All Christians are called to a mission, and behind every mission, there is a story.
The Rev. Lawrence Pray shares almost 700 such stories with us every year. Pray, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Big Timber, Mont., is the editor of "In Mission: A Calendar of Prayer," an annual compilation of faith and ministry stories from across the UCC spectrum.
In 1987, Pray was asked by the former United Church Boards for Homeland and World Ministries to produce separate books of prayer. Sandra Rooney, currently Minister of Mission Education and Interpretation with Wider Church Ministries—BWM's successor body—suggested that since the UCC represents one church, the two publications be merged into one. Gathering the stories seemed like an impossible job at first. But Pray liked that—embraced it, even.
"I wondered if it would be possible to do a calendar that would combine all of us," says Pray, "our missionaries, our world mission partners and agencies, local churches and conferences."
There is joy in his voice as he speaks. "I can still remember thinking, 'Hey, I'd like to try that,'" he says.
That was almost 12 years ago, and since then, "In Mission" has become an intrinsic part of the UCC. Pray begins gathering stories and pictures in May of each year, soliciting stories from all over the world.
"In June, I begin checking the mailbox with urgency," he says. "I get a little antsy as the days go by. Every year, they come, but every year I get nervous. But by the end of June, the stories, page by page, begin to trickle in."
July comes, and stories come pouring in. And by late August, while the rest of the United States is on vacation, Pray is writing what will become "In Mission," of which 40,000 copies are distributed free worldwide every year.
"In Mission" has become an invaluable gift to local churches worldwide, and is used daily by clergy, lay people, conferences and local churches.
Pray says he has found his voice by pairing world and homeland stories every day to make them personal and relevant.
"Bill Downey, for example, was a chaplain working in Berlin for many years," says Pray. "On the day I wrote about him, I also highlighted a chaplain from a UCC-related hospital in Chicago."
"So what I was saying," he continues, "is that God asks us to heal. One of our healers is in Berlin, one of them is in Chicago. For both of them, the mission remains the same."
"The task for me," Pray says, "is to duplicate two of these stories," more than 300 times a year.
"I've been working with the calendar for 15 years," says Rooney. "What I hear from people is that 'In Mission' is the most widely used and effective mission education tool we have in the church today."
"It really gives both breath and a sense of depth to the mission we have at the UCC," she says.