Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday students gather in Edman Chapel for a time of worship, and at the beginning of every service, a student stands at the pulpit and leads the student body in prayer. They include requests that can be sent in by students and faculty until up to 10 a.m. on the day of chapel. These prayers are commonly understood to be written by Marilyn Brenner, the Ministry Associate for Care and Administration in the Chaplain’s Office, and read directly from the sheet of paper. However, the reality is much more nuanced.
“When a student accepts the invitation to pray in chapel, they are sent a copy of the program for the day and encouraged to ask the Lord what he would have them pray for — their peers, the campus in general, etc. Many opt to write their own beginning and ending to the prayer, allowing space for any specific requests that may come in from students, faculty or staff,” said Brenner.
This flexibility is extended to the list of campus-wide prayer requests, which the student receives ten to twenty minutes prior to the start of chapel.
“While in earlier years, I would write a list of bullet points, we found it was too difficult for most students to put bullet points into their own words with such a short lead time before chapel. In more recent years, I have written the prayers in readable form, to make it easier for the person praying. At the same time, we always let students know that they are free to put the requests in their own words, if they prefer to do so, or to ‘over-ride’ in general prayers that I have written with their own prayers,” explained Brenner. She shared that students are encouraged toward creativity in the format of the prayers, and some use excerpts from published prayers or the Lord’s Prayer.
Students are given the opportunity to pray in chapel if they are recommended by the department or activity involved in hosting that chapel. For guest speakers, the structure works a bit differently.
“Sometimes with guest speakers, we try to consider if a student has shared interests, background, or a major that relates to the speaker, and might enjoy meeting the speaker,” Brenner shared about the thought processes behind the selection.
“When it’s not clear who we should have pray, I often ask the Lord to help me know who to ask,” she added. “Sometimes it’s amazing to see how he orchestrates things. Last semester we were surprised to discover that a student chosen was actually distantly related to a speaker, or at times I’ve asked a student to pray only to find out that they had just been thinking how much they would like to pray in chapel.”
Brenner said that she undertakes the process of writing the prayers with care for the significance of the requests.
“I usually always ask the Lord what he would have me include, or how to write the requests that we have been given,” she said. “I’ve always felt a great responsibility to whomever entrusts their prayers to us, to express them accurately and in the way they were given.”
For general prayers, she shared that she thinks about what is most pertinent to the campus at the time and the state of the students.
“It’s been neat to see how the Lord sometimes brings scripture to mind that fits the moment, or inspires a direction for the prayers,” she said.
Of the significance of pausing in the middle of the day to take time to pray, Brenner said, “In the midst of the weightiness of full and busy days, I think gratitude and praise are essential to lending perspective and reminding us of all that we have in the Lord, and all that we’ve been given. Similarly, I think he encourages us to look beyond our own lives to pray for one another, and to remember those who are going through deep waters and wilderness seasons of loss.”
“I think Wheaton would be a much different place if we all took God and our communication with him seriously,” Brenner summarized her experience guiding prayer at Wheaton. “Who knows? Maybe even such a small thing as asking the Lord to bless and encourage one person on our path each day – could cause the ‘mustard seed’ of ‘a community of grace’ to grow and flourish into being.”