Although the name denotes an early start, many of the people at SunRise UMC were hours into their day before the sun peaked over the horizon. They had already spent an hour in prayer – at church.
If you stopped by SunRise UMC anytime in October, you were going to find someone there praying. It didn’t matter which day or which hour of the day – or night – the church was in constant prayer for the entire month.
The praying took place in the church’s prayer chapel. Prayer methods may be traditional, but there are other things suggested and offered, such as prayerfully reading scripture, and writing in a prayer journal.
“Prayer is an important part of who I am,” Rev. Jim Blue said. “The month we do this is a powerful time at the church.”
Being in constant prayer doesn’t guarantee an easy path for the church – sometimes it seems that life challenges are amped up – but the church remained undeterred. This year three staff people at the church were hospitalized with various health issues.
“It was comforting for them to know they were being lifted up in prayer every hour,” Blue said.
Within the first few days of October they had commitments for about half of the time slots. By the last Sunday in the month, they had all the time slots filled.
Typically it is just one person alone in the prayer chapel, but occasionally couples would go and pray together. Sometimes a group, like a confirmation class, would take an hour as a group.
When Blue was appointed to St. Peter’s UMC in Blue Springs, the church already had a continuous prayer practice, which started on Good Friday and lasted until Easter morning. Keeping it going was a struggle. But after attending an Aldersgate Renewal Ministry event, Blue was moved by the spirit to expand their prayer ritual to a month-long practice.
The church rose to the occasion, and found it to be a powerful experience, so Blue brought the practice with him to SunRise. The first year it was met with some skepticism as to whether or not they can pull it off. Now at the conclusion of the month, people are saying they can’t wait to do it again.
“I’ve seen folks who are new to the church embrace this with as much enthusiasm as people who are the pillars of the church,” Blue said.
The church has done it for seven years now, once in September and the other six years in October. They promoted the event this year with light-hearted videos. Although the church has fun with the idea, they also take it seriously. This year 236 people took part in praying in the chapel for the 744 hours of October.
Blue signed himself up for the 4 a.m. timeslot every Monday morning. After he completed his hour, he headed to the gym. His wife Beth took the 3 a.m. time every Sunday and Thursday, and when she finished Blue met her at the gym.
“We’re early morning people,” he said.
This year the church created a “Dream Team” to make sure the hard to fill late night, and early morning shifts were covered. For people concerned about being alone in the middle of the night, the church was locked, and they just met the next person to pray at the door and traded places. If something came up and someone couldn’t make it, the person at the chapel prayed for another hour.
“What most people say before they do it is ‘How can you pray for a whole hour?’” Blue said. “What they say after is ‘How can you pray for only one hour?’”
Steven Biernbaum did the 5–6 a.m. shift every Friday. He goes to a Bible study on Fridays, so it was a good way for him to get an early start and get in the right frame of mind.
“We just don’t take enough time to pray,” Biernbaum said. “Intentionally stopping the calendar and taking time to focus on a conversation with God was inspirational and powerful for me.”
The prayer began at midnight on October 1 and ran until midnight on October 31. Biernbaum came up with the idea to make the final hour of prayer more of a communal event. On October 31 everyone was invited into the sanctuary to pray for 20 minutes. Then they spread out throughout the church to pray for specific areas of ministry for 20 minutes.
Finally, they met outside at a bonfire. They sang songs and shared a few words, then ceremoniously tore pages out of the prayer journal that had been filled during the month and placed them in the fire.
“We offer them up to God in this way,” Blue said.
Blue hopes other churches consider taking on a month of continual prayer. He suggested that small churches could join together to fill every hour.
“When we do this, the conversation around the church for the entire month is about prayer,” he said.