One woman prayed for strength for her 34-year-old niece who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. An 8-year-old girl prayed for angels and world peace. Some prayed for a successful fundraiser that would keep the local library open, and others prayed for rain in drought-stricken areas of the country.
These prayers, written on pieces of colorful fabric, have been strung together and now hang as flags on the wrought-iron railings of Community Church of Atascadero (Calif.) UCC for all to see.
“We are taking these good thoughts and letting the wind blow them into the world,” said the Rev. Susan Brecht, pastor. “We are doing our part to send out positive energy.”
The idea to create prayer flags arose after Susan visited the First Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J., where the church had as many as 500 prayer flags flying in honor of Easter Sunday service. Located on a main drag near downtown, the attraction drew a lot of foot traffic, with people constantly stopping to read the flags. They reminded Susan of the Tibetan prayer flags flying on her own front porch, a gift from a congregation member’s recent trip to the country.
“It was a really beautiful sight,” she said. “And I’ve always loved the ones I have at home.”
The Atascadero UCC started setting up prayer flag tables at places such as farmers markets, the zoo and a local gay pride event. While Susan admits they were ignored by the majority of passersby, the church was able to collect about 200 prayer flags. Using fabric donated by congregation members, volunteers sewed the flags to binding and strung them together, and all 200 prayers were hung during a dedication ceremony Aug. 19.
Susan plans to wave the flags for at least a month and will encourage people to add to them whenever possible.
“This process sparked so many conversations,” Susan said, adding that many people seemed intimated by the idea for reasons she just doesn’t know. “Different people have different thoughts, and many people just don’t want to be bothered with anything. But ultimately, we were able to practice evangelism and tell people about our church in a nonthreatening way.”
For those who did take time to make a prayer flag, Susan says it was a positive experience, and it prompted people to talk about their hopes, fears, and the role God plays in their lives. She said the project has inspired other congregations in the community to also offer prayer flags as a way to connect with their members and spread the word about their church.
“In every community I drive through now, I see at least one house with prayer flags,” she said. “I really had never noticed them before.”