“Rooted in a rhythm of gathering and reflection, we educate toward a larger purpose.”
Our Episcopal Tradition Matters
Oregon Episcopal School
Some years ago, our Lower School Chaplain introduced a new and simple liturgical element to Chapel — a prayer basket. From that point forward, over the course of each week, this basket has lived on a small perch at the gateway to our library, regularly visible and accessible to all 340 lower school children (and employees). Small pieces of colored paper and pencils provide easy access and an invitation to write down a prayer for something important.
In an age-appropriate and tangible way, this prayer basket has become a regular teachable moment for the very “Episcopal” notion of intercessory and petitional prayer.
The prayer basket is brought to our Chapel on the mornings the Lower School gathers in that sacred space. With a focus on leadership for fifth grade students, these “prayers of the people” are their charge. The prayer basket enters the Chapel in the opening procession, carried by a student, and is placed on the front steps of the altar. At the end of the Chapel, student sacristans take turns reading these prayers aloud, before we finish with “The Lord’s Prayer” and our recessional hymn.
Guiding principles and expectations for our Lower School prayer basket now include:
- No prayers for individual students by name (without their permission).
- No prayers for the success of sports teams (passion for the Trail Blazers and the Timbers starts at a young age in Portland).
- No prayers for things that generally do not exist (such as unicorns).
There is shared learning in how spoken prayers are offered in worship. Although it is exciting and gratifying to be included in prayer (”I pray for the third grade”), there is a common understanding not to respond to individual petitions with collective cheers or salutes.
Students down to our youngest learners understand and appreciate the shared responsibility and opportunity of our prayer basket, and they desire to make meaningful connections with their hearts and their words. As such, these prayers have taken on a remarkable poignancy in our Chapel.
A few recent examples include:
“I pray for my sick grandpa.”
“I pray for hungry people.”
“I pray for my friend, who is angry with me.”
“I pray for the people in London to be safe from bombs.
And, yes, “I pray for my dog, who is depresed.”
All prayer slips are saved over the fall and winter. On the last Chapel before Ash Wednesday, this formidable stack is visible and present. Importantly, with the entire Lower School community gathered outside at our school bell-tower, these prayers are placed in a fire-pit, along with a set of dried palms, and then burned. This is both exciting and meaningful to our students. The same ashes are then a part of our Ash Wednesday service.
Our Book of Common Prayer reminds us that “intercession brings before God the needs of others; (and) in petition, we present our own need, that God’s will may be done” (BCP 857). The Oregon Episcopal School (OES) Lower School prayer basket has become a visible and meaningful sign of this catechism — a symbol of welcome and inclusion for all students in our Lower School community. Indeed, prayers matter, now more than ever.
A word of thanks to my chaplain colleague, the Reverend Jennifer Cleveland, for introducing the prayer basket to the OES Lower School.
About the Author
The Reverend Phillip Craig, Jr. serves as Head of Chaplaincy and Chaplain to the Lower School at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, Oregon. Before coming to OES, he was School Chaplain at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. In addition, Phillip serves as Rector of Ascension Episcopal Parish, also in Portland. A cradle Episcopalian, Phillip holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an M. Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary.