During prayer before a daily Mass at St. Ann Church in Brandon, Father Peter VanderWeyst received an inspiration: As part of their Lenten practice, each family would be invited to pray for another household randomly chosen from a different parish in their Area Catholic Community. Then, during the Easter season, the process would reverse and families would receive prayers from the people they’d prayed for and pray for those who’d prayed for them.
The Disciples of the Mission ACC comprises seven parishes serving about 1,200 families. Father Peter is the pastor of parishes in Brandon, Millerville, Parkers Prairie and Urbank; Father LeRoy Schik shepherds the parishes in Battle Lake, Henning and Maine Township.
“After Mass, I ran the idea past Father LeRoy, who was excited about the possibility of each family praying for another family,” Father Peter said. “We delegated the process to the secretaries, and the whole plan came together in less than two hours — the Holy Spirit works quickly.”
A letter was sent to each household about 10 days later introducing the prayer project. Each letter included an address label of the family they were invited to pray for. Directions were open-ended — the Spirit would guide them. If they desired, families could contact their prayer partners to begin a relationship.
“My label included only the husband’s name,” Father Peter said. “From the parish directory I learned that the family, from Battle Lake, included a wife and five kids. Father LeRoy was also assigned a family — we felt it was important for the priests to participate in this process.”
EAGER TO PARTICIPATE
The Evjen family, parishioners at St. Ann’s, responded enthusiastically. Just two years ago, Amy and Taylor and their children, Kaitlyn, 14, Amelia, 11, Calvin, 9, Jackson, 7, and Maple, 3, had moved to Brandon from a large parish and had learned to reach out to meet others.
Amy first heard about reciprocal prayer at worship. “I thought, ‘What a neat way to get to know more people and pray for them!’ We started right away, including them each night in our prayers, though we felt bad not knowing how to pronounce their name. Our children had theories — it was fun to hear their ideas. Through Facebook, we discovered the family had two children and that the mom and son had been involved with Polar Plunge.”
The Evjens were pleased to know that someone else was praying for them. Connecting through prayer with others was helpful for them.
“Praying for people in a different part of our cluster made it seem smaller,” Amy said. “We definitely want to contact them. Maybe we’ll just pop into Mass at Battle Lake.”
NEEDING A NUDGE
Kim and Jesse Lusty and their daughters Jaylyn and Brielle, members of Sacred Heart in Urbank, didn’t start out right away.
“With so many things going on, I set the letter aside,” Kim said. “When Father Peter asked at a Sunday Mass how things were going, Jaylyn, our 10-year-old, nudged me. ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’ she asked. She wanted to pray for a family.”
Their parish secretary said their assigned name, Mrs. Love, was an older woman. Jesse researched the address. By reading an obituary of Mr. Love, her husband, they learned of her large family. Discussing it further, they determined that Kim’s mother probably knew one of the children.
Jaylyn was intrigued. Right after Mass, she decided to write Mrs. Love a letter.
Jaylyn said, “I felt bad that we had a late start. First, I told her about our family and our animals — we have six horses, 36 goats, a dog, two cats and chickens. I asked if she wanted us to pray for any special reason and let her know she could reach out to us. Then I drew a picture of the cross and flowers.”
“First, I told her about our family and our animals — we have six horses, 36 goats, a dog, two cats and chickens. I asked if she wanted us to pray for any special reason and let her know she could reach out to us. Then I drew a picture of the cross and flowers.”
On the bottom, they added the words about love from First Corinthians 13, fitting because of her name.
“We asked God’s guidance in praying for Mrs. Love,” Kim said. “At dinner we wondered: Who do you think she is? What does she like — maybe flowers and gardening? Who is in her family? Is she happy or lonely?”
Both girls drew pictures for a second mailing, knowing that people in Mrs. Love’s generation appreciate letters.
“We didn’t hear from her, but we weren’t expecting it,” Kim said. “We’re excited to be praying for her. Because of this prayer project, we think warmly about others in our ACC, people who believe in the same things and are praying for one another.”
To celebrate the prayer experience and deepen relationships, Father Peter hoped the ACC parish council could organize an event to bring the people together. “Maybe when it’s safe and the weather is warm, they might have root beer floats to help people meet and mingle at a single location,” he said.
“Father LeRoy and I and the council members already see a greater openness to our ACC. We’ve begun to move from being ‘in preparation’ to ‘becoming’ an ACC — now we are one. Energizing our parishes to come together with greater awareness of one another was one of our main goals for this prayer process.”