By The Reverend Fran Wallace
“I have not done a prayer walk before, but this experience has given me the opportunity to interact more deeply with our group. We shared our love for walking, and admired the beauty of God’s creation. Isn’t it amazing? We prayed, and gave thanks for being there. Blessed be God forever!” ~ Catherine
These are the words of a parishioner at St. Aidan’s who started with our prayer walking group from the first walk. When I was on vacation recently, this person graciously took on the organizing and leading of prayer walks, continuing our new engagement with the community surrounding the church building. I hadn’t asked that anyone do this. Catherine thought of it and proceeded to build this ministry, and we’re grateful.
Being missionally-minded is a growing movement among us, and the prayer walks seemed like a natural way to go about being more missional, especially during the pandemic. We wear masks and maintain a two-metre distance while we pray and walk. When we talk about mission today, if we consider the surrounding community of the parish of St. Aidan’s to be God’s mission field, I don’t think we are going to go out and approach individuals and knock on doors and preach repentance. That’s not the plan, anyway. And that may afford some relief to many. But by learning from Jesus to persevere, have faith, be faithful, and speak the truth boldly, we can live into his words: “do not fear, only believe.” And by our words and actions, others may be awakened to something they are searching for. They might do more than just dismiss us.
On our first prayer walk in the neighbourhood, five of us walked from St. Aidan’s to the local nearby park, where we took rest in the sanctuary of trees and flowers in bloom and prayed. We prayed before setting out, and along the way stopped to pray at the homes where we knew parishioners lived, as well as others. We were a group of persons walking and talking together, physically distanced; I wore the collar.
We encountered many people, and many waved and smiled; friendliness abounded. Not everyone, though—some were maybe focused on their own thoughts, some may have been dismissive or disinterested, some gave a bit of a look, possibly sceptical. I sure noticed, though, and I found myself watching each approaching person and noting their engagement, or lack thereof.
These prayer walks, often bathed in sunshine as we pass by beautiful gardens, talking with God quietly on occasion as we stop to say our gratitude or pray for persons (no one passing by would realize we are in prayer, we’re Anglican after all!), the comfort of accompanying one another, being with God intentionally, and speaking personally—this a special time for me. I believe and hope it is for the other persons who participate. When it’s safe to do so, we’ll end the time of walking with some refreshment in a local café or some other place of beverage, depending on the time of day.
Is this missional? Yes. We walk with awareness of God’s presence, we pray for the community, we give thanks to God for Creation, and we represent the church visible, out and about in the neighborhood. As we greet people, perhaps it lets them know that we care to say “hi,” to acknowledge and connect with them. We appreciate their greeting us, and sometimes conversation happens. We’re connecting. It’s all helping us get to know the community a little more. And maybe these walks will impact the community getting to know St. Aidan’s more. Prayer walks are missional and they are good; thanks be to God.