Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Moving through Lent -- PrayGround exercises spiritual muscles


Creativity is at play in the PrayGround at Ponca City-First UMC during Lent. You will find a sandbox of sorts, but not swings or a slide.

The PrayGround’s equipment will move you closer to God.

Spaced through two rooms are 13 activity stations, each with instructions for both contemplation and action. Disciples can get spiritual exercise there any time the church is open.

Cathie Gilliland and Carolyn Hopkins introduced PrayGround this year at Ponca City-First. Hopkins leads the church’s prayer ministry, and Gilliland directs children’s ministries.

They had seen PrayGrounds at the Conference’s specialty camps for younger children, where they volunteer.

Gilliland laughed about her introduction to the concept. She had misread the word as "playground" on signs during two summer-camp seasons.

In Ponca City, people visit the prayer stations randomly, just as children move at whim around a playground. Gilliland suggested a guest engage in only one or two activities per visit.

A welcome sign declares: "Visit as many or as few stations as your time allows, but do not rush. Enjoy your time with God and come back often."

People also are told to expect noises at some stations. "Sometimes prayer is noisy," the instructions note. "Be aware of what you hear in the silence, as well as what you see in the noise."

The project is open to the Ponca City community as well as the congregation. Adult accompaniment of children is requested.

The PrayGround "seems to make you so much more aware of prayer and different types of prayer," Gilliland said. "It’s very interactive. It conditions you to try to be intentional about prayer."

Her strong belief in the power of prayer drives her hope that the project will help other people grow in their spiritual practices.

"Prayer has affected me so much," she said. Gilliland survived a heart attack just over a year ago.

"I knew, when I was on the floor, I was talking with God in my head, and I was never scared," she said.

Some of the PrayGround activities at Ponca City-First are summarized here.

  1. The Wilderness Station uses the sand previously noted. The Scripture is the story of Jesus facing temptation during 40 days in the desert. Reflect on what tempts you, write that in the sand, then smooth out the words while praying for forgiveness.
  2. Fingerprint Prayers match colors to categories of people, and ink daubs mark prayers for them on a large drawing of a cross.
  3. Lint or Lent? Ask God to remove lint (sin) in your life as you use a lint roller to tidy your clothes.
  4. A Creation Puzzle that includes animal shapes calls attention to caring for all the world.
  5. Shredder Prayers features that piece of office equipment! Write your sins on a piece of paper, offer a silent prayer of confession, shred that paper, and accept God’s forgiveness.

— Holly McCray


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