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Epiphanies of Prayer – Cutting through the Jargon

Pray then in this way…Matthew 6:9a

Churches are bad places for jargon – basically language intended for precision use by professionals that spills over into public use. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are using it, because we’ve become so used to these phrases that we don’t see how exclusive jargon can be. As an external example, some churches that might be described as evangelical, conservative, or charismatic, you might hear the phrase “have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?” You might hear this at a prayer service or even from a member. To an outsider, this really does sound odd. It is a quote that appears only twice in the Bible, both from Revelation (7:14 and 12:11) to be precise. It’s a fancy way of asking “do you follow Jesus?”

Before I get too high and mighty about jargon in other Christian traditions, those of us in mainline churches are just as bad, but it’s in different areas. One of them is around the various labels we use around prayer in worship. In yesterday’s sermon, I continued our conversation about prayer, and how uncomfortable we are with it. I spoke about the three essential prayers described by progressive Christian author Anne Lamott, which come down to “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.” It’s such a simple and accessible way of describing the way in which we pray. I won’t get into covering that again, but here’s a handy link if you want to go read the sermon:

In our worship services, all of the prayers that we say can be more simply described as help, thanks, or wow. We’ve come up with fancier names for them, and while I like to think I reduce the use of jargon in our worship bulletins, I can fall into that trap too. So here’s how our Sunday morning worship looks when framed with Anne Lamott’s essential prayers:

Prayers of Adoration and Confession – I often label these as “Opening Prayers” and currently have formatted them in a call-response style in the bulletin. “Adoration” is or should be a “wow” prayer, starting off worship with wonder and awe. Confession, on the other hand, is a “help” prayer, but specific to recognizing moments when we fall short of what we or God hopes us to be. In essence, this help prayer is asking for help for us to be better people, better followers of Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer – In our bulletin, this one tends to be called “The Prayer of Jesus.” Roman Catholics might call it an “Our Father” as it starts off with that phrase. It draws from the text from Matthew 6:9-13 as the form of prayer that Jesus gave. This one is essentially all three, “Help, Thanks, Wow” all wrapped up together. I’ll be looking at this one in detail later.

Prayer of Dedication – Often said with the offering, this is mostly a “thanks” prayer.

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession – Sometimes these appear in the bulletin as either “Prayers of Thanksgiving and Concern” or even “Prayers of the People.” Thanksgiving is a “Thanks” prayer, and Intercession is a “help” prayer, but is more a “help for others” in style.

There are other jargon terms that we use for prayer that have not really been in recent use at St. Matthew’s or other United Churches, but they’re still out there. My hope is that using this base guideline of “Help, Thanks, Wow” helps simplify things and allows prayer to be something much more accessible.  Over the coming weeks and months, my hope is to explore different styles of prayer, but at their core those single words, help, thanks, wow, form the essential building blocks of prayer.

Yours in Christ,


PS: Here’s a link to Anne Lamott’s book through Chapters/Indigo:


Upcoming Events

  • Shakespeare: Henry IV
    • Shakespeare Returns to St. Matthew’s. Wayne Valleau is leading a class on Henry IV, starting today (January 16, 2017) and will run Mondays at 10:00am until February 20th.
    • Wayne is particularly adept at drawing themes out of Shakespeare, and connecting his plays with other parts of history and mythology into his works.
  • Annual Reports!
    • With the beginning of the year comes our preparation for our Annual Congregational Meeting. The date for the meeting remains to be formally decided, but in preparation for that is a reminder to everyone that we are now starting to receive reports and narratives for our yearly compilation. Please submit your reports to Shaundra Carvey at
  • Congregational Membership Classes
    • If you or someone you know would like to formalize membership with St. Matthew’s, I am hoping to run a membership class in the next few months. If you are interested, please email me, call me at the church, or speak with me directly on Sunday mornings.

Church Office Hours

  • This week, Wendy’s regular office hours are Mondays, 11am-3pm, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Friday from 9am-3pm.
  • My regular office hours during the day are Sunday through Thursdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Pastoral care visits and community meetings sometimes require that I be out of the office from time to time during those hours.



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