How do we know that a congregation needs a blessing and that this is the right time? Many requests will come from the pastor, who spends much time in prayer and concern. Often, the Holy Spirit will initiate the request. Local evangelists many times also feel the congregation’s need and the movement of the Spirit, which calls for a blessing.
Evangelists will want to learn the needs, hopes, and expectations that underlie the request. Knowing the congregational participation (a significant majority, or just a few) also is critical.
The call to blessing may come when a congregation is in need or in transition. Members may need to experience the Divine’s embrace to remember their worth and become whole. Or they may be in transition and need the Holy Spirit to help navigate changes they experience or anticipate. Examples of critical opportunities for a congregational blessing include:
- The congregation experiences several losses through death, conflict, or moves and is discouraged.
- A new mission effort brings the fruit of many new families, and the congregation’s makeup changes radically.
- New opportunities present themselves, and the congregation wants to discern which avenue to follow.
- The congregation recognizes that it has been greatly blessed and wishes to join in common mission.
All of these and more can prompt suggestions for the sacrament, with anticipation that the blessing might help strengthen the congregation, discover and release talents, heal wounds, reaffirm worth, and identify mission.
The pastor and evangelist(s) jointly identify a leadership team that will enable every person to have the opportunity—individually, in family, and in congregation—to come closer to God as their excitement builds for the blessing. The team needs to be representative of the congregation and should include people from various ages, priesthood offices, and leadership roles. For example, a team might include the pastor, the lead evangelist, members from each priesthood office, a worship leader, and a youth representative. Participation in a retreat shortly after formation may help the group bond as each person commits to this uplifting ministry.
Set the Date
Among the team’s first tasks is to set a date for the sacrament. Be sure to look at events already scheduled, including holidays and mission-center activities. Ideally, all within the congregation, as well as key mission center leadership, will be free to share in the event. Preparation typically runs three to twelve months, but remember that your congregation might not be typical. Please use this only as a guideline. It is important to leave enough time for effective preparation without leaving so much time that the process bogs down in the middle, losing focus and excitement.
Assess the Congregation
Once the date is set, the group can look at the congregation’s specific needs and how it best can prepare. As stated earlier, each congregation is unique. Therefore, examining its strengths and challenges will be important early in the process. This will help determine areas of focus for the blessing itself. It might be wise to remember that the church is called to be the body of Christ on earth today. Questions to ask in assessing the congregation include:
- How is this body functioning?
- How is this body gifted as a whole?
- What is the self-worth of the congregation?
- What parts of the body may be overdeveloped, and what parts may be underutilized, creating imbalance and stress?
- Are all members serving in their areas of giftedness to maintain maximum effectiveness?
- Do wounds need healing?
- Is the body fulfilling its calling, or is it merely maintaining its health?
The answers may help to focus the blessing.
Statement of Purpose
The team might want to lead an exercise to develop a statement of purpose for the blessing. Development of this statement should arise from prayerful consideration of the question, “How do we want God to bless the people in this congregation?” This is not intended to limit God; rather, it requires us to prayerfully discern the greatest needs and gifts we see in our people and to present them to God for a blessing.
This thoughtful examination should involve all priesthood and other congregation leaders. The list of needs and gifts should identify the four- to six-highest priorities. This will address distinctive needs and opportunities, helping ensure that the blessing is tailored to the congregation.
Providing adequate time for this process will be a blessing in itself and create the important understanding that we partner with God in this distinctive experience. This can be a powerful means to help the body see itself as one, unifying people.
No “correct” way exists to structure the blessing. Many congregations find it helpful to have two to four prayers—each focusing on a different need. If the prayers are done separately (instead of one prayer that includes all concerns), remember that the final document should include each as part of the overall blessing.
Related to this decision, as well as the timeline, is the question of whether the congregation wants the blessing done in one service, or spread over several services, each focusing on a different area. There may be reason to have a blessing apart from the traditional worship service. Do not limit yourself to the idea that it needs to be in the sanctuary; purposefully decide what setting will best support this sacrament.