Ministry offers prayers on the go
Christian group sees house of worship in a company's office and on the street
The basement meeting room at Park National Bank in downtown Geneva looks nothing like a church, and the eight people gathered there were dressed in business casual, not their Sunday best.
But when they got down to the work of praying for the "tri-cities" of St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia on a recent Tuesday, the room rang with religious fervor.
Half clergy, half secular businesspeople, a group called Tri-Cities Pray has met at the bank every second and fourth Tuesday since Jan. 15 asking God to guide residents' thoughts and actions as they work, educate and raise their families. On alternate weeks, Tri-Cities Pray hits the road, cruising through the communities and asking God's blessing for every home, school, bridge and business they pass.
The group is the latest example of a new paradigm for Christian worship called "marketplace ministry," which uses prayer to spread Christian principles from the church into public institutions such as businesses, schools and local governments.
On this day, members prayed for the general health and safety of the communities, for the Batavia Police Department, which has had two officers commit suicide in the last year and for victims of the Northern Illinois University shootings. They also gave thanks that the Geneva High School choir had returned safely after performing at Disney World.
"There's so much to pray for here, it could be hard to keep up," Troendly said.
Occasionally business owners invite the group onto the premises, as did Joseph Slawek, chief executive officer of Flavors of North American.
"I'm very grateful these people took the time and effort to invite God into my company and pray for our success," he said. "I personally believe church has to be more than a Sunday-morning sermon, so I think it's great that they want to help people bring God into their workdays. A lot of life happens during the week. Why not ask God for help with it?"
Other local business owners' reactions to the concept ranged from enthusiastic to politely skeptical.
"I don't see how it would help, but it can't hurt," said Sharon Harwick, owner of Fabric Boutique in Batavia.
Tri-Cities Pray members hope more community leaders will get involved, especially school and civic officials.
"We're certainly not going to force ourselves on schools. We're not going to walk into a school and pray there during the school day," said group member Tony Danhelka, president of Riverwoods Christian Center in St. Charles.
"But we hope leaders in Districts 101, 303 and 304 will join us in prayer, tell us what issues they'd like us to pray for and invite us to hold community prayer meetings in their school buildings after classes," he said.
Any community group can meet in Batavia's public schools after school hours as long as space is available and the school principal consents, said District 101 Board of Education member Kristin Behmer. But board members and administrators are unlikely to join them, except as private individuals.
"We have a responsibility to the district and its students to not favor any religion over any other," Behmer said. "You can teach students about religion to a certain degree, but you can't follow any particular religion as a representative of the district."
At least one city official is applauding the group's goals.
"The idea of community members coming together to pray for the community sounds fine to me," said Batavia Ald. Victor Dietz (2nd). "I think the Tri-Cities could use some prayers. ... We open all our City Council meetings with an invocation, and we have prayed as a public body in times of grief or crisis. As long as no one forces people to participate, I don't see a problem with it."
Rabbi Jonathan Cohn of Temple Kneseth Israel in Elgin said that although praying for all residents to be guided by a Christian God is somewhat presumptuous, he has nothing against Tri-Cities Pray's efforts.
"Every religion is presumptuous in one respect or another, and evangelism is not alien to mainstream Christianity," said Cohn. "What they're doing is within their own covenant, so it will be effective only within their covenant. God bless them; I hope it works out for them."
In Elgin and Aurora, a similar initiative encourages priests and pastors of local churches to work together on charitable projects and prayer groups to benefit their communities. The Loving Our Communities to Christ program is sponsored by the evangelical group Mission America Coalition.
"We're trying to bring about a catalytic culture change in churches and communities, helping leaders who don't normally work together to focus on loving God by loving their neighbors," said program coordinator Phil Miglioratti of Palatine.
"Civic leaders are coming to realize that prayer groups have something to offer their communities," he said, "and that's going to happen in the Tri-Cities."
Danhelka said it's possible Tri-Cities Pray would become part of that initiative in the future. "The beauty of this group is that we've given God a blank piece of paper and said, 'Tell us what you want us to do,'" he said.
For now, Tri-Cities Pray is focusing on bringing more lay Christians into the group.
"When I was looking for someplace for us to meet, I purposely picked this spot because it's not a church," Troendly said. "Since so many people no longer go to church, we're trying to bring God to them where they work."
For more on Tri-Cities Pray, contact Troendly email@example.com or Danhelka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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