urban prayer retreat

September 30, 2009 | 3 Comments

While a student at MHGS, I had many conversations with Dwight Friesen that still shape my thinking. Once, he described a pastor he knew in Seattle who thought of herself not only as the pastor of her church community, but a pastor to the whole city. This is a subtle but important shift in thinking, and one I’ve tried to adopt. It’s also the reason why this blog is subtitled A pastor in Austin.

At our Ecclesia Network national gathering last spring, I was challenged as Jon Tyson talked about how he often walks on the streets of New York, praying for the city where he pastors. Out of everything I heard at that gathering, this is what I keep returning too.

It was something I too wanted to do, but I kept getting hung up on what that would look like where I live. I could walk the streets of my own neighborhood of single family homes, but that didn’t seem to have the same broad emphasis (or, if I’m honest, sex appeal) as walking the streets of NYC. Or I could go downtown and walk the streets in prayer but that didn’t seem to fit with the context where we minister. Or I could drive around Austin while praying, but the thought of being contained in my car seemed sterile and disconnected from the city I was praying for. Any of these would still be significant, but I just kept thinking that what he could do in NYC was pretty neat.

Now I may be dense, but it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve made the simple connection between this intentional prayer for the city and the heart of being a pastor to the city. And I began to get serious again about this prayer thing for the city. We live 15 minutes from downtown, and our neighborhood and downtown are both part of the natural life of Austin, neither more than the other. How, I wondered, could I connect them?

Finally, only about 18 months after my conversation with Dwight, and six months after hearing from Jon, it all came together. (Further proof that I am dense?) Everyday, I drive by people standing and sitting at bus stops, waiting to be carried back and forth to work or UT. This would be my prayer journey for my city — connecting both neighborhoods and workplaces.

I’m writing this from downtown after a morning of prayer and reflection on the bus and on my feet. It is not a day of prayer in isolation, but a day of prayer in the rhythm of the city. I hope it is the first of many days like this.

Any great insights so far? Not really — only the reminder that I get distracted easily while I’m in prayer.

  • This is awesome. Love the idea of “prayer bussing.”

  • John, this is great, and I love the idea of the bus. I live in the county just west of the city of Portland and we had a county wide gathering on Saturday for faith institutions, social service agencies, government, and interested individuals to talk about hunger, homelessness, and health issues. It was very encouraging and inspiring to see and hear and be a part of the discussions of how the resources exist to meet the needs and how we need to minister to the entire city and county. We weren’t limited to the resources of a single church, but shared a lot about how to love our neighbors and meet their needs.

    I love the heart and vision you have for being a pastor in Austin, keep up the good work. I pray you connect even more with others who want to go on that journey with you and who catch that vision of God and his work being bigger than the walls of a church.

  • d

    I also think this is a great thing. We did this a lot in the cities we lived in over there. But it doesn’t seem too common here. Probably because most of us don’t have the mindset of intentional living that ministry strongly invites. The trick was what to pray about after the standard’s. Wondering and wandering with prayer can be kinda monastic and cool. Let us know how it goes.