How to Give a Ceremonial Prayer in a Pluralistic Setting
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Public Prayer
First of all, understand the context. If the event is purely secular (non-religious) or is an interfaith gathering, it may be best to use a more generic prayer format rather than a prayer-style and vocabulary which not everyone can relate to. As much as some believers are concerned about compromising their position, remember that a ceremony as a whole belongs to all those who participate. Imagine what it would be like to attend an event which was very important to you and someone from another faith group was asked to pray. If that person gave a prayer which seemed exclusive or was spoken in a manner which was difficult to follow, you might very well feel as though your experience was diminished.
Secondly, don't be afraid to be who you are. If you have been invited to pray, then do your best to represent your tradition or faith community well. Make sure that you speak to God on behalf of the entire group in the very best way you can.
Ask God for what is appropriate, given the occasion--and then stop. A rambling or repetitious prayer soon becomes offensive. Be very careful to abide by whatever time restraints have been put upon you.
In your prayer, avoid the temptation to assume control of the event simply because you believe that you have an insight into religious truth which others do not. Most people can spot this kind of attitude within seconds.
Make sure you pray in a voice that is slow and loud enough to be heard by everyone present. On the other hand most people dislike a preachy or ranting tone in prayer.
Praying in Jesus' name can be done even in an interfaith gathering. I have found that as long as I say, "I pray in Jesus' name" without presuming to speak for everyone, (We pray in Jesus' name)
most folks are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. On the
other hand there is nothing necessarily compromising in ending a prayer
with a simple "Amen" (It is actually biblical).
Finally, be genuine. Far better than simply mouthing eloquent words, aim at true communication with God. There is nothing wrong with writing out your prayer beforehand. This will prevent saying something silly or unclear. If you read your prayer, put your heart and mind into the words you are saying. Remember, you are asking God's blessing on the gathering in some way. That alone is enough to take the assignment very seriously.
I hope this is helpful. Michael Bogart mbogart.com
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