Saying many congregants have grown anxious and divided amid the pandemic and following a difficult municipal election, local clergy members that have forged strong bonds with each other amid the pandemic are planning a “Pray for New Canaan” day later this month.
To be held Wednesday, Jan. 26 at St. Aloysius Church, the prayer service grew out of conversations had during the clergy’s bi-weekly gatherings, according to one member of the informal group, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Chapin Garner of The Congregational Church of New Canaan.
“There’s no agenda other than recognizing that there’s a way to disagree without being disagreeable, be in conversation where we can be honest and robust and not back down from our commitments but also not vilify the other [side],” Garner told NewCanaanite.com.
“It’s nothing other than, we are going to get together to pray for the town, and if anyone wants to show up to join us, they can, too,” he said.
The clergy group is inclusive, Garner said, and its members include himself and the Rev. Kibbie Laird from the Congregational Church, the Rev. Peter Walsh of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the Rev. Scott Herr of First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, the Rev. Robert Kinnally of St. Aloysius, the Rev. Dr. Derrick Fallon of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, the Rev. Matthew T. Curry of the United Methodist Church of New Canaan and Pastor Cliffe Knechtle of Grace Community Church.
The service “will be simple and straightforward,” Herr said in an email, responding to an inquiry regarding the format of “Pray for New Canaan.”
“Some readings from different scriptures, some brief reflections, and time to pray, with silence for speaking, listening and singing together,” Herr said.
Herr said that his hope for the service “is to remind everyone that we are a community who genuinely cares about one another and who seek the best for one another, even those who hold different views and opinions.”
“Our motivation come from the Jewish scripture from the prophet Jeremiah 29:7 ‘But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ The word ‘welfare’ here is in the Hebrew ‘shalom’ and is translated variably peace, welfare, flourishing, health, wholeness, etc. My favorite definition of shalom is ‘the way it’s supposed to be.’ This is our hope and prayer going into the New Year, that our town will experience the fullness of shalom, and that together we will strive toward a better life and fairer world for all.”
Kinnally when asked about his offer for St. A’s to host the special day said the main reason is because the church is not just centrally located but also very large, so that attendees can spread out and feel safe and comfortable during the service.
“We all in our ministry have encountered folks really searching and struggling, is how I view it, and the way to the begin the healing process with that is to pray,” Kinnally said.
He added, “I think that in some ways what New Canaan is dealing with is what the rest of the world is dealing with, which is the uncertainty. What is happening all over the world, what is happening particularly with the virus and how does that affect our ability to be together? What does it do to our spirits? It makes us frustrated, it makes us anxious, it makes it difficult to plan. And that really wears on people and the whole idea of face coverings, masks and the whole back-and-forth on that—What is the right thing to do? What is the wrong thing to do?—and the vaccine and the whole nine yards, and all of it swirling together. And yet here we are, we have to navigate life. We have to be in relationship to each other, whether that’s a friendship or whether it’s a marriage or it’s a parent-child relationship or it is whatever it is.”
People’s anxiousness is affecting all of those relationships, Kinnally said.
“So we clergy think that one of the ways to deal with all of that and to bring ‘consolation,’ as we talk about in spiritual life—bring consolation, which is a sense of peacefulness to know that God is there, the other person is there—is to pray. So it’s about prayer. So coming together to pray to ask God’s blessing, to ask God’s peace to reign, to ask for whatever we need that God could give us. And basically bringing healing, because there are people who are sick too. And we just need all of it. And it all comes from God: peace, healing, presence. An abiding presence. There is somebody out there who cares for me, who loves me, who can calm my weary spirit, calm my anxious spirit especially.”
Garner said he believes that prayer “makes a difference.”
“My baseline is that if we can get the leaders of our churches together to just pray for the town as a whole then by God’s grace something will happen, and a degree of civility will surprisingly overtake us,” he said. “For me and my faith perspective, I’m not doing this for show. it is because I believe that if we pray about this, it will begin to come to pass. And then I believe that the more people that say, ‘Hey, we’re going to come together across the different churches in town, across political divide, across the pandemic divide, just to say, hey we are a community. we are meant to be neighborly. we are meant to reach out and care for each other.’ And that we don’t need unity of mind or belief to do that. That’s the goal.”
Garner added, “It wasn’t much more than if we can get all the clergy from denominations that don’t always agree to come together in fellowship and pray together, that’s a good step. and to do it toward the beginning of the year and just pray for it but also let the town know the clergy is well-connected with one another and values civility.”