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Praying Means Paying Attention
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I just completed a four year term on Oxford’s city council. It was something I never thought I would do. My name is Lyn Pace, and I’m an ordained United Methodist minister from South Carolina and college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.

I oversee 10 religious and spiritual life groups at the college, assist with leadership programs, offer care and counsel to the college community, find ways to connect the college with the city of Oxford, and more. While serving on Oxford’s city council wasn’t part of the chaplain’s job description, I certainly saw plenty of college business come before the council in four years. Due to conflict of interest, I didn’t speak to that business or vote on it, but I still got to be privy to hear those conversations.

From the very beginning of my council term I was asked to offer the prayer to start each meeting. Given that I’m an ordained clergy person and I replaced an ordained clergy person who had been offering the prayer before me, I wasn’t surprised to be asked to do this.

Before serving on Oxford’s council I prayed once at a council meeting in Spartanburg, South Carolina when I worked there as the associate chaplain at Wofford College. The next time I prayed at a council meeting was when I was sitting with the council and not standing in front of them at the microphone. Recently, I was invited to pray for the council meeting here in Covington.

Praying for councils when you’re not on them is much easier than praying for the council on which you serve. When I stood at that microphone and prayed for the council in Spartanburg and then in Covington, I knew that minutes later I could escape into the night without worrying about the council business ahead. When I got the invitation to pray at the respective meetings I was even told, “Oh, you don’t have to stay. Most clergy don’t.” I get it. It’s easier that way.
Praying before each council meeting during my four year term was harder. It meant that I had to stay and get to know my neighbors who came to the meeting. It meant that I had to stay and deal with the business – sometimes pleasant and sometimes not – of the city. It meant that I had to be committed to investing in my city’s life. Ultimately, it meant that I had to pay attention.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in her poem, “Sometimes,” which can be found in the book, Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver has a section in the poem where she writes,

Instructions for living a life:

• Pay attention,

• Be astonished, and

• Tell about it

These are the instructions I keep before me when working with college students. I try to pass them on and model them for students so that they might make a habit out of living these instructions. I also try to live them at home and in the community, and I certainly tried to live them while I was on Oxford’s city council. I pray prayers and preach sermons and give talks and teach classes that hopefully help people wake up to their life, their neighbor and the world around them. I don’t always get it right, but I find keeping these instructions as a guide to daily living helpful.

Maybe you have some instructions that help you live life too. Or maybe you want or need some. If so, then I’m happy to share these with you and hope it helps you engage your community more fully.

Lyn Pace is chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and a member of the Doctor of Ministry degree program at Candler School of Theology at Emory. Lyn enjoys music of all kinds but especially Jimmy Buffett concerts. He’s an avid reader, runner and lover of good food, especially when it involves gathering friends and neighbors around the table.