- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

The dinner table and church aren’t the only places to pray, say Christians worldwide who have taken personal prayers to the global forum of the Internet.

“We’re supposed to pray for each other. The Scripture doesn’t really say how to do that. … Why not blog and pray?” said Mark Batterson, lead pastor at National Community Church in Northeast, which broadcasts its Sunday services to four locations throughout the District.

True to trend, Christians have taken the sacred and baptized it in the world of modern media.

National Community Church’s Web site (theaterchurch.com) has been hosting a 40-day prayer journal in celebration of Lent. New prayers are posted each day, all with the theme of “Seeking God.” A recent post is titled “Seeking God to Advance City-Wide Movements.”

Members can share their stories of prayer and fasting on a forum titled “40 days: Tell Your Story.” The site exhorts contributors that prayer and fasting are “vital to spiritual breakthroughs.”

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with it to be honest. I think it is wonderful that we’re giving people an opportunity to pray and be prayed for,” Mr. Batterson said.

National Community Church’s webcasts, podcasts and blogs may not be typical, but more traditional congregations are praying online as well. Prayer request forms have become common on church Web sites, allowing members to publicly display their prayers or simply submit them to church leaders.

Montgomery County Church of Christ in Silver Spring (www.montgomerycounty churchofchrist.org) allows members who sign up for a log-in name to submit prayer requests online and read others’ successes in an “Answered Prayer” forum. Other members’ prayer requests can be viewed without a log-in name.

Sites not affiliated with churches also have arisen. PrayersOnline.net, PrayerRequestSite.com and UrgentPrayers.com allow people from around the world to post their prayer requests publicly.

Facebook often serves as a forum for prayer, especially after high-profile tragedies. Multiple Facebook groups were created in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings last spring, committing to pray for the victims’ friends and families. Another group, I Pray for My Future Beloved, which advocates praying for one’s future spouse, has more than 30,000 members.

FaithBase, a site begun last year, offers prayer forums, religious discussions and social networking for Christians who want to post pictures, enter profile information and keep a journal.

“We’re the evolution of what is happening in the social world,” said Kay M. Madati, vice president of marketing at Community Connect, the company that introduced FaithBase.

St. Anthony Shrine in Cincinnati (www.stanthony.org) takes online prayer requests and displays them on a scrolling screen at National Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua. The Chicago Archdiocese’s Web site (www.archdiocese-chgo.org) provides podcasts of homilies, priests’ interpretations of Bible passages.

Aish.com, a Jewish Web site, offers to post prayer requests to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, considered one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

Mike Gilbart-Smith, assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Northeast, said general prayer Web sites might be helpful but serve only as artificial communities. He said prayer requests are best kept within congregations.

“My fear with just putting it up on a general Web site … is that it would end up isolating people from real relationships,” he said.

His church sends out weekly prayer requests via e-mail.

Mr. Batterson, however, said online prayer communities are genuine and can help the faithful express themselves.

“Sometimes you want to put a hand on their shoulder. But I would also say that online communities do not hinder relationships. I think in some way they’re catalysts for relationships,” he said. “I think someone can be more candid when they’re not face to face with someone. … Writing is a good way to process what you are thinking.”

Mass prayer requests originated in print form with Guideposts, a Christian magazine founded in 1945 by Norman Vincent Peale, author of the 1952 book “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

Guideposts regularly features readers’ prayer requests and now devotes a section of its Web site to prayer, allowing users to create their own “Prayer Space.”

The prayer site (www.our prayer.org) says its mission is to create a “global community of praying people maximizing the proven power of prayer to transform the world.”

Mr. Batterson said online prayer is another way to do God’s work.

“We have a conviction that the church ought to be redeeming technology and using it for God’s purposes,” he said. “Whether typing it or verbalizing it, God still hears.”

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