Online-support to pray during difficult times
Voices from the Communion: Grétar Halldór Gunnarsson, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland
(LWI) - As the latest wave of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit Iceland, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland launched a new online prayer platform called Amen.is as one of its responses to the pandemic. Rev. Dr Grétar Halldór Gunnarsson, a parish pastor in suburban Reykjavík, initiated the project which responds to the need for prayer during times of uncertainty and danger. He describes how this idea took shape and what effect it has in the Icelandic community.
Has the need for prayer and people‘s wish to pray increased during the pandemic?
During times of danger and uncertainty, it is common for people to turn to prayer, even people who may not have an established prayer practice. Thus, the situation created by the pandemic probably had people turn to prayer in larger numbers. But many people might not know how to pray at all or have a wish to pray in new ways and, therefore, are looking for guidance.
How does Amen.is respond to this?
Amen.is is an online resource for prayer and contemplative practices, designed to function similarly to many resources for meditation and mindfulness. It guides people who might be taking their first steps with prayer and those who want to expand their prayer practice further. Amen.is presents prayers in seven different categories and for every day of the week. The categories are Christian meditation, Biblical meditation, Divine Office, Free-form, Childrens prayer, Prima-chants, Vesper-chants.
How did you develop the idea to launch this resource?
This idea had been in my mind for some time. For quite some time, I noticed that people were turning to guided eastern-style meditation in droves, and I found a lack of helpful similar Christian resources, at least in Icelandic. During the first wave of COVID-19, the idea became even more critical. It was evident that people were searching for online resources when the churches were closed.
By coincidence, I learned that similar thoughts had been brought to the attention of the Bishops office. I offered to initiate a project to meet this need for prayer resources as an experiment. I received a grant and started working on it. Six months later, during the third COVID-19 wave in Iceland, the project was launched.
The website has been online since 9 October. It aims to support people who want to start a prayer practice and those who would like to expand their practice of prayer. I hope that it can show the diversity of Christian prayer practices.
How was the new website received?
The reaction is beyond what I had expected. The website got excellent news coverage and was widely shared on social media. I think online prayer resources can be a valuable tool to support people's praper practice. But it will only be a tool. Prayer, in the end, is not a technique but primarily a relationship.
Who is part of your team? How do you work together?
There were close to thirty people who contributed to the content and the making of the website. It required people to work on scripts, music, recording and after effects, photography, web-design, vocals and singing. There were different people working on each category, with some overlap between the teams. Most of the people worked as volunteers.
Has the Icelandic church responded to the pandemic by using more online tools?
The churches have been active in streaming their services online, staying in touch with their members through social media. The mainstream media has also collaborated well by streaming content on their platforms to the benefit of all.
What insights have you gained through working on this project that could be helpful for other member churches of The Lutheran World Federation?
The website has been online for less than a month. But the trend seems to be that the most popular category is the classical practice of biblical meditation, also known as „lection divina“. I had not expected this beforehand; possibly other member churches might also want to revisit this ancient, word-centered form of prayer and meditation.
The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.