When Public Prayer Gets Too Personal

It happened four times in two months—in churches scattered across the continent. It made me uneasy.

I attended Sunday worship with mainstream Protestant congregations in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and California. In each service the pastoral prayer was interspersed with personal, intercessory prayers by worship attenders.

Why did I—one who loves both prayer and populism—squirm during this form of piety?

Because these prayers were overwhelmingly personal.

A dear friend articulated my concern. He is facing cancer in a private part of his body. He stopped going to church because he is afraid that part of his body will be mentioned during prayer. Public prayer that fails to distinguish between the personal and the private can really hurt people.

Another friend of the same generation winced when he heard his church service broadcast on the local radio station: "And now let us pray for R. who has prostate cancer and a female doctor." The invasion of privacy hurt the ...

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