Community prayer nets catches on in Kilgore
By Lindsay Peyton
At first inspection, the structures at both the front and back of St. Luke’s UMC in Kilgore could be mistaken for a soccer goal. A second look would reveal brightly colored ribbons tied to the netting. A sign reads “Community Prayer Net” and invites visitors to fill out a request card located in the box below. Ribbons await in the box, for each person to tie to symbolize their prayer request.
Members of St. Luke’s UMC pray for each card received, every ribbon tied in the net. In fact, in the past month, two prayer groups have formed, dedicated specifically to this cause.
The church campus is not the only place where prayer nets can be found. They are also available to order. Many have already been placed all around town.
Senior Pastor Ben Bagley said that prayer has been a focus at St. Luke’s during COVID-19. “There’s been so much we couldn’t do in the pandemic,” he said. “Prayer was one of those things we could still do. You can pray at home or anywhere. It was the one thing that could continue unhindered.”
From the beginning, Bagley explained to the congregation that even though they could no longer gather together, “We can still pray. We can still pray in our own community.”
He encouraged community prayer nights, when members placed candles in their windows to signify their dedication and commitment. “This is very much a natural continuation of some of the stuff we were doing,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet. We still have a lot going on. And we still have the ability to pray.”
St. Luke’s had a smaller prayer net before, but it was taken down and placed on hold. Bagley said that the ministry had basically been forgotten.
Then, one day last February, church member Dean Miller contacted him and asked, “Why don’t we do it again?”
Miller said that around a decade ago, the church’s education director had the idea. For a few years in a row, the congregation would raise the net on campus.
“We were really amazed with how many people had no affiliation with the church that tied ribbons on the net,” Miller said.
This time, the congregation purposed a few changes to the project. “They wanted to do it bigger,” Bagley said. “The way we always did it was no longer enough.”
In addition, the idea was to create nets that could be distributed to church members. The congregation assembled kits that could be ordered.
“Then we put it out there, ‘We have prayer nets, and we’d love for you to take one and put it up in your yard,’” Bagley said.
St. Luke’s asked that nets be placed where they would be visible and accessible to those in need of a prayer. The drive to distribute the kits began on Easter, and they are still available.
Prayers around Texas
“We’ve seen them all around the community,” Bagley said. “People have responded in ways that we weren’t expecting. It’s panned out to be a really cool community event.”
Since St. Luke’s online services are watched in other cities around Texas, requests for nets have come from far and wide. “It just took off,” Bagley said. “It kept growing.”
The church has benefitted from the project in a number of ways, Bagley said. Members were presented an opportunity to serve in their community and connect with each other. The two prayer groups also recently formed to respond to the requests.
In addition, the prayer nets make it easy for someone who might be reluctant to wander onto church property, Bagley said.
“Anyone from the surrounding area can come and tie a ribbon,” he said. “The idea is to get people comfortable being involved with the church. We have to get people comfortable, or they’ll never come.”
Most of all, Bagley explained, the nets and the ribbons show that prayer is still topmost on people’s minds.
“This shows a big desire for faith,” he said. “There are people in the community who just want someone to pray for them. And the church very much wants to be involved.”
The pastor hopes it becomes contagious. After all, he explained, that’s why they are named “Community Prayer Nets,” instead of St. Luke’s being in the title.
“This doesn’t have to be ours; other people can get involved,” he said. “It’s not attached to our church. It’s a common purpose – we’re here to pray for each other. And we take that seriously.”
Miller agreed. “My personal dream is that this gets out to churches around the country and around the world,” he said. “I hope they take this idea and run with it. It’s not a Methodist idea. It’s a people idea.”