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Accompaniment: The Prayer Walk in the Neighborhood

The Riverside Innovation Hub is a learning community made of local congregations who gather together to learn how to be and become public church in their neighborhood contexts. We convene congregations over two years together, shaped by learning and practicing the artforms of the Public Church Framework in each congregation’s unique context.

Accompaniment is the first artform of the Public Church Framework. It is the movement out into the neighborhood to hear the neighbors’ stories. In this movement, we learn to engage and listen to the neighbor for the neighbor’s sake. We’ve simplified and categorized accompaniment into four different practices that help us hear our neighbors’ stories. This blog post dives into the second layer of accompaniment, a prayer walks in the neighborhood. 

You can also read more about the previous layer in our last blog post – Becoming familiar with the Demographics of your neighborhood

Accompaniment layer pyramid. The order from the top to the bottom are demographic data, prayer walk, listening posts and one to ones. Often congregations may begin at the top of the triangle and work down as a pathway to getting to know the neighbor. However, notice the proportions of each of the layers match the amount of time folks are encouraged to spend with each aspect. Demographic information begins to help us get to know things about our neighbors and may spark curiosity around things we want to learn more about, but to really get to know our neighbors, one to one conversations are at the heart of building real relationships.

The Prayer Walk in the Neighborhood

Written by Kristina Frugé 

The practice of a neighborhood prayer walk is inspired by the  Ignatian Awareness Examen, a contemplative prayer exercise that guides you through an examination of your day as you prayerfully seek moments of desolation and moments of consolation.

Moments of desolation are times of sorrow, brokenness, fear, anxiety, etc.

Moments of consolation are times of hope, healing, courage, peace, etc.

You can use the lens of desolation and consolation as you walk through the neighborhood in which your faith community is located, asking God to show you the places of desolation and consolation in that neighborhood. The general outline of this activity includes walking through the neighborhood, paying particular attention to what stands out as consolation and desolation. Then, together, with people in your faith community, reflect on what you saw, felt, sensed and heard and map the locations of those places of consolation and desolation on a shared map. You will find some simple instructions at the end of this post to help you plan for a prayer walk. However, while this activity is fairly straightforward, there are some important aspects to be aware of as you begin.

In all of our efforts to become vital neighbors, we will find ourselves encountering people and places we don’t know or don’t know very well. We will encounter differences between ourselves and others – whether it be racially, religiously, socio-economically, generationally, or across so many other distinctions. We also expect to experience connection as we discover similarities – love of the same local business, or our pets, or our children, or perhaps share similar fears or longings for ourselves and our neighborhoods. 

Our differences and our similarities are beautiful gifts – they are what makes up a community and can contribute to the mutual flourishing of its members. However, when ignored, dismissed, threatened or undervalued, these similarities and differences can contribute to harm and heartache in our neighborhoods. Or to name it through the lens of the Ignatian Awareness Examen – they can cause much desolation. The systemic realities of racism, bias, and unchecked power dynamics play out in neighborhoods everywhere with devastating consequences. They also shape our individual frame of reference as we encounter new people and new places. Entering into the neighborhood on these prayer walks means we inevitably will bring with us some of our own biases and limited understandings. The best medicine to counter our own limitations, is to also carry with us a posture of humility, curiosity and compassion. 

Humility, curiosity and compassion work together as we participate in accompaniment and encounter our neighbors. On a prayer walk this means that what might first look like desolation to me, could hold a much bigger story. An empty, rundown playground might first appear like desolation, especially if it doesn’t look like the newer playground in my children’s neighborhood that our family visits regularly. But if I hold on to humility and remember my own assumptions are limited, I have room to become curious about what else is going on with this playground in this neighborhood. If I remain curious, I might eventually discover that during the evenings and on weekends, this park is a busy listening post where many local neighbors gather for pick-up soccer games and on Saturdays the picnic tables fill with seniors from the nearby apartments who play chess together every week. 

examples of neighborhood prayer walkSimilarly, if I observed a newly constructed apartment building getting ready to open with the promise of a coffee shop on the first floor, my initial thoughts may be of consolation knowing it means more housing for new neighbors and good coffee. Yet, if I’m a bit more curious about what this development actually means for this neighborhood, there is likely a lot more to the story. It’s possible that it could be new affordable housing, making it easier for people to access housing. Or, it could be that the apartments are luxury and not affordable to many and the new development may actually be pushing existing neighbors out of the neighborhood. The new coffee shop may threaten local businesses who have been in the area for years. 

These examples are offered to illustrate that participating in a prayer walk in the neighborhood near your church isn’t an end in and of itself. The work of accompaniment invites us into this sacred place of relationship building where the gifts of our similarities and our differences can be experienced. A prayer walk through our neighborhoods without humility, curiosity and compassion in the forefront could result in damage and harm. And most certainly can result in missing out on witnessing God’s activity in the neighborhood beyond our unexamined first impressions. 

A prayer walk is an invitation into greater curiosity about what God is already up to. The steps (or car rides!) you take through your neighborhood become a part of a journey towards more deeply understanding what your neighbors experience as desolation and consolation. It begins with some small humble steps, paying attention to what sparks your curiosity, and trusting that God is accompanying us as we step deeper into relationships in the neighborhood. 

Access to the Prayer Walk Instructions for printing here.

Check out these sharable slides to share with your context.

Prayer Walk Instructions found in the pdf.