A View from the Pew: “Hollywood Squares” Prayer Meeting

From 1966 to 1981, the NBC game show “Hollywood Squares” filled America’s television screens with a crosshatch of celebrities providing witty responses to questions as contestants worked to determine which answers were true or false to win a game of tic-tac-toe.

I can’t help but think of that show every Wednesday night when my wife and I log onto our church’s midweek prayer time and devotion via Zoom. And like Hollywood Squares fans back in the day, I derive great comfort from seeing my church family smile back at us from a five-by-five grid.

In the COVID-19 season of physical distancing and shelter-in-place orders, I have felt disconnected from the outside world. Nowhere is that more acute than with my church family. We have maintained connections through technology as best we can, but this experience has reinforced my need to see people and interact face-to-face.

I am grateful for the technology-enabled prayer meetings we have been able to enjoy each Wednesday. It serves the same purpose in my life as mid-week services before the coronavirus outbreak—connection to God and fellow believers. Seeing each other reminds us to pray for our sisters and brothers and that we are not alone in the journey of faith or the experience of the global pandemic.

Our prayer requests have taken on greater urgency. Illness, injury, and disease are no longer easily brushed off. We are genuinely filled with concern when someone shares a health challenge because we all know the stakes are much higher now. Just getting treated is more complicated and comes with increased risk.

We also hear each other’s emotional, spiritual, or mental health concerns with greater focus and intentionality. We relate to the universal struggle of isolation, fear, and anxiety. When someone gives voice to those feelings, an instinctive empathy kicks in because we feel the same way.

I have also grown more focused on the “praise” section of our prayer time. Each victory, recovery, positive update, or celebration gives me hope in the face of this seemingly infinite period of depressing news. I can’t help but be uplifted by my church family’s joy, and I find I need it now more than ever.

I’m sure pastors are having a harder time trying to bring messages of hope and encouragement to their congregations. Our video-recorded Sunday sermons on YouTube have served a valuable role in our spiritual lives each week, but I find the live interaction from our pastor on Wednesdays, always in the upper right square of my Zoom screen, to be a vital element of my week now. I listen more closely and take away more from his devotions now than I did pre-COVID.

There is much to bemoan about church in the midst of these unsettling times, but I am learning to take heart in little things. Seeing my church friends arrayed across the screen, sitting in their living rooms, at the dining room tables, or on their back decks each Wednesday night has grown from a little thing into a big thing. I count on their waves and smiles as much as I used to depend on their hugs and handshakes.

With COVID-19 threatening to win, I’ll take Hollywood Squares prayer meeting for the block.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and has resumed blogging at newsouthessays.com.

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