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Advice On Leading Intercessions


The advice that follows is collated from discussions on Linked In and the Lay Anglicana forum. Each piece of advice ends with the bracketed initials of the contributor, about whom you can find more details at the end of this piece.

Coming Further Up and Further In

As someone who trains the laity (and clergy), I would say - training members of the congregation to lead prayers is the Vicar's job, not a Diocesan task; though we do see 'public speaking', 'leading intercessions' and the like as skills to recognize via our Award Scemes for Children (DR)

You are of course right that responsibility for the training must lie with the vicar, but the problem in recent years has been the introduction of part-time priests combined with increasingly large benefices. I know of one parish where the vicar has bought a copy of Susan Sayers' book of intercessions, and recommends that the intercessor simply read out her prescribed text for the day. I imagine the thought behind this is that it cannot go very far wrong, but the disadvantage as I see it is that leading intercessions should be an opportunity for spiritual growth (and perhaps the first step to becoming a Reader, or even a priest) so it is a pity to simply hand a text to the intercessor.(LS)

I agree that leading the intercession can be a move into other forms of ministry (DR)

Things to Bear in Mind Before you Start

The most important, if most obvious, suggestion is that before you do anything else (consulting the lectionary, reading the readings and so on and so on) you take a moment on your own to pray.

Leading intercessions is the opposite of an ego trip - you are trying to voice the prayers of the congregation, not trot out your own favourites. At the same time, it is you leading the prayers, and you are also part of the congregation, so to that extent it cannot help but be personal. A balancing act.(LS)

I regularly lead intercessions, and when I first started, was provided with some guidance by our Vicar, who stressed that we are praying on behalf of the congregation, so what we say should be relevant to them, in words they understand.(SA)

The voice to use will vary according to the type of service -if you imagine the congregation praying as a person at the family communion service, the main communion service and a service -morning or evening prayer- from the Book of Common Prayer, they will all sound different. In general, the congregation at a BCP service attaches great importance to the form of the prayers and the beauty of the language; they will expect , not of course the language of 1662, but a certain formality. At the other extreme, the congregation for family communion will expect prayers that can readily be understood by an intelligent 8-10 year old. At the main communion service, people will expect a straightforward approach, with no thees or thous, and language that is transparent; they are primarily interested in the meaning.(LS)

I am told I have a talent for this task, and undertake it on a regular basis, not only in my own parish but at others in the benefice for occasional special services. I gather inspiration from the reading of the day, poetry, the prayers of others (the internet is a wonderful tool...) and my own thoughts. If there is a major national or international event, I include it, plus locals as needed or requested. I include a pause for people to think of their own concerns. But always my watchword is 'simple.' (SA)

I still find myself nervous on occasion, despite now two and a half years of leading regular intercessions. I actually think that nerves help, as long as they are controlled. They remind us that we are part of the congregation, given the privilege of leading prayer. (M/UKV)

A Broad Church

Remember that most Anglican congregations contain theological understandings that stretch from neo-Zwinglian to pre Vatican2 Catholic, so try not to get up everyone's nose by praying to/through the saints, for the dead (Thankfully remember is a nice compromise) etc unless you know that this will be the norm in that congregation.(DR)

Extempore or Scripted in Advance?

It helps also when there are some regular intercessions that the parish always includes. My home parish always includes an intercession for those deployed overseas, for example. Having some standard intercessions can give your leaders a structure to start with and build on, and also gives your congregation something to expect. (HR)

If you are not used to extempore prayers, write the whole lot out in advance - you can always ad-lib if the Spirit moves you, (but see note on language!) (DR)

The confidence boost that having a book of prayers to hand - especially when starting out in the job - can never be overestimated. When I was first commissioned - after three years in college, on the rota for daily offices, College prayer groups, tutorial group prayers, parish based term time practicals and placements of two to three months duration AND a background of house groups where extempore prayer was the norm - I started by using prayers that I had collected from all sorts of places, written out & placed in a ring binder. I would arrange them in order before the service, interleafed with any specific topics to be prayed for. After a while, the 'collected' prayers were replaced by ones which I had written myself.

As well as boosting my confidence, this also avoided the 'twenty minutes later & still at it' syndrome. In some respects the revisions from Series 2 onwards have imposed a similar, if somewhat low-fat, structure. (DR)

I think people who have not done intercessions before are often very worried about the prospect of ex tempore prayer which for many is a truly terrifying idea. Even if one's particular congregation does not use ex tempore prayer for the intercessions (ours tend to be quite formal and although in modern language are usually written out beforehand), this may not always be at all evident to those listening; some people assume that intercessors need to be able to craft everything 'on the hoof' and may be surprised to find that's not the case. They may also be unaware of the wealth of books and resources available to support intercessions. I think doing the intercessions is a far more daunting task in people's perceptions than is often realised, because of the self exposure issue but also because of some popular misconceptions about how they are actually put together. (BC)

Subjects for Intercession

In the 'Church Times' of 10 December 2010, the Rt Revd David Wilbourne suggests that one 30-word verse of 'The Golden Sequence' (attributed to Stephen Langton and translated by J M Neale) says all there is to say in praying for the world: the corrupt, the broken, the desolate, the pharisiac, the loveless and the lost are all addressed and met with hope...

What is soiled, make Thou pure;
What is wounded, work its cure;
What is parched, fructify;
What is rigid, gently bend;
What is frozen, warmly tend;
Strengthen what goes erringly.

The Episcopal Church (USA) offers the following guide regarding Intercessory prayer at celebrations of Eucharist(HG)

The Prayers of the People
Prayer is offered with intercession for:
The Universal Church, its members, and its mission
The Nation and all in authority
The welfare of the world
The concerns of the local community
Those who suffer and those in any trouble
The departed (with commemoration of a saint when appropriate)

I usually give them the "four point plan of prayer". If they are the academic sort, I use the techie theologian words from the training course, otherwise it's "Please, Thank You, Sorry, I Love You." (KJ)

All the advice is good though personally I do say "We are going to pray for (followed by the exact headings in the prayer book) ...I will then say Amen and leave a brief silence for your personal prayers then I will say Lord hear us and we say together Lord mercifully hear us..."
I take the point that you are telling people what they can read but lots of people get lost in even the smallest prayer book with all the alternatives offered or have difficulty reading the italic script...(Perhaps we have a particularly elderly’s not the lights, honest!!) (RD)

Those internet searches were probably me.... searching for a sensible prayer for the Communion of Saints that does not sound like a PS shoved on the end or praying for souls of the departed...(RD)

I'd emphasize "simple" for the content of the intercession because I suspect that many pick up the idea from clerics that they must be long and comprehensive and backed by a good deal of preparation. (One of our clerics does go on so that I'm sometimes tempted to shout something like "Oi, you've forgotten the indigenous people in Australia!" or "What abaht that lady murdered last week?") (CFB)

Church People to Pray For

Less is more & and for heaven's sake stop praying for the clergy so often...

I hope I'm allowed to make a post even though I am ordained (I am a self-supporting worker-priest so maybe occupy some weird void, not fully welcome by the laos or the 'professional' ordained...). I despair of what often passes for public prayer, and very much share the view of the esteemed William Stringfellow. We produced some guidance, but I don't think it is closely followed. And I wrote a short (and I hope humorous) piece begging for the clergy to be left off the list of people prayed for. (HV)

Where it is usual to pray for local, Diocesan, Provincial and Communion-wide groups, people, parishes and Dioceses, make these as succinct as possible - as Dave points out, God knows already, and many of the congregation probably aren't interested! (NS)

Who to leave out is a problem - as Church Army, even when on a Parish staff, some people would only mention my three ordained colleagues, others would include me, but leave out the three readers; then there were the two retired priests, the visiting teams, the house group leaders, the children's & youth teams (one set for each of the four churches); the teams which ran the three lunch clubs, the social clubs, drop in benefits advice sessions; the flower rota, cleaning teams, council & committee members, officers, sidesmen, lesson readers & intercession leaders. Then there was the head server, the musical director and the organist - and should we include the Tower Captain - even though we never saw him? And of course there was the head teacher of our Church School, and all his staff. And if we include them - was it fair to leave out the other three primary schools & the big comprehensive? Of course there was also the local Youth Centre where I was on the management group .........

'We pray for all those who minister in the name of Christ and His Church in this Parish, all those who show God's love by their words & actions, those known to us & those known only to God - Lord we give you thanks for all your ministers & ask that you strengthen them by your Spirit & guide them in the tasks which you have set before them - we thank you Lord - Amen (DR)

As someone who occasionally does intercession I would welcome a few sample prayers for each heading e.g. when praying for the Church some people list everyone Rowan our Archbishops and our Bishops Mike and Lee and our local clergy xy and z.....which can go on for ever...and others just mention all the clergy which is a bit dismissive somehow... (RD)

Lenght of Intercessions

The intercessions should never be longer than the Great Thanksgiving. (NS)

Some people tend to be long winded and can go on for ages, others are by nature brief and their prayers may be over in a very short time. I think general advice to keep it short may be wrong for some people. You need to know your trainees and be flexible. (AB)

If my intercessions run to more than a page of A4, (font size 12 pt) they are too long and I prune!(SA)

The Response

I would be clear in what you want the response to be and make it memorable or else the congregation spend time worrying about the response. (TH)

One of my pet (if minor) hates is "Today, the response to the intercessions is..."(KJ)

It's even worse if followed by a very long litany of "things we're asked to pray for" so that we've forgotten it by the time it comes round.(KJ)

"Lord, in your mercy" "hear our prayer" will do me every time. It allows me to concentrate on the prayers, rather than trying to remember an unusual phrase. (KJ)

Keith I totally agree. I spend so much effort and cerebral RAM trying to remember the response, that I don't 'hear' the prayers, and forget the response anyway. It's a real pain! (KL)

Recommended Books & Websites on Intercessions

Do not be afraid to use a combination of 'bidding' and then a prayer from some collection such as Colquhoun's Parish Prayers set of books (DR)

I've done the "preparation" lesson for new intercessors, and said that to them - even including the Frank Colqhoun series (plus a couple of others). (KJ)

I have yellowing and dog-eared copies of Frank Colquhoun's 'Parish Prayers' series, which are particularly useful when part of a service from the Book of Common Prayer, as their formality suits the setting, and the index is good and easy to use.(LS)

Two books I like are Leading Common Worship Intercessions (Doug Chaplin) - this one's particularly helpful for the chapter on 'what NOT to do' which contains illustrations of common pitfalls to avoid in preparing intercessions. Another is The Intercessions Handbook (John Pritchard) which has masses of worked examples for different situations and different types of services, from highly formal to very informal. Both of these are resources I have dug into for ideas at times and both would also be a good starting point for anyone new to this task. (BC)

Another book I use is Intercessions for Years A, B and C by Ian Black. Very practical and simple Intercessions which can be used stand-alone or with enhancements for specific seasonal services. I use these when taking Communion by Extension to Care Homes in my Parish, which is a privilege in itself, and deserves as much attention as any normal church service.(M/UKV)

The site that ended up on my favourites list is , which is the home site of a church called St. Marks & Putnoe Heights and is well worth a visit. They have the full text of their Sunday service, including readings, commentary, hymn suggestions, prayers and sermon, plus there are archives of prayer, written by their intercessioners, which can provide inspiration. (I would suggest that straightforward cut and paste would be a bit naughty - no-one claims copyright but it's only polite not to pinch stuff verbatim!) (SA)

Your Voice and Church Acoustics

Practice in the building before hand, especially if you will be using a PA system, and remember to breathe (passing out mid prayer can be so embarrassing) (DR)

On the practicalities of doing it in public, I suspect that what is really needed is for the tyro to be persuaded to stand up in an empty church and declaim to the walls while a couple of friends give encouragement and guidance on volume and pace to fill the nave and cope with the echo. (I remember a friend being told to slow right down and SHOUT!) Composition of prayers is secondary; important but secondary for the tyro. (CFB)

If it sounds like you are talking too slowly - you are probably about right; If it sounds like you are talking too loudly, you are probably about right. (DR)

Make your delivery straightforward and not "parsonical". (TH)

Keep the pace steady. (TH)

We suggest you DO do the following

  • Be yourself. (TH)
  • When praying through specifics do enough research to get your facts right. (TH)
  • My main piece of advice is to be unafraid of silence. IME, it's rare for the leader to leave enough silence and space in the prayers. Often, this role is seen as reading rather than leading, which makes a huge difference.(HR)

We urge you NOT TO DO the following

    Remember that God knows the detail before you tell Him, so there is no need to break confidences during the intercessions, 'We would just like to lift little Johnnie, whose mother has just run off with the milkman, into your loving care Oh Lord.' (DR)

    Little Johnnie may not have existed, but I have come across the practice, both in church and in house groups. (DR)
    Pray for politicians/the government without giving them an ex-cathedra endorsement.(DR)

    These are intercessions, NOT an essay for you to prove to God/the congregation/the vicar your knowledge of the minute detail of the crisis in capitalism or Balkan politics (DR)
    Do not use the intercessions as a weapon or an extra preaching slot 'Oh Lord - we would just like to pray for that group in the back row who talk through the prayer of consecration, that they may lean true religion ...' I have heard it done! (DR)

    These are intercessions, NOT an essay for you to prove to God/the congregation/the vicar your theological understanding (DR)

    Intercessions can be thematically related to the Gospel for the day, but remember there is only 1 sermon!(NS)
    Don't be afraid that you are too simple as sometimes that is what God is wanting someone to hear.(TH)
    Avoid like the plague such phrases as 'Oh Lord - I would just like to....' or 'I only want to ...' (DR)

    I have the same cringe points - "Lord we just wanna..." and "Lord, you know that it's the PCC meeting tomorrow..." (KJ)

    I think the cringe points are likely to arise when people insist on doing the prayers extempore. In ordinary speech people use fillers like this, but they are really not appropriate here (IMHO of course!) (LS)

Don't Out-Dodo St Dodo

Do you know the apocryphal St Dodo's? (from 'New Patterns for Worship'). When I was asked by our vicar to take on leading intercessions, our church on this occasion out-Dodo'ed St Dodo, I must say.

For a service of Matins, I asked him (this was many years ago) for some guidance. He told me to 'ask Deirdre', Deirdre being one of the three people who customarily led intercessions.

Deirdre's one piece of advice was to use the first of the prayers in the BCP, the one for the Queen - but to stop in the middle of the sentence , thus 'she may alway incline to thy will and walk in thy way'. After that I should insert some general prayers for those suffering from flood, famine etc. Armed with this not very constructive advice, I did my best.

On Monday morning the vicar rang in what felt to me like unholy glee: 'I had a complaint from a member of the PCC about your intercessions', he said. I apologised profusely, and asked what I should do to improve on the next occasion. 'It's much too old-fashioned to use the prayers in the BCP - you're supposed to do ex tempore prayer, as for the services in modern language. After all, this is the 20th century, you know, not the seventeenth'.

Actually, this was good advice. In a service from the BCP, I would now use modern but not folksy language to pray for the church, the nation, our community, the sick and the suffering and the dead. But I had to find this out by trial and error... (LS)

Ah yes. One asks people in church how a new-to-you task should be approached and gets a dozen different opinions. Trial and error does seem to be the way to find a lot of this out! (BC)

Difficulty in Persuading People to Lead Intercessions?

I'm a parochial (as opposed to diocesan) layreader in New Brunswick. We have a small rural parish, with the priest only coming on alternate Sundays, so the layreaders get quite a bit of work.

Our church is small enough that a voice will carry adequately from anywhere in the room. (This probably won't work in a large church, since the effect of a voice through a microphone is to lose the "direction" of the source of that voice, and it becomes a Tannoy announcement.) I usually write out the intercessions as numbered paragraphs, with a standard response after each para. I've been able to get the shy and the unwilling-to-make-a-show to read one para. from where they are kneeling in the pew.

They then have the anonymity they desire, just providing a voice.

And the congo is abnormally silent while this happens - no coughing, no shifting about, so the prayer carries forward through the room towards the altar, quite appropriately, ISTM.

I now have several people who would never go up to read a lesson who come to me and ask for a prayer to read. (HB)


And of course IF we ask children/young people to lead prayers all of the above hopefully goes out of the window.... they just talk to God and don't worry what people think!!!!! (MJ)


Lay Anglicana expresses its renewed thanks to all our contributors, who come from the four corners of the earth.

Sandra Apps, Brundish, Suffolk
Alan Barr
'Horseman Bree' New Brunswick, Canada
Belinda Copson
Rosemarie Derry
Charlie Farns-Barns, Hampshire
Harry Grace
Tim Hind
Keith Jillings
Mary Judkins
Kevin Lewis
Heather Rollins, Norfolk Virginia
Dave Rose CA
Diocesan Children & Children & Youth Officer
Neal Salan
Laura Sykes
Revd Hugh Valentine

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