Visitors to 'Cyber Chapel' Find Global Prayer Support
Internet users in need of prayer are discovering a new "Prayer Chapel" on the World Wide Web that provides an instant worldwide link to people and entire congregations who stand ready to pray.
The chapel -- part of the United Church of Christ's Web site -- opened in February. In a typical week, the site draws around 300 visits. Those who request prayers and those who pray for others say they are finding real spiritual nurture there. And the chapel is forging new connections among Christians within and beyond the 1.5-million-member UCC.
Recent visitors have asked prayers for people who are ill or grieving, people facing career decisions or relationship difficulties, congregations going through changes, communities weathering disasters. Some requests are anonymous; others include full names and e-mail addresses. Requests have come to the Cleveland-based Web site from Ireland, South Africa and the Philippines as well as the suburb next door.
"I found out about the prayer chapel while browsing the Internet," says Donal O'Callaghan of Cork, Ireland. "It happened to be just at a time of personal need. I was delighted with the response, which I read when I logged on the next morning. It showed me that someone whom I didn't even know personally cared enough to take some time to include my situation in their thoughts and in their prayer life."
Many chapel visitors post responses to prayer requests that have been left earlier. And a growing number of congregations in the United States and overseas are signing up as prayer partners. They regularly read requests from the on-line chapel during Sunday worship or in prayer groups. Churches signing on as prayer partners also have an option of providing e-mail addresses for direct correspondence.
At St. John's UCC in Allentown, Pa., some members receive weekly copies of the Prayer Chapel for their own use in daily devotions.
"We also pick one or two specific prayer requests to use in our weekly prayer chain," says church member Maria Brace. "The Prayer Chapel is also posted in its entirety on the bulletin board in our main hallway for all members to have the opportunity to view and read."
"Our church discovered the potential of the Internet just lately," says the Rev. Reuben D. Cedino, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Cagayan de Oro City, the Philippines. "We bring these prayer concerns during Wednesday Midweek Prayer. We submitted a prayer request, too, for one of our members."
Those in need of prayer have felt support from the Prayer Chapel in a variety of ways.
"Yes, I noticed a difference," says Kim Marsh, a member of Bayberry United Church of Christ in Liverpool, N.Y. "My daughter and I suffered the death of my husband and her father on Feb. 4. I received several responses from people who say they saw the prayer. Perhaps by posting my prayer in such an accessible place, I was able to begin the healing for both of us. It has helped. We're doing much better."
The Rev. David Schnaars, pastor of First Congregational Church, a UCC congregation in Harford, Pa., requested prayers for a 4-year-old boy about to undergo another in a series of medical operations.
"He came through his surgery better than anyone expected," Schnaars wrote. "It had been initially thought that he might need a feeding tube for up to three months following surgery. He will not need one at all. Thanks for the prayers -- they worked! Please keep him in your prayers for his continued recovery."
"When I first accessed the Prayer Chapel, I was activating as many prayer chains as I could on behalf of my best friend from high school who has metastatic breast cancer," says the Rev. Barbara Henderson, a chaplain at Los Alamos (N.M.) Medical Center and a member of First Congregational Church, a UCC congregation in Albuquerque. "I believe strongly that prayer works, and the more prayers and 'pray-ers' the better. I have had responses from other people who read my requests on the Prayer Chapel. That was comforting and sustaining to me."
Douglas Murphy, a member of Bethany Congregational Church, a United Church congregation in San Antonio, Texas, says he felt hesitant at first about posting a concern. But after doing so, "I received a couple of messages from United Church of Christ members I don't even know, encouraging me and the congregation I attend," he says. "It was quite moving to know that they took the time to pray and let me know they cared.
"A few days later, I took their lead and sent encouragement to others who had posted requests. That kind of interaction because of the Prayer Chapel is, for me, a sign of the Christ among us."
Debbie Weissman, a member of the United Church of Jaffrey (N.H.), UCC, first heard about the Prayer Chapel during a monthly communion service at her church. "I am a deacon in my church and have served in many other capacities for the past 20 or so years, yet I have felt empty. My response to the Prayer Chapel is part of my spiritual odyssey," Weissman says. "While I have not had any 'answers' as such, just the act of sharing my needs is a very important step for me."
Weissman's pastor, the Rev. Bill Beardslee, says he sees the Prayer Chapel as a "place where the diverse human community of faith can come together and find unity, community, solidarity in the Spirit." As a result of posting requests and praying for others, Beardslee says, "I feel that sense of comfort, or better, being held while I have to face or deal with whatever. I know prayer can make a difference in our small community here."
After posting a request for prayers for a family who had just lost their home in a fire, the Rev. Ted Newcomb of Trinity United Church of Christ in Mt. Bethel, Pa., says, "I was touched when another of our UCC parishes asked if they might be able to supply some goods for the family. Knowing that others would make such an authentic and generous response through a prayer connection filled me with rejoicing."
For the Rev. Mary Latela, pastor of Hillsboro (N.D.) United Parish, a United Church of Christ/United Methodist Church federated congregation, the chapel re-connected her with a friend in need. "I discovered that an acquaintance from far away was asking for prayers," she says, "and I felt that through the Prayer Chapel, I could be present to her through prayer."
For the Rev. Sandy Johnson, pastor of Chewelah (Wash.) United Church of Christ, nestled in a small rural community, the Prayer Chapel "is a way of staying in touch with the rest of the UCC."
"Some of the requests sound very familiar -- things we pray about each week. Others are quite unfamiliar, and serve the purpose of widening our view of the wider church," says Johnson.
"The Holy Spirit is really in action," says Robert Russell, a deacon and church historian at West Parish of Barnstable (Mass.), United Church of Christ. "What a multitude of possibilities there are. Through this medium, the prayers of the local congregation and individuals can be combined with the greater church."
The Prayer Chapel is "a sign of unity and desire to share the burdens which come into our lives," says Newcomb, the pastor in Mt. Bethel, Pa. "The Internet has become but one more vehicle through which the Spirit can work."
The United Church of Christ has more than 6,100 congregations in the United States and Puerto Rico. It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
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