The unexpected ways prayer can foster unity and connection

Written by Ilana Reimer

The Calgary church sanctuary was dimly lit, blue lights creating a soft glow on the stage. I could hear a woman in the row behind me crying quietly. I hesitated. Possibly the last thing she wanted was to be approached by a total stranger. I wasn’t from this church, let alone this city.

Awkwardly, I asked if I could pray for her, or if she’d rather be left alone. She did want prayer. She wiped her eyes, pushed back her silky black hair, and gave me brief details about what was on her mind. Then, heads bent close together so we could hear each other above the worship music in the background, we prayed.

I found myself crying with her, and for her, stirred with affection for this woman I’d never met before. After we prayed, we exchanged names, spoke for another moment, then went our separate ways. 

Something good—and often holy—happens when Christians share space and seek our God together.

I can think of numerous other occasions at prayer gatherings of all sizes where I prayed with strangers and have been struck by a sense of shared belonging.

If we got to know one another, we’d discover our many differences in personalities and viewpoints. And that’s a wonderful kind of fellowship. It’s important to keep rubbing shoulders with the same people each week, being formed and transformed by the imperfectly faithful people who sit in the chairs or pews around us.

But I also love the quick affinity that can spring up between strangers who share the same spiritual family. And prayer gatherings are often a space where that kind of unity is most obvious. 

Church disunity and hurt aren’t new. But right now, we’re painfully aware of both the tensions and our weariness as we reckon with the effects of division and isolation, fueled in part by the long pandemic. In the midst of this, one of the most hopeful things we can do is choose to gather—across denominations, across this country—and pray. 

It’s also often in these communal settings where we’re prompted to pray for things beyond our immediate concerns. We can focus together on praying for the Church and for the people who make up this country. 

This spring, a prayer summit series called Ignite offers such an opportunity. The Ignite summits will be hosted in four Canadian cities: Ottawa, Calgary, Kelowna, and Regina. Put on as a collaboration between several ministries and denominations, these gatherings are spaces to pray for unity, spiritual awakening, church vitality, and healing across Canada. 

As Andrew DeCort points out in an article on prayer in the midst of war, prayer shapes and transforms us over time to become more like Christ. “In my experience prayer works, but it primarily works on us,” DeCort says. “The psychiatrist Curt Thompson writes, ‘Ultimately, we become what we pay attention to. . . . Practice tends to make permanent.’ This attentive, practiced becoming is the anchor of all authentic prayer.”

It can be hard to keep going some days, hard to pick out the hope amid the hurt or find the will to keep praying. Yet this is one of the gifts of collective prayer. It reminds us of our shared vision and calling. It reminds us of our spiritual identity. It prompts us to examine our own hearts. And most importantly, it tilts our focus God-ward. 

If you’re looking for an Ignite prayer gathering near you, you can find out more about the schedule and locations here.