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Preparing for a public prayer service
We pray publicly to invite God into our community and to invite people who don't
come to our worship services to meet God. Public worship that does this inviting takes
different preparation than our Sunday morning worship services and anticipates different outcomes.
If you've not planned a public witness before, especially if you're working on a volatile topic or
anticipating police involvement, get help. Some of the ideas below are from the experienced
Mennonite-Church of the Brethren-Quaker group, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).
Also see MCC Canada:|
Toolkit for Public Witness
What does it mean for Christians to engage in public peace witness? This
"toolkit" offers some answers.
As your planning group prays together and learns more about the topic and what others are doing, clarify your goals:
- Desired outcome
The CPT handout, Elements of a nonviolent Action Campaign can help.
Wonder together who else from your community might be interested in being a part of the sponsoring group. All sponsors need to set goals together; don't create an agenda and then invite others to join you. Be sensitive and inclusive as you work on issues that cross boundaries: racial, ethnic, religious, etc. Building bridges is peacemaking at its best and takes effort.
Remember that your spiritual preparation as leaders, individually and as a group, is vital.
Public witness checklist
Choose a location
Pick a site that will attract your desired audience. Observe the site at the same time of day and day of the week as your service to best understand both foot and auto traffic flow.
Contact responsible authorities for permission. Be completely transparent: explain your purpose, whom you hope to attract, whether you'll be using an audio system, how long the witness will last, whether you'll be using candles, etc.
Publicize the event:
Train your team:
- Notify local press about action by way of a press release.
- Buy an ad in local papers inviting people to come.
- Create visually compelling invitations for easy distribution.
Make banners easily visible by passing vehicles.
- Peacemaker mingle in the crowd and watch for anger or troublemakers. You will find the Peacemaker Guidelines insightful.
- Choreographers are responsible to help things flow; check placement of speakers, participants, signs, banners, actors, etc. for visibility and coordination. They direct the "dance."
- A press spokesperson is assigned to interpret the group's witness to the press. Every participant should have their "sound byte" ready for a possible interview.
- Leafleters distribute leaflets to inform or educate the public about the group's action and should spread out to cover the area adequately. An effective leafleter makes eye contact and a friendly positive comment with every leaflet (e.g. "This should interest you."). They should practice ways of handling indifference, hostility, and open interest.
- The emcee welcomes everyone, introduces speakers, and wraps things up at the end.
- Song & Chant Leaders
- Photographer/Videotographer records action on film and/or video. This documentation is helpful for follow-up with press.
- Speakers are knowledgeable about the issues and can articulate the group's message. They should make short, concise points about the topic; use concrete, vivid details to illustrate; be personal; keep a sense of humor; and repeat important points for newcomers.
- Ushers pass out materials, encourage people to join the group, help people to see and sit comfortably, etc.
- The audio coordinator should be someone who has experience working outside and knows how to deal with inevitable wind and background noises over the microphone. An audience who can't hear leaves quickly.
See: Creating Publicity Materials
Make visual aids. (See Iraq beanbag game as an example.)
Make copies of handouts.
They should include the purpose of the action, the order of service, the names of participants, where to get additional information about the issue, and a local congregational contact.
See Creating Publicity Materials
Arrange to have a few chairs for people who can't stand long, ways to keep people warm or in the shade, drinks, and other hospitable items.
If using candles, purchase them and think how to keep people safe from fire or misuse of candles.
Possible order of service
Gathering prayer and orientation time for participants
A walk to location with banners, praying silently or singing or chanting
Songs to attract attention
Greeting, brief explanation of witness
More info about the situation/issue
Songs and Litanies
More prayer and lighting candles, if using.
Return walk in silence prayer or with singing