JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — What began as a problem at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Jackson has transformed into a blessing – for both the church and the community.
Aldersgate is located at the busy intersection of North Parkway and Campbell Street, so many cars cut through the church parking lot to avoid the intersection, said Barry Matthews, lay leader at Aldersgate. Rather than finding a way to stop the traffic, however, the congregation decided to install a community prayer box for passers-by.
“If people are going to drive through our parking lot, we’re going to offer something positive to them,” Matthews said. “We wanted to do something that would be meaningful to their lives.”
The inspiration for the prayer box came about a year ago after Matthews’ Sunday school class learned about another church that created a similar box, said Reggie Buckley, mission team coordinator at Aldersgate. Buckley helped build the box, which was installed several weeks ago in front of the church.
Buckley said the church also set up signs to guide motorists to the box, which currently receives four to five prayer requests a week.
“Prayer is one of those things that anybody can do,” Matthews said. “We all need prayer. It may sound like a very simple offering on our part, but we feel like it’s one of the most personal and engaging things we can do as Christians.”
Barry Scott, pastor at Aldersgate, said the box remains locked to maintain privacy. A church member checks the box at least once a week, with the prayer requests first given to Matthews’ Sunday school class and later transferred to a prayer group that meets each Saturday morning.
Each request is prayed for throughout the week, said Scott, noting that the requests are handled with confidentiality.
“We’re hoping that people that are really burdened and concerned … will know there is a group of committed Christians that will lift up what’s on the card in an appropriate way,” Scott said. “What goes in the prayer room stays in the prayer room.”
Matthews said the church has received a variety of prayer requests, ranging from health to happiness. Although prayers sometimes are answered in ways different than expected, the congregation prays that people will experience healing and peace in their lives.
The prayer box is but one of several ways Aldersgate engages the community, Matthews noted, as congregation members serve at the Dream Center of Jackson and hold nontraditional outdoor worship services, among other ministries. With the church’s increased emphasis on serving outside its own walls, Matthews added that Aldersgate has become not only more thoughtful but also more lively.
“We can’t just keep our faith within ourselves,” Matthews said. “We have to share it with others. People need the peace of Christ in their lives, and we’re trying to offer that in the best way we can.”