CHICAGO — Hour by hour, the prayers seemed to take on a weight and importance all their own.
Prayers were scripted on note cards or scribbled on walls. These were the innermost wishes of mothers, fathers and children at Chicago's Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, part of a continuous chain of prayer and reflection going around the clock for seven days.
The continuous worship is a piece of a larger ”24-7 Prayer“ movement that is growing in popularity in the United States and globally.
As church membership declines, 24-7 Prayer offers something different. It's less structured than the typical church setting; communities of worshipers can gather just about anywhere — warehouses, theaters, nightclubs.
It's also less formal. The prayer groups usually don't have set programs to follow or pastors leading discussions about scripture. Even the word prayer is open to interpretation, as it has evolved over the years to include activities such as journaling, dance and art.
Whatever form it takes, participants say continuous prayer puts communication with God at the center of their lives, forging a more spiritual and personal connection. Individuals pray for as long as they wish, then pass the thread of prayer to others in the group who continue for as long as possible. Large prayer sessions can span weeks.
The 24-7 Prayer movement was founded by a small Christian church in England in 1999. It now includes more than 1,500 churches, student groups, religious organizations and clubs in the United States and about 4,500 around the world.
”It's astonishing the number of people who believe in prayer,“ said Wendy Andrews, co-national leader for the 24-7 Prayer movement headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. ”Even for those who profess Christianity, not all of us have prayer as a priority.“