By Kara Witherow, Editor
In a years-long election cycle filled with vitriol, rancor, discord and divisiveness, voters quickly grew weary of the partisan politics that dominated airwaves, conversations, Facebook feeds and daily discussions.
But with its Day of Prayer and Unity, Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon sought to bridge the divide and come together as a church and a community one day after the election, on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
With its sanctuary open for prayer at 8 a.m., the church was a quiet refuge for those looking to escape the political noise outside the doors.
“The purpose of this day was to offer a space for Christians to come and pray for the nation and also to pray for unity after a divisive election season,” said Rev. Ben Gosden, Mulberry Street UMC associate pastor.
While many churches were open for prayer on Monday or Election Day itself, Rev. Gosden said that Mulberry Street UMC wanted to be open for prayer and communion the day after the election to help people focus on what is truly important and to help them remember that God is in control.
“We have a pretty blended congregation in terms of political views, and with media and social media you learned early on in the election that people were very passionate, and especially in our church, they were passionate on both sides,” Rev. Gosden said. “So we asked what we could do around the election and … we decided that it would be nice to do something the day after Election Day when the results were in and when everything was done, as a reminder that we are Christians in the end and that we pray for unity.”
For people who wanted guided prayer, the church provided a liturgy, some of which Rev. Gosden and other Mulberry Street UMC pastors had written, other parts of which had been borrowed. The centering prayer is an old United Methodist prayer, Rev. Gosden wrote the unity prayer, and the prayer for our nation was written by Bishop Ken Carter and customized by Rev. Gosden.
At 5:15 p.m. the church family came together for a service of Holy Communion. A reminder of what worshippers have in common, the service was an important reenactment of the Gospel drama, Rev. Gosden said.
“Communion is the meal of unity,” Rev. Gosden said. “In the liturgy we say, ‘Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world,’ so it very much is a meal of unity.”
Like many others, Mulberry Street UMC member Carol Head had become discouraged with the divide among Democrats and Republicans.
“I had become quite discouraged in the last months with all the bitterness and all the hatefulness that we’ve heard in the airwaves and was quite confused as to how we respond as Christians because a lot of this we were hearing was coming from people who claim to be Christians,” she said. “I was really glad that our offering for a time of prayer and worship was shaped more around coming together afterward rather than before.”
With its low lights and altar candles lit, the sanctuary was very reverent and prayerful, Head said.
“It was very peaceful and very quiet and an opportunity to escape from all of the outside noises. It gave me time to think about unity amid all the discourse and discord that we’ve been experiencing.”
Rev. Gosden said that the church recognized people’s hurts and frustrations and the Day of Prayer and Unity is one of its ways of responding.
“People were daily talking about the candidate they don’t like, they’re unfriending each other (on Facebook). It was harsh, and it’s hard to unplug once you’re locked into that cycle. There’s lots of hatred. There’s lots of frustration, a lot of hurt, a lot of feelings, and we all feel it,” he said. “The Church can and should respond to people’s frustrations. We meet every Sunday and talk about Bible stories, and we talk about church programs, but it gets easy for us as a church to do a lot of navel gazing and worry about programs, while we have people who are living daily lives frustrated and struggling. This was really a witness and a reminder for us as a church that we have a duty to respond when people are hurting.”
The day also served as a reminder that, no matter who is elected or what party is in power, no one person on earth has the power to save.
“The sad thing is that … people turn to politics for salvation,” Rev. Gosden said. “They think that if we elect the right person, my life will get better … if we put the right party in office then everything will be all right. It’s really a prophetic witness to say, ‘your salvation lies beyond your politics.’”
Head said the prayer time and service of Holy Communion were very centering experiences for her and helped her focus on what’s truly important.
“When we get drawn into those crazy political discussions we have a tendency to forget whose we are, and I think it’s really important that we remember that in all of our relationships, in all of our interactions,” she said. “We are going to be okay as long as we keep our eyes and keep our direction turned toward God.”
Day of Prayer and Unity
Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, Macon
Nov. 7, 2012
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires, known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord, Amen.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall bow before him. For kingship belongs to the Lord he rules over the nations. To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship all who go down to the dust fall before him. My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him they shall be known as the Lord’s forever. They shall come and make known to a -people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done. Take my voice and let me sing always only for my king! (Based on Psalm 22:27-30)
Prayer for Our Nation
Eternal God, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our nation a zeal for justice and the strength of patience and mercy, that we may use our freedom in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for Unity
Holy Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have called us to be united together as your Body as a witness to a divided world. Remind us that your ways are not our ways. Let those who follow your Son Jesus Christ be a peaceable people in the midst of conflict and division. Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us, break down the walls of political partisanship, and make us one; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Go forth in the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ; go forth in the strength and love of God the Father; and go forth in the sustaining and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit – today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.