You, or a loved one, may be facing a surgery, injury or illness. Or grieving a death. Perhaps there is a marital, family or financial struggle. A mental or emotional hardship. An addiction. A crisis of faith.
Whatever the difficulty, people in northern Tompkins County are afforded comfort through a special brand of spiritual outreach in the cluster of Holy Cross Parish, Dryden; St. Anthony, Groton; and All Saints, Lansing.
Prayer chains have operated at Holy Cross and St. Anthony for many years, and All Saints instituted a chain — the parish calls it a "prayer tree" — nearly a year ago.
"There are times in your life when things are going horribly wrong, and it’s nice to know somebody else is out there praying for you," Evelyn Rohde said.
The St. Anthony parishioner knows firsthand the value of such a ministry, saying the support she received from the church’s prayer chain provided comfort at the time of her son’s death from cancer in 2000. These days, Rohde serves as a St. Anthony chain coordinator along with Ginny Bradshaw.
People wishing to add themselves, or loved ones, to a chain often phone or e-mail a coordinator. Additional names are forwarded by the parish secretary, suggested by chain members or — in the case of All Saints — put in the collection at church in sealed envelopes. Names are then passed on to several other volunteers within each chain, who pray regularly for those listed.
Beverly Maynard, who coordinates Holy Cross’ prayer chain, said she’s always looking to add volunteers, noting that there are no meetings involved.
"It’s so easy, if you want to do something for the church," Maynard remarked. Rohde added that this type of volunteerism is a good vehicle for shut-ins who wish to volunteer, because no travel is required.
When fielding prayer requests, coordinators ask for the name of the person to be prayed for as well as the reason. However, they respectfully comply if anonymity is sought.
Some names on the prayer chains also can be found on the "Prayer Requests for our Sick and Shut-Ins" list that appears each week in the cluster bulletin. But chains afford a more personalized form of prayer since volunteers are praying for a specific person and cause, whereas the bulletin listing only prints names.
Prayer recipients are of all ages. Although many are fellow parishioners, they are not required to be Catholic or even acquaintances of chain volunteers. All that’s required is people in need of prayer being linked with those willing to offer it.
"Even if it’s a friend of a friend, it’s still a situation that some human being is in. And all prayers help," said Maynard, who was one of the Holy Cross chain’s originators in 1996. "When you’re really in a bad place in your life, people want to know that other people are caring and praying for them."
Chain volunteers strive to pray daily. This prayer can occur at any time of the day, in any form — during weekday Mass, while driving in the car, in a solitary setting.
"My time is at bedtime. It just seems as though we get caught up with our daily life, and you don’t have a tendency to think about people’s needs until you get a quiet time to yourself and have the focus on someone who really needs those prayers," said Joan Hass, a coordinator at All Saints.
The number of people being prayed for at one time can vary quite a bit: Hass said the All Saints chain has gotten as high as 25; Maynard noted that she has "a full page of names right now"; and Rohde said several weeks might go by without a new prayer request or several can come in almost at once.
As one might imagine, prayer-chain coordinators hear of many personal struggles when callers and e-mailers describe the reasons they’re seeking out prayer.
"We try to show compassion," Rohde said. Hass added that "it’s a complicated ministry" because prayer-chain coordinators aren’t qualified to do counseling, yet she pointed out that people may go on to seek additional help once they’ve gotten their problems off their chests to the coordinators.
"We may be the door that opens to them initially," she said.
Prayer-chain lists are updated periodically. Some people may be on a list briefly; others for many months. Hass noted that some deletions occur because people have pulled through their difficulty and attribute their improvement to the power of the prayer ministry.
"We have had people come up to us and say, ‘Thanks for the prayers, we really feel they were a benefit in this situation we have.’ I guess you could say it’s heartwarming," Hass said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To be added to a prayer chain/tree or suggest a name, contact: Holy Cross, Dryden — Beverly Maynard, 607-844-8466; St. Anthony, Groton — Evelyn Rohde, 607-898-3927, or Ginny Bradshaw, 607-898-9085; All Saints, Lansing — Joan Hass, firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-533-4775, or Clara Barrett, email@example.com or 607-257-7434.