By Brett Hetherington*
Prayer is essential to the life of any church. What is a building block in the faith walk of individuals and congregations, alike, is now part of the physical building of West Austintown First United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District).
“We had spent over four months trying to figure out a way for our church to join their prayers as a sort of living time capsule, something that wouldn’t just be a fleeting moment on a Sunday morning,” said the Rev. Jeffery Harrison.
After much discussion among church leaders, the answer came to Harrison in February during a young clergy pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Bishop Tracy S. Malone that was made possible through the generosity of the Methodist Foundation of Ohio.
“While we were in the Holy Land there were three things that were really impactful for me,” Harrison shared. “Baptisms in the Jordan River, visiting the Sea of Galilee, and standing at the Western Wall. Being surrounded by Rabbinic Jews, Hassidic Jews and Christians from other cultures all united in prayer together was incredibly impactful for me.”
Upon returning home to the church Harrison presented to church leadership his vision of the church creating its own Western Wall experience.
“They thought it would be a cool thing. Our sanctuary needed upgraded anyway, and the rear wall of the stage area is the actual western wall of the church building,” said Harrison. “This is really about the congregation coming together.”
Planks of wood were cut out of simple pine, and members of the church were invited to write their prayers on the back side of a plank.
“Everyone received a two-foot long plank,” said Harrison. “They wrote a prayer for life, a prayer for the church ministries, a Scripture for life or even a favorite hymn. Most every prayer plank is filled out with someone’s name or some sort of prayer. Even if someone didn’t want to do it themselves, I put their name on one as a gesture that we are all surrounded by all the saints.”
The planks were stained one of seven different colors – some mixed specially for this very project – to add warmth and texture to the wall and the work began of assembling the wall. The church’s prayer wall was completed in July, but it wasn’t unveiled publicly until in-person worship resumed on Sunday, November 1. One of the church members remembered during the All Saints Day service that Sunday was a woman whose prayer plank is part of the wall but who, sadly, passed away shortly after the wall was completed.
The wall is to be more than just a new backdrop for the sanctuary. Harrison and church leadership wants to be able to incorporate it into worship life on a regular basis. “I hope when we learn to live differently with COVID we can all come to the wall to place a hand on it and pray. Maybe during Lent, we can even be placing a paper with what we need to work on in our lives, leaving it in the wall and removing it on Easter morning.”
This Western Wall of the church building has become more than just another wall in the building. It is indeed a living time capsule with a purpose.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.