COVID-19 took so much from us, but it also opened doors for creativity and new approaches to many of our cherished traditions including World Day of Prayer (WDP).
Not only was the 2021 World Day of Prayer service recorded and available online to anyone with access to the internet, but also a small group of people gathered together on Facebook to pray for this event for many weeks leading up to March 5, 2021. Our goal was to build a prayer movement and online community before WDP.
I had the privilege of leading 10 sessions of prayer on the Facebook page, World Day of Prayer Canada Pray NOW, between September 2020 and March 2021. These Facebook Live events were held on the first and third Fridays of each month, with the exception of Friday, January 1, 2021. Each session was 15-20 minutes long.
WHY FACEBOOK LIVE?
When it became clear that using unfamiliar technology was the only way World Day of Prayer 2021 was going to be possible, I wondered what tools were available that could be used to promote and strengthen the World Day of Prayer experience. I thought of Facebook Live since it provided an opportunity to inform and educate as well as to participate in a real time event. For several years, Board and Council members of the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada (WICC) expressed interest in making WDP more than a one-day event. This became a conviction of mine when I was on the WICC Council and learned that there is a 5-year process of writing and producing a WDP service. This seemed to be an extraordinary amount of work for just one service held once a year – a service that could be cancelled at the last minute due to poor weather. A Facebook Live event with a focus on prayer seemed to be a perfect fit.
The goal of WDP is “informed prayer” so I wanted to provide up-to-date information related to WDP that included praying for Zimbabwe, the 2020 WDP writing country; Vanuatu, the 2021 WDP writing country; and any other information related to WDP. There were three main sources I used to find this information:
- Google Alerts – I set up alerts so that once a day I received an email about any news online about Vanuatu or Zimbabwe.
- Facebook – Two main Facebook pages for information, inspiration and written prayers were the Facebook pages of the World Day of Prayer International Committee (www.facebook.com/WDPIC) and WICC www.facebook.com/WICCanada).
- WICC – I kept in regular contact with Executive Director, Cath MacKeil, so that I could share current concerns related to celebrating WDP in Canada.
For each prayer session, I choose a Bible verse or passage to read so that our prayer time would not just be about requests. Scriptures shared included verses that encouraged us to pray with faith (Matthew 17:20), to be persistent in prayer (Luke 11:5-10), to expect our prayers to be answered (Acts 12:1-19) and to realize that in this pandemic, God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:18,19).
Once the scripture was chosen and the updated information collected, it was time to write the prayers. Then I practiced reading everything aloud while timing it which inevitably led to cutting out parts that made the session too long.
Facebook Live is a great platform for engagement and it requires so little technology and few tools. All I used was my smartphone on a tripod. I didn’t need a microphone or extra lights. It did require though rearranging my bedroom each time so that I had a small, uncluttered corner free from distractions that looked suitable on camera.
I was delighted with the results of our Facebook Live experiment. It improved my own prayer life by forcing me to be more informed of World Day of Prayer concerns and to develop the discipline of praying more regularly for World Day of Prayer. It also made me feel connected to other praying people. I was thrilled with the participation and was amazed at the connection I felt with those on the live call as well as with those who watched the recording and made comments. I knew that they were praying too. The number of people who viewed these Facebook videos grew from 135 to 453 per session over six months.
Once the live session was over, I always took the time to “like” the comments and to make a personal response to most. If comments were made by people I didn’t know personally, I tried to find out more about them from their profile on Facebook. It was exciting to see the incredible work and ministries of people who supported World Day of Prayer in their prayers. I was very surprised to see the number of people who joined who were not from Canada. It really was a global experience without having to leave home. Even though World Day of Prayer is over, I’m still receiving likes and comments on the recordings. Our prayer movement continues!
This experience revealed that the combination of prayer and the right technology can be very powerful. I eagerly wait to hear what impact our prayers have on Vanuatu and Zimbabwe, but even if there is no tangible evidence of answers to our prayers, I have been touched by the experience that drew me closer to brothers and sisters in Christ using the most powerful form of communication – prayer.
Rev. Shirley DeMerchant resides in Woodstock, NB and is a former WICC President