Praying in public is a great honor, but giving an invocation before a mixed group of people can be a tricky thing to pull off without making people uncomfortable. The good news is that it can be done. Here are some tips for effective and appropriate public prayer.
Giving a ceremonial prayer in a public setting
First of all, understand the context of the event. Whether the event is purely secular (non-religious) or an inter-faith gathering, it may be best to use a more generic prayer format rather than a prayer-style and vocabulary that not everyone in the group can relate to. As much as some Christians may be legitimately concerned about not compromising their own beliefs, remember that any ceremony belongs to all those who participate. Imagine what it would be like to attend an event that was very important to you and someone from another faith group was asked to pray. If that person gave a prayer which seemed to exclude you, or was given in a manner that was difficult to follow, you might come away feeling as though your experience was diminished. So, when you are asked to pray, try to include everyone in some way without compromising your own faith.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to be who you are. If you have been invited to pray, then do your best to represent your tradition, or faith community well. Make sure that you speak to God on behalf of the entire group in in a way that represents God and your faith tradition well.
Prayerfully ask God to show you what is appropriate, given the occasion, give the prayer, and then simply stop. A rambling or repetitious prayer soon becomes offensive. Be very careful to abide by whatever time restraints have been put upon you.
In your prayer, avoid the temptation to assume control of the event simply because you believe that you have an insight into religious truth that others do not. Most people can spot this kind of attitude in seconds.
Make sure you pray in a voice that is slow and loud enough to be heard by everyone present, while avoiding a preachy or ranting tone in prayer.
Praying in Jesus’ name absolutely can be done even in an inter-faith gathering. I have found that as long as I say, “I pray in Jesus’ name” without presuming to speak for everyone, (We pray in Jesus’ name) most folks have been willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand there is nothing necessarily compromising in ending a prayer with a simple “Amen” (It is actually biblical).
Finally, be genuine. Far better than simply mouthing eloquent words, aim at true communication with God. It may be helpful to write out your prayer beforehand. Doing so could prevent you from saying something silly or unclear. If you read your prayer, put your heart and mind into the words you are saying. Remember, you are asking God’s blessing on the gathering in some way. That alone is enough to take the assignment very seriously.
Here is a sample of an invocation I gave at a secular graduation for one of the institutions where is serve as an adjunct instructor:
“God in heaven—It is our privilege to invite you here as the guest of honor on this occasion. It is our request that you would bless this graduating class, but more than that– and of first importance– we desire that you would be here with us this evening.
Among other things, O God, you are the Creator of the human mind, which you modeled in some fashion after your own great mind. Though we acknowledge that your thoughts are infinitely higher and more profound than ours, we glory in the notion that we may, on our own level, think some of your thoughts after you in this place. Thank you for the precious gifts of knowledge and discovery.
I ask on behalf of those gathered here that you would indeed bless each of these graduates. Give them the grace to make a difference for the good wherever they may find themselves in the years ahead.
- For those who will pursue further education, grant not only the knowledge they will need in their chosen fields, but also wisdom to apply that knowledge to life as it really is.
- For those who will be going directly into the workforce, give a sense of what is right and good and appropriate in the often-confusing issues they will face.
- For those in military service, may they draw courage and strength from you. May they serve our country and all of humanity with integrity and honor.
- For all of these graduates and the families of which they are a part, we ask that they may make a significant contribution to the general welfare of society. May they especially be a blessing to those whose lives they personally touch.
And now, may you be pleased with what is done here this evening. Thank you for your presence.
It is in the name above all others that I pray, Amen.”
I hope these words based on my own experience have been helpful. Michael Bogart