Why Didn’t You Pray for Charlottesville?

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Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.        ~ Matthew 14:28-29; NRSV

Following worship this past Sunday, I stood at the door to the sanctuary, greeting members of my congregation as they left.  We shook hands, exchanged warm words, and enjoyed the occasional hug.  But as I clasped one congregant’s hand in mine, she looked me straight in the eye and demanded to know why I’d failed to mention the people of Charlottesville in prayer during worship.  Sheepishly, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights, I answered, “Oh no.  What happened in Charlottesville?”

I soon learned what happened.  A young man drove his car into a crowd of protestors who were demonstrating against a white nationalist rally, sending bystanders running and screaming, and bodies flying.  Then reversed the car at high speed, colliding with yet more people.  What happened is that a young woman was killed, and roughly 19 other people were injured, and later on two state police officials were also killed.[1]  What happened is yet one more scary, tragic display of evil in our nation.  What happened sounds eerily familiar to other acts of unconscionable hatred with which we’ve grown all too familiar.

The thing is, I should’ve prayed for Charlottesville and I’m grateful my congregant called me out on it.  I needed to pray for Charlottesville.  My congregation needed me to pray for Charlottesville.  I failed to because I didn’t make the effort to know what might be going on outside of my little enclave of the world.  I was oblivious.  And that’s not o.k.

Ironically, I’d just finished delivering a sermon about how we can’t go through life with our heads buried in the sand.  How we need to be like Peter, get out of the boat, set foot on rippling waves, press forward against strong, adverse winds.  Do people realize how often pastors need to eat their own words?

Prayer is tricky business.  As a pastor for over 10 years, I’ve prayed countless times in front of people, over people, and with people.  I have no idea how many times I’ve led prayer during Sunday morning worship services, but this I do know: over time it hasn’t gotten any easier.  We pray week after week, month after month, year after year for essentially the same things- comfort, help, protection, healing.  For God to hear, to be with us, to give us courage, peace, hope, love. Does it change anything?  Does it make a difference?  Is God listening?  Anyone there?

Who knows what the mind of God is?  Who knows exactly what happens when we pray?  We might never know.  What I do know, however, is how I’m changed when I pray.  And that’s reason enough to keep praying week after week, month after month, year after year.

So here’s my prayer for this week… that next time I won’t fail to pray about things that matter.  That the sheer act of lifting our prayers will change us, making us more aware, more compassionate.  That our hearts will break for what breaks God’s heart, and we won’t quite figure out how to stitch them back together.

Dear God, may this be so.  Amen.


[1] As reported by Joe Heim, Ellie Silverman, T. Rees Shapiro and Emma Brown, The Washington Post. 

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