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Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Back in March 2020, when this whole pandemic thing started — seventy-three years ago, or so it seems — our church started gathering nightly (Monday-Friday) on Zoom for evening prayer. Our usual format was a variation of Lectio Divina using a different psalm each evening. We would read through the psalm multiple times, learn from each other where we each heard God speaking and what questions or insights we had, take prayer requests, and pray.
We thought it a good thing to do given the circumstances, not yet realizing the pandemic would be interminably long and there was no possible way a Zoom gathering every night was sustainable in anyone’s schedule. Regardless, we met nightly for a few months, then three nights a week for a while, then once a week, and eventually so few people came as to give a clear sign that these gatherings had run their course.
We met for evening prayer eighty-five times in 2020, and a handful of times in 2021 when circumstances in our world, community, or congregation warranted. New patterns had been formed, and when serious situations arose, people texted me asking if we could gather on Zoom to pray as a community; and we did.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
When riots erupted after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, we could not have gathered at our church building to pray due to police barricades nearby. Yet we met on Zoom as part of our regular rhythm and prayed as people on their own Zoom screens said, “My husband is trying to get home from work, the streets are closed, and police helicopters are circling overhead.” He made it safely.
I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempters power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
We prayed for family members with addiction, loved ones going through hard relationship challenges, educators and health care workers, mission partners and others living in remote areas of the world with limited ability to take precautions against Covid. We celebrated good news of prayers answered as we hoped they would be, and grieved ones that were not. We prayed for our church family. We prayed for healing for our world. We prayed for peace. We gathered, read the psalms, and prayed.
I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
Some nights there were only four or five of us, other times upwards of twenty, and usually somewhere in between. There was a small handful of regulars and others who came occasionally or only once. My wife and I were given the gift of praying with our parents, who came often. We had people of all ages; one of our regulars was a toddler who came with her mom. We laughed and we cried and we sang. We celebrated and lamented. We learned about God and prayer from each other.
The group of regulars became quite a close-knit community of mutual support who continue checking on and praying for each other even after our regular gatherings have stopped. Amid a world full of chaos, evening prayer became an oasis of shalom. While I certainly do not wish a global pandemic and its pain on anyone, these Zoom prayer gatherings during it were a gift which would not have happened otherwise. They were sacred times, pointing us ever more toward Jesus.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.