PLANT CITY – The idea came out of a leadership meeting about how to get people back to church, and specifically to a church built at a country crossroads, away from any commercial hub, schools or eateries that naturally draw traffic.
Committee members were discussing various ways of making it known that here was a little church with a big welcome mat when it struck the group that the answer was already before them in the congregation’s Sunday sermon series on the power of prayer.
“Out of these discussions came the realization that we can make all the plans we want … but that’s not God’s plan. It’s ours,” recalled Rev. Patrick Elmore, pastor of Springhead UMC.
“What we’re here to do is pray about what He wants us to do … and that got us into the prayer vigil [idea] and seeking God’s will through prayer.”
From that sprang the desire to hold a community-wide, overnight prayer vigil and invite everyone interested in coming – churched and unchurched – from all denominations and all the communities surrounding the Springhead campus that’s nestled in farm fields just west of the Hillsborough-Polk county line.
The vigil is set to start at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, and continue until 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12. Churches that want to participate but hold prayers in their own space also are welcome, but Elmore said he’d appreciate a phone call at (813) 752-5751, Facebook message or email letting him know. Click here to get in touch.
“It’s 24 hours of prayer for world peace,” Elmore said, noting that church members decided to tack on a couple of extra hours to accommodate the work and weekend schedules of as many people as possible.
“We’re not targeting any one thing specifically. The way everything has escalated, we thought rather than praying for just one thing, we would pray for world peace. That way we could cover everything.”
People are being invited to come to Springhead UMC and pray in large or small groups or as individuals. They will be encouraged to pray “for whatever thing that is pressing on them,” Elmore said.
“We’re especially asking people to pray for others,” he added. “As long as they’re praying for somebody else, they can almost be guaranteed someone is praying for them.”
Brian Cavanaugh, a member of the church leadership committee, said he plans to stay at the church all night to provide security. Volunteers will set up spaces in the Springhead sanctuary, Sunday school room and fellowship hall. Participants will be encouraged to sign up for a time slot but won’t be turned away if the time is booked by others, Cavanaugh said.
He said a Southern Baptist church he attended years ago when he lived in Rhode Island held similar prayer events that drew an enthusiastic response.
“I saw a sense of unity and hope – people coming together when they would not have before.
“We didn’t preach the gospel. … We just invited them to come and we took prayer requests.”
A few people joined that Rhode Island congregation as a result, Cavanaugh recalled, but the overall effect was goodwill in the community.
“It was a way of showing people in the community there was a loving church and a praying church.”
Raised in a Catholic family, Cavanaugh began attending Baptist churches after his marriage, and he later became an ordained deacon. After he moved to the Plant City area 11 years ago, he and his wife attended Baptist churches in the area but found their church home at Springhead UMC.
The congregation’s welcoming atmosphere was more important than the denomination, Cavanaugh said.
“I liked the love that I felt when I walked into the Methodist church.”
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.