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Prayer pager, thought behind it, inspires, gives hope to recipient

Prayer pager, thought behind it, inspires, gives hope to recipient

Posted: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 8:45 pm
By: Glenda Caudle, Special Features Editor

Special Features Editor
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:14-16
In those darkest hours of the night, when pain can seem more intense, fever can rise higher, healing rest can be harder to come by, loneliness can weigh heavier, faith can seem frailer and hope can grow dimmer, we all need help.
Bart White of Union City, a member of Union City First United Methodist Church, knows something about those desperate hours. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in Sept. 15, 2008, he was a patient at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis for 17 days. It was there that he received a unique “gift” from his church family. It accompanied him to Little Rock, Ark., days later, where he and his wife, Jean Ann, spent weeks at the Multiple Myeloma Institute while he underwent chemotherapy. Over the course of a year of treatment — until they received the news Sept. 15, 2009, that White’s cancer was in remission — the small item was a faith lifeline for the family.
White’s palm-sized link — first of all to God and then to his church family and many more who were concerned for him and took seriously the Biblical admonition to pray for the sick — was a simple piece of technology known as a “prayer pager.”
“I would be lying in bed, especially while taking chemo, and I would be so down. The prayer pager would vibrate and you cannot imagine what it meant to me.”
What it meant was that someone had just prayed for White’s healing and wanted him to be aware of it.
Fellow church member Terry Huffstetler, the first of the congregation to receive a pager in February 2007, began to draw strength from the reminders of prayers for his healing while he was a patient at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. He was diagnosed with microscopic polyangiitis, a life-threatening autoimmune disease, and was in critical condition when Dr. David Russell, pastor of the church, brought the pager and gave it to Huffstetler’s wife, Jane. He explained that the “prayer notifier” would either vibrate or play a couple of bars of a hymn or piece of classical music each time someone prayed for Huffstetler and then dialed the pager number and entered a specific code.
Huffstetler and White and the other church members who have received one of the congregation’s five prayer pagers during times of sickness or injury cannot know precisely who is praying for them, but they know, without doubt, who is hearing the prayers. And the peace that comes from that knowledge is something they consider a part of the healing process.
“I first became aware of it after I came out of a coma that lasted 12 days. I would hear it go off at all times of the day and night. Someone might call at 2 a.m. and I would hear it playing. I never knew when it would be, but I was by myself except during visiting hours and it was a lot of comfort to hear it,” Huffstetler recalls.
He turned his prayer pager back in to the church after drawing strength from the message it conveyed for almost two months. Since he has returned home and has recovered in many ways, he has used the little implement again — but this time to let someone else know he was praying for them.
“It made a huge impression on the staff at the hospital,” Jane Huffstetler recalls. “They had never heard of anything like it before. They were also impressed with the prayer shawl we received. They thought we belonged to the best church.”
Anyone may call the pager. The church publishes the special toll-free number for each recipient of one of the items in the weekly bulletins and in the church news letter and includes the special code that callers are asked to key in. The caller does not speak directly to the person who is keeping the prayer pager, but once they dial the number and respond to the prompt by punching in the special simple code that is supplied by the church, they know the message will be delivered to the one for whom they have prayed.
Huffstetler says he found out after he returned home that co-workers at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had found out about the pager and were using it to share their prayer time, as well.
The idea for using the simple technology of a pager to notify someone suffering they have been prayed for came from FUMC members Diane and Dr. Jere  Crenshaw. Mrs. Crenshaw first encountered one of the pagers while attending an Emmaus Walk weekend. At the spiritual retreat, participants are asked to set aside all communications devices and other possible items that might interrupt the time they are devoting to strengthening their development as Christians. One participant kept a pager, however, and explained its deep spiritual significance in her life as she dealt with a terrible tragedy that had left her battling deep grief. The simple signal that she was being prayed for was such a comfort and encouragement that Emmaus Walk organizers encouraged her to keep it and use it as a testimony to others in the program.
The Crenshaws purchased two of the simple pagers locally and donated them to the church with instructions for how to set up the program with easy-to-remember calling numbers and simple pager numerical codes that could be easily keyed in. Robin Wood of Wood Communications, who has provided pager service to those awaiting organ transplants at no cost for years, provided the prayer pagers, as well as a discount for the phone service attached to them. Soon a donation to the church allowed for the purchase of three more pagers and a year’s worth of service. Ongoing donations have kept the project going. The pagers are available to anyone who needs them for as long as they need them.
Portis and Cindy Tanner of Union City received one when their daughter, Edie, was born at Vanderbilt Medical Center May 12, 2009. The Tanners knew before their daughter’s birth that she would face treatment for a heart condition and doctors were quick to move in and begin a more detailed evaluation of her condition and treatment as soon as she was born. Edie had her prayer pager all through her first summer of life and into September, when she underwent a second surgical procedure.
“On those long days in the hospital, when we would be aware of the signal, it would make us smile to know others were thinking of Edie and praying for her. It meant the world, knowing we were not alone,” says Mrs. Tanner.
“We never push the pagers on people, but they are always available,” says Russell. “The idea is that with the vibration or the sound, you actually know when someone is praying for you. It’s a kind of 21st-century ‘feel the prayers’ experience. Anytime one is requested, we install fresh batteries and provide a card explaining how to change them in the future and how to set the pager to either a tone or a vibration.”
In addition to the prayer pagers, the congregation at First United Methodist Church established a “prayer shawl” ministry in April 2005. Almost five years later, more than 600 prayer shawls, “baby” prayer shawls and graduating seniors prayer lap robes have been knitted or crocheted and distributed.
There are about 25 “regulars” in the program, most of whom meet on Wednesday nights at the church at 6:30 to select from the beautiful skeins of yarn, work on their projects and pray as their needles click for the one who will eventually receive it. Once a robe is completed by one of these attendees or one of the other participants who do their needle work and praying entirely at home, the soft coverings are gently folded and placed over the communion rail or in areas around the altar in the church sanctuary. They remain there for some time and are then carefully wrapped and delivered personally by someone in the church or made available for pickup by a friend or family member who has requested one.
A note accompanies each knitted or crocheted gift, explaining its significance. The note says:
“Never Despair, God’s Always There.
In sickness or health,
In suffering and pain,
In storm-laden skies,
In sunshine and rain,
God always is there
To lighten your way
And lead you through darkness
To a much brighter day.”
The simple colored card, attached by a length of yarn, closes with these words: “This shawl has been on the altar of First United Methodist Church in Union City, Tennessee. It has heard the hymns that have been sung, the prayers that have been offered, and the sermon that has been preached. The knitter prayed as she knitted this shawl. Now with their silent message, it comes to you with our prayers and God’s love for you.”
FUMC member Grace Gary received the first prayer shawl, which was delivered by the congregation’s director of programs Paula Chapman and the church’s minister at the time, the Rev. Drew Henry.
One of the prayer shawls, which cradled the arms and shoulders of FUMC member Hattie Barham until it began to wear out and was replaced with a new model, is on display in an area near the sanctuary.
Patsy Garrison and Judy Taylor have headed up the prayer shawl ministry. Mrs. Garrison discovered the project while reading the book “Knitting Into the Mystery,” which was on the reading list for United Methodist Women. She also found out more about the program from the denomination’s “Reporter,” which published a story about a United Methodist Church in Memphis that was involved in the ministry.
The average prayer shawl takes about two skeins of yarn, which Mrs. Taylor purchases in bulk at wholesale prices and makes available to anyone who wants to take part in knitting or crocheting. The prayer lap robes for the congregation’s high school seniors each year are about twice the size of the lap robes and require more yarn; the baby prayer shawls, a little less.
An experienced knitter can complete a prayer shawl in two or three days of fairly constant effort.
Mrs. Garrison said she “keeps a project” going at home and takes it with her everywhere she goes if there is a chance she will encounter some “down” time. “As I knit, people ask me about what I’m doing and that opens the door for ministry. I tell them we not only make them for those who are suffering but we also pray over them.” Mrs. Garrison completes, on average, a prayer shawl a week.
The project’s directors say even those who have never knitted or crocheted before can become involved in the project. All they need do is attend a Wednesday night class, select their yarn and get a pair of needles, which are also provided for them, and learn one simple stitch, which others in the program are only too happy to teach.
The prayer shawls have been wrapped and sent on prayerful journeys as far away as California, Arizona and Washington state.
A prayer shawl journal is kept that tracks each completed project with a recording of the name of both the recipient and the person who delivered the prayer-covered item. Donations to the church make it possible to purchase the supplies needed.
Huffstetler also enjoyed the prayer shawl’s comforting warmth and spiritual blessings during his long recovery, as have many others.
“Doctors and hospitals have done research that shows people who are prayed for improve,” says Mrs. Garrison. “Not long ago, a resident of one of the assisted living homes in Union City was pretty much confined to bed and was in too much pain to get up. She was not a member of our church, but one of our members, Dorothy Calhoun, asked for a prayer shawl for her and took it to her. Now she’s up and around and says the prayers that came with that prayer shawl are responsible.”
Mrs. Garrison has also shared the book that started it all for her with others in the community and encouraged other congregations to begin prayer shawl ministries of their own.
She says the prayer shawls are available for anyone with a need for prayer and a tangible reminder of that spiritual intercession on their behalf.
“You don’t have to be a member of First United Methodist Church or even know anyone here. You just have to want our prayers,” she says.
To request a prayer shawl or to find out more about either of the prayer ministries, call the church at 885-3573. To become involved in the prayer shawl ministry, contact the church office or attend the Wednesday night class in the family life center conference room, just off the parking lot on the north side of the church, at 6:30 p.m.
Published in The Messenger 3.3.10

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