For two solid years I enjoyed the privilege of meeting with an ecumenical group of pastors for prayer at 6:00 every Thursday morning. We would begin with a time of worship lead by my Roman Catholic friend Charlie, followed by the reading of Scripture and then an intense focused time of prayer. These Christ Followers not only became my support group, but in the truest sense family. We became a sounding board to understand God’s will, while praying for wayward children, spouse’s health concerns, and just a great group to spend time with. We shared from each other’s pulpits, supported special occasions, and genuinely respected and loved each other deeply.
While other pastors drifted in and out of our fellowship, our core group remained close, committed and connected.
The location we chose for our meeting was a small coffee house in Ocean Grove New Jersey, a quaint little beach town known as God’s Square Mile. The owners, who actually started the prayer meeting, felt that God had called them into the marketplace to live out their ministry. As the summer months came the little town would begin to fill with people anxious to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of God’s Square Mile. With the crowds came the interruption to our hour of prayer, as eager vacationers would line up waiting for our meeting to end and the doors to open so they could get their fix of caffeine.
The deeper into the summer the more difficult it was for our gracious hosts to concentrate on prayer, knowing the customers pounding on their door represented the difference between a successful or unsuccessful year, as 85% of their income was generated in just three short months.
We began to notice the physical and emotional toll on our friends, and suggested changing locations or perhaps meeting just one time per month in the summer. The decision was made that we would soldier on and continue to meet each week. But by the end of our second year something had changed. It was getting harder to get up early and make the trip into town for prayer. A couple of the regular members of our group slowly stopped coming, and one of the founding members moved to another state.
Early on it was easy to see God’s plan and His blessing on our gathering, but as things started to change we spent more time talking and less time praying. Our group had dwindled down to just a handful, including our gracious hosts, who by now had to place all their attention on the customers. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t even very inspirational, but we continued to meet each week more out of duty than desire.
And then I got the call I’d been waiting for to begin training as a franchise owner for a quick service restaurant. The training would take me out of the state for seven weeks, but I was able to be in prayer for my friends every Thursday morning at 6:00, still desiring the connection that had been nurtured and developed over the years.
When I returned home I couldn’t wait to begin meeting again. For the first couple of weeks it felt like old times, even though our group had continued to shrink during my absence. But about the third or fourth week I knew it was over. It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make. In so many ways I attributed much of my spiritual growth to the time spent in prayer with this group of people who loved me and always wanted the best for my life.
It’s been three years since we had our last prayer meeting in Ocean Grove. I’ve tried to keep in touch with all the members of our little group. The friend who moved away promised that we would get together the next time he was in town…I found out he’s been back twice, one of the members retired and didn’t give any of us his new number, on occasion I see a few of the others and we say how we must get together but it never happens. Last year our gracious hosts sold the coffee shop and moved south to be with family.
My friend Charlie and I have remained close, still meeting on occasion for prayer, attending each other’s family weddings, and talking on the phone at least twice a month. Recently we were reminiscing about how powerful our prayer fellowship was, and how sad it is that we don’t meet anymore. Not only is he a gifted worship leader, but he recently retired from a career as a mental health professional. He shared the importance of understanding and accepting the seasons of life. He pointed out the life principle that is outlined in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 1, that there is an appointed time for everything. This can include friendships, prayer fellowships, and perhaps even include dependance on The Salvation Army.
It’s never easy to say good-by, and in many cases the separation anxiety experienced when an Officer resigns is similar to the loss of a loved one. For some the grieving process is short and relatively painless. For others, perhaps those who loved the Army with complete abandon will require more time to be able to say good-by.
End Part One
End Part One
I have two requests, the first is for The Salvation Army. Please be sensitive to the difficulty and grieving that many Former Officers experience. Some practical steps that can be taken when an Officer announces their resignation are as follows…