By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The people of St. Luke’s Church in Milwaukee have a way of knowing what their neighbors need — even those they’ve never met.
What’s their secret? They ask. And they hear responses — “Pray for my uncle with cancer” or “Pray for my friend who needs a job” — even from those who never step inside the church.
Since 2010, St. Luke’s has been collecting prayers in an outdoor prayer basket that sits in a wooden box atop a post. Passersby open the box, fill out a prayer request slip, and drop it down a slot into a basket.
Prayer slips are accessible only to a parishioner or staff member with a key. Prayers are then combined with those of parishioners, and each worshiper goes home on Sunday with a prayer request to fulfill.
“This was a way that we came up with to reach out to the community, without knocking on doors or being invasive into their lives,” said Mike Bossow, who built the prayer box. “If they feel they need prayer for something, we can do that for them.”
Bossow believes the outdoor prayer basket is unique to St. Luke’s. It began when the small congregation — about 35 attend on an average Sunday — discussed how it could help neighbors during a recession. The church has collected and distributed children’s clothing for decades, but it wanted to do more.
Most prayers are offered anonymously, Bossow said. Neighbors tend to pray for the same things church members long for: health, economic security, and harmonious relationships. If they check a box on the prayer request form requesting clergy contact, then a priest from the church follows up.
The outdoor prayer basket hasn’t changed congregational life at St. Luke’s, Bossow said. Nor has it led to increased attendance or new types of ministries to address local needs. But receiving prayers requests has expanded the church’s practice of blessing passersby.
Walkers are welcome to sit on a wooden bench on church grounds and read a book. If they need something to read, they’re welcome to take a book from the Little Free Library, which houses a few dozen books in another outdoor wooden box that Bossow built. Materials to build each box cost about $100, he said.
TLC Correspondent G. Jeffrey MacDonald is author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010).
Image: The Little Free Library and prayer basket at St. Luke’s Church, Milwaukee