By the time Brittany Smith arrived Tuesday afternoon, the 476th hour of the Midtown Prayer Collective, the prayer room’s “graffiti wall” and the “wailing wall” were filled with prayers for Memphis.
“Holy Spirit, fall on Memphis.”
“Grace like rain over this city.”
“Show us how to seek justice for our city.”
“Lord, teach me to love thy neighbor.”
Brittany, 27, who was there to represent herself as well as her Midtown congregation, Christ City Church, wasn’t discouraged. This is Memphis. There are plenty of reasons and ways to pray.
So she sat down in the middle of the room, drew a picture of the Memphis skyline, then wrote her prayers around the picture.
“I love Memphis, and Midtown especially, and have been desiring for God to grow my love for this city, the people around me, and to break my heart for the brokenness and oppression all around,” said Brittany, associate director of Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Memphis.
“Having this specific place to come pray, meditate, be still, be creative, and really seek Jesus has been such an encouragement.”
That’s the prayerful goal of the collective, formed last month by leaders of several young Midtown congregations that are praying around-the-clock for their community.
The prayers began at 7 p.m. Oct. 10 and will continue until 7 p.m. Nov. 14 — 840 hours of prayer in 35 days.
Leaders of the collective created a website, midtownprayer.com, with an online Google calendar. Participants sign up for one-hour shifts. Some come alone. Others bring family or friends.
They also set up a prayer room at LifeLink Church in Cooper-Young, once home to Galloway United Methodist Church.
“Take off your shoes for this is holy ground,” a sign at the entrance suggests.
In the quiet, well-lit prayer room, there’s a corner for silence with two soft chairs, a love seat and a table with a Psalter and devotionals. There’s another corner for music with a keyboard and CD player.
There’s a place for children to paint, draw and play.
Many who come to pray write personal or communal prayers on green, yellow or purple index cards and pin them to the “wailing wall.”
“Pray for Memphis City Schools, ESL children, encouragement, opportunity, patience, kindness” one card said.
“Pray for many who are addicted unemployed ill lonely. Pray for racial reconciliation in this city and churches,” another card said.
One wall is covered with maps of the world, the U.S., Tennessee and Shelby County. “Lord, comfort, heal and give hope to those who suffer from illness in our city,” someone wrote on the Memphis map.
Another wall, painted white, is filled with Bible verses, colorful hearts, and prayerful messages, and other Godly graffiti,
“Dad, we are desperate for your presence in Orange Mound. We cry out for you. Give us strength.”
“Restore our city. Relationships. Me.”
The idea for the prayer collective was hatched a year ago, when several local pastors met with Jon Tyson, a former Middle Tennessee minister and leader of an urban church planting movement.
“He said the American church has tried everything but radical prayer,” said Robert Grisham, pastor of The Neighborhood Church, which meets in Union Avenue Baptist Church.
“That really struck me,” Grisham said. “The challenges are so great in this city. There’s only so much we can do on our own. We have to turn to God.”
Grisham talked to leaders of a handful of other recent Midtown-area church plants — evangelical “churches without walls” that are worshipping in rented space and trying to shift their congregational focus from institutional upkeep to inspirational uplift.
Others who are part of the prayer collective include Mercy Hill, Living Hope, Christ City, New Tribe, The Bridge, the Visible Music College, and All Saints.
“We put a lot of emphasis on doing good work and building relationships with each other, but not enough on God,” said Waring Porter, pastor of All Saints Presbyterian Church. “We’ve neglected prayer as a spiritual discipline.”
The prayer collective began with a worship service Oct. 10. It will end with another service at 7 p.m. Nov. 14.
Meanwhile, Brittany and her fellow prayer partners will keep taking shifts. Tuesday afternoon was Brittany’s third shift. She signed up for two hours.
“I originally thought having an hour might be too much time, but I’m finding myself wanting more and signing up for two-hour time blocks instead,” Brittany said afterward.
“It’s so easy to busy myself with so many things and not really seek Christ and listen to God, but being a part of the Midtown Prayer Collective has helped me to be intentional about doing those things.”