232: Conversation With the Minister Behind “LIFT (Your City) IN PRAYER”

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    LIFT (YOUR CITY) IN PRAYER is the brainchild of the Rev. Greg Barrette, pastor at Renaissance Unity, a church in suburban metro-Detroit with 1,200 in worship each Sunday and another 200-plus in its children’s programs.
   Today, I want to introduce you to this pastor with a fresh approach to bridging urban-suburban, blue-collar-white-collar, black-white divides through unison prayers focused on lifting up the economy of our major urban areas.

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    Barrette is 55. He as born in Oakland, California, and wanted to be a pastor since he was 4 years old, his mother claims. “I can only remember feeling a call to ministry when I was 10,” Greg says. “But she says 4.”
    This means he has spent nearly half a century thinking about the spiritual needs of men and women –- and how to help connect people in thriving spiritual communities. That goal sounds a whole lot like the founding principles behind ReadTheSpirit –- so it was natural that we agreed to host the Resources for this new prayer movement Greg is kicking off.

(NOTE to our Quiz fans: If you miss seeing a weekly quiz this week, here’s a challenge: Try to identify the cities pictured with yesterday’s and today’s stories!)

HERE ARE HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR CONVERSATION:

    DAVID: You’re a minister with Unity, a religious group that probably is not a household name for many of our readers.
    GREG: They may know our magazine Daily Word, which has a big circulation and was first published in the 1920s.
    DAVID: On one Web site about Unity, I found these five principles and I think it would be helpful for people to hear them, since you’re trying to launch this movement to lead a whole lot of people in prayer. Here’s what I read:
    1. God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
    2. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
    3. We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
    4. There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our connection to God.
    5. Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.
    GREG: Yes, that’s a pretty good summary. Another way I sometimes describe it is this: If you’re familiar with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, you’ll find that there’s not much difference between what Emerson wrote and what we teach.

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    DAVID: You’ve said there’s some similarity in general approaches with the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, founder of Guideposts.
    GREG: Yes. And, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous also were influenced by a book by a Unity founder. The people in Unity are basically freethinkers and individualists who are tolerant of other people. Those five basic Unity principles you read just a moment ago -– those are five things that are at the core of our movement, but we don’t hold those five things in a dogmatic sense. We see God and spirituality as an experience more than a set of beliefs, although beliefs are important, too.
    DAVID: You do believe that prayer can make a huge difference in people’s lives. We’re describing these things in pretty simple terms here, but are we doing it justice?
    GREG: Yes, I think so. Prayer is focusing your thought and focusing your energy and calling on something that’s greater than yourself. For myself and many of us at Renaissance Unity, we would call that something God. But there are also people who will want to plug into this effort who aren’t religious in an orthodox sense and we welcome their prayers, too, their focusing of their thoughts and their energy.

    DAVID: What triggered this idea to ask as many people as possible to pray, specifically, for the uplifting of Detroit –- and specifically the economy of Detroit? And, as you answer that, we should explain that this effort is not a political statement about the recent controversies concerning the mayor of Detroit. This idea is about energizing people and linking them through prayer, looking for a new energy to spark new economic growth, right? Tell us about the origins of this.
    GREG: I was meditating with a friend one day and this idea came to me as a full-blown thought –- that we needed to do something in response to the economic problems facing Detroit. The idea was that we should come up with a day when we would invite churches, temples, synagogues and mosques –- any kind of spiritual community out there –- to join together in uplifting the economy of Detroit. Then, we contacted you at ReadTheSpirit and I started talking with you about this idea. Together, we started talking about reaching out and sharing this idea with even more people.
    On our own at our church, we’ve sent letters to about 700 churches in Michigan and Emails to thousands of people around the world, inviting them to take part in some way.
    And, you’re right. We should say that this isn’t about the specific political considerations going on in Detroit right now. This is about the overall well being of the city. If we are able to affect that -– the overall well being of Detroit –- then, I think a rising tide will lift all boats. That may be an over simplification –- but we’re talking here about prayers focused on economically uplifting Detroit in very difficult times for many big cities.

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    DAVID: And you want people who live around other big cities to focus on their own urban areas.
    GREG: I think most big cities share similar challenges. In many cities, the urban cores have been revitalized, and many of the wealthy are even moving back into urban cores. Some of that is driven by gas prices and some of that is the cultural desire for urban lifestyles. But we’ve got a pattern of the poor moving outward. And in some cities, like Detroit, the revitalizing of the urban core is lagging behind other cities. We have serious challenges and we all can use prayers for this kind of uplifting.
    DAVID: You’re kicking it off at your church north of Detroit on August 24.
    GREG: At both services that morning: 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
    DAVID: Then you’re asking people to keep praying for 21 days. They can look at our Resource page online for more details, but basically you want them to keep praying every day for three weeks.
    GREG: Yes, then, we all plan to gather along the Detroit River at Hart Plaza after the 21 days –- on Sunday September 14.
    The program is going to be very, very simple that day. We’ll meet at Hart Plaza at 2:00 p.m. We will invite people to write their chosen prayers for Detroit into these 12 custom-made books we will have there set up there on a series of tables. We have a soloist who will sing some songs for us. I will welcome people. Some music will continue as people make their way to the books to write down their prayers for the city.
    But it won’t be a long program. And we have decided not to have the usual kind of long program with a lot of speakers. Our program will be very short. This is all about the individual person who is praying with us. This is all about their individual responses on that day in Detroit. When I welcome the people, I’m going to tell them: “When you left your homes today, you began your prayer today for Detroit. Just by driving here, you’ve begun this spiritual process and it’s already rolling.”

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    DAVID: I like what you’re doing here –- challenging people to work on spiritually transforming their own lives through prayer. We keep saying this over and over again at ReadTheSpirit: What’s really needed today is more ways to spiritually connect ordinary people: men, women, young people. So, that’s why we were happy to be a part of this effort. Of course, our online magazine is global now, so most of our readers don’t live in Detroit. We’ve got readers as far away as New Zealand and Singapore. If they like this idea you’re developing here in Detroit –- they can easily do something very similar wherever they live.
    GREG: This whole thing is very inclusive, because we’re inviting people to do this in whatever form is comfortable to them. The people I’m talking to about this idea are very excited. It’s giving people something to do with their energy that they would otherwise put into worry and fear about this region, about their lives.
    Even if you’re skeptical about religion, you can at least experience the reduced stress and increased feelings of well being from following a practice like this.
    DAVID: And you’d like to see these 12 books carry forward a life beyond this event, right?
    GREG: That’s right. When it’s all over, we are inviting people to take these books home to their own faith communities and they can do whatever makes sense to them with these books of prayers. They can display them. They can pray over them. They can read from them. They can add more prayers to them.

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    DAVID: What do you hope will happen in coming months?
    GREG: Our intention is that this will free up people to become their best creative selves. This time of focused prayer, we believe, will help people clear their minds, energize their ideas for helping to lift up Detroit, open their intuition to finding solutions.
    Detroit does have a heritage of polarization. Of all the places in the country where I have lived, this is by far my favorite place I’ve ever lived and it’s because of the spirit of the people. Yes, we have this polarized history: suburban vs. urban, union vs. management, racial divisions. But the people here have a strong spirit. We’ve gone through so many cycles of change here in Detroit that we know how to weather storms and pick ourselves up and move forward.
    People here genuinely have a spirit of mutual helpfulness –- if we just find a way to invite people to rise to this occasion.

(ANSWERS — Yesterday: From top the photos were Detroit, Chicago and New York. Today: From top the cities are Detroit, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Houston and Beijing.)

COME BACK TOMORROW for a model of prayer for one’s home from the great William Blake, who has an anniversary this week!

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