intercessory prayer teams to pray for the archbishop and leadership teams,” said Martin, who heads Mary Martin Consulting, a firm that advises parishes on how to better their ministries. “We’ve had people meeting and gathering to pray for the entire synod process for three years, and that really helped the archbishop be convicted to have a set of intercessors to pray for the parish leadership teams. Now that’s the model we have going forward.”
To help parishes set up prayer and intercession teams, the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Christian Worship is hosting four training sessions in the coming months.
The sessions cover all four regions of the archdiocese, with sessions at Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven on Dec. 16, Our Lady of the Lakes in Waterford on Jan. 6, St. Scholastica in Detroit on Jan. 20, and St. Joseph the Worker in Lake Orion on March 17. Each session will be from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“The training sessions will include the theological principles of prayer and intercession and the biblical principles of intercession,” Martin said. “We give the participants an opportunity to pray together. We have a suggested format to give them time to use that prayer outline together. We want them to have that experience of praying together before they leave.”
Likewise, the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization is hosting workshops called “A Visit to the Upper Room: Embracing the Vision for Prayer and Intercession to Unleash the Gospel” at various parishes for pastors and their leadership teams.
“We’re inviting clergy and leadership teams to attend so they understand what an intercessory prayer team is and how they can invite people,” Martin said. “People who would be a good candidate for intercessory prayer groups are those with a deep prayer life and who can be confidential about things. People who can grow and listen together.”
Traditionally, Catholics tend to have a structured prayed life — focused on celebrating the Mass and certain benedictions and rites. But intercessory prayer has a more free-flowing structure, according to Jeff Stuk of Our Lady of the Lakes.
Stuk is part of a group that meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the parish chapel to pray for the leadership of the parish and archdiocese, as well as any personal intentions people may bring.
“We pray for the specific programs and ministries of the parish, the people who organize the Alpha program, and we also have a prayer request box at our parish that we pray over every week,” Stuk said.
Stuk said friends invited him to join the intercessory prayer group, which called him to change some of his prayer habits.
Though some parishes have already begun to form prayer teams, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel,” has strongly encouraged them as a way to provide for the parish’s spiritual support. Larry A. Peplin | Special to the Michigan Catholic
“I never really prayed with people openly in a group before,” Stuk said. “For some reason, it really impacted me. I feel a closeness to Christ that I’ve never experienced before in private prayer. That’s what got me excited. When people come into the group who haven’t been to a prayer group, you see their excitement in sharing the faith.” The group at Our Lady of the Lakes opens with a prayer and then reads a passage from the Gospel, with everyone invited to share their reflections. The group then prays quietly before everyone is invited to share what is on their hearts.
“Often it is similar things on our hearts, and that’s big, because group discernment is so important,” Stuk said. “Then we have petitions to pray to the Lord in our hearts for what He wants us to do, calling the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and courage to the parish and leadership of the AOD as we try to evangelize more of the flock. After that, we close with prayer. But the key is everything comes from the heart.”
Stuk testifies that he and other members of the group feel a great sense of mission in their prayer life because of the intercessory prayer group, as well as a greater consciousness of the mission of the parish and its parishioners.
Those who’ve started intercessory prayer groups are often surprised by the power that comes from people meeting on a regular basis to pray with one another.
Janice Gibb of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Lake Orion worked with the parish’s pastor, Fr. Mike Verschaeve, in June 2016 to start a parish intercessory team that meets following the Tuesday evening Mass.
“We usually meet in the cry room and start with some praise and worship, and then we ask the Holy Spirit to be with us,” Gibb said. “We then read from Scripture before we pray for our parish, the outreach of the parish and the archdiocese. We encourage people to speak out with prayer, making sure everything comes from the heart.”
Since the intercessory prayer team has been meeting, Gibb said the parish has been blessed — not only by the spiritual efforts of the team that meets on Tuesdays, but by all the people who intercede on behalf of the parish, offering the parish’s mission up to God.
“I think our parish is really vibrant and has a sense of unity because people here are so prayerful,” Gibb said. “One thing I pray for is that the hearts of people will be opened to the Holy Spirit. God wants us to do more than what we’ll ever think of. It’s so powerful to have two or more people gather together, allowing time to say, ‘Dear Lord, allow me to step up and be in your grace — that when I leave this church, I will be the light of Jesus wherever I am in the community.’”