Going Deeper in Advent
Advent – as they say in Godly Play – helps us get ready to enter the mystery of Christmas. But as we all know, there is so much busyness and activity during December that it’s hard to make time to stop and watch; to ready our hearts for the gift that God gives us at Christmas.
Last Advent, in place of one Sunday sermon, I invited our congregation to spend time at Advent-themed prayer stations set up around the church. I created eight prayer stations, and everyone – people all ages – spent 15 minutes engaging with one or more. We played meditative music in the background, and encouraged folks to go at their own pace.
“Advent Prayer Stations” is very adaptable. This practice works for different styles and services of worship. You can adapt this idea to your context – worship, inter-generational event, retreat, Sunday school or other formation time or other venue. In the midst of December, your people will thank you.
8 Advent Prayer Stations
1. Make-Your-Own-Advent Calendar
Instead making a traditional calendar, people choose enough construction paper strips in purple and pink for each day of Advent. On each strip, they wrote an idea for Advent that they could read each day as they built an Advent chain. I included a list of ideas of scripture passages, prayers, and acts of kindness and togetherness.
2. Imagining ourselves in the Nativity story
Put out a collection of crèche scenes, along with printed narratives of the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. Invite people to imagine themselves as characters in the story. What would it have felt like for each character? Add a supply of little wooden people figures that could represent “us” in the story.
3. Candle Lighting
Our congregation is accustomed to lighting candles to represent our prayers. For this station, invite people to light a candle and pray for a place in their life – or in the world around them – where God’s light is needed to shine in the darkness.
We have a simple labyrinth painted on the floor. If you do not have a permanent one, consider using a portable labyrinth or even a handheld one. Just like the Holy Family, Magi and shepherds, we, too, are on a journey to Bethlehem. Invite people to consider where they are on their journey with God.
5. Christmas Icon
We tore pieces from colorful Christmas catalogs and glued them onto a common poster to create an icon-like image of Mary and the baby Jesus. I drew the outline of the figures and had a pre-colored “key” nearby so they knew which spaces to cover with which colors. They enjoyed turning commercial ads into a holy artwork.
6. Rock Painting
Since this season can feel heavy for many of us, provide a basket of small rocks and small brushes with outdoor paint. Invite people to pray for something that they are worried about or grieving as they paint words, images or colors on their rocks. After the rocks dry, we placed them along an outdoor labyrinth or other spot to accompany the community in their walking.
7. Prayers in the Manger
Advent is a time of waiting and longing as we anticipate the birth of Jesus in the manger on Christmas. Invite to write their prayers of longing and put them in an empty manger you will use later in the season.
8. Christmas Cards
set out dozens of blank Christmas cards with pens and crayons, and invite people to write cards for people who could use some love or encouragement. Provide addresses for folks from the congregation who are separated from the church because of ill health or a move. Afterwards, collect and mail them to parishioners, who would be thrilled to receive a card and know you were thinking about them.
Advent Prayer Stations – Why It Works
Advent prayer stations are well-received by worshipers of all ages. People enjoy the creativity and the quiet time to pray. Children love all the options, and parents tell me the time feels very meaningful to them. In addition to offering the stations, I always invite people to pray quietly in their seats, if they prefer. A few people choose that option.
The Rev. Elizabeth Rees is the senior associate rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia. She first used the prayer stations at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria. You can read more of her work at reverendelizabeth.blogspot.com. This article was originally published by Building Faith, a ministry of Virginia Theological Seminary, at https://buildfaith.org/advent-prayer-stations/