Sunday School: How to Write a Collect

The word Collect is the noun version of the verb ‘collect’, as in, to gather up. In the prayer book a Collect is a prayer that gathers our thoughts and intentions together so we can offer them to God.

A Collect has a pretty basic structure, which includes:

O God, you are ________ :
These are the attributes of character of God to which the prayer is drawing our attention.

We ask ____________ ,
This is what the prayer is requesting of God, keeping in mind the quality of God we just mentioned in the address.

so that ____________ ;
This is the intention or purpose of petitioning God.

through ___________.
The last part of the prayer praises God and/or declares our confidence in making our request.

Here’s an example of a prayer written in the 11th century for the Latin mass, but included in the earliest Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer.

The Collect for Purity
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Try writing your own Collect following this pattern:

O God, ________________________: We ask ___________________________________________ ,
so that __________________________________________________ ; through ________________
___________________ .

Building a Church through Pilgrimage and Prayer

Part of the tent city where people are living in Matamoros. In between the tents is where the food is served on the days there are volunteers to provide it.

Over the first weekend in November, several members of the Incarnation community went on a pilgrimage with a couple of other Austin-area Episcopal churches to the US-Mexico border. It was a powerful and rich weekend of encounter, reflection, and transformation. Our primary job was to prepare food to serve to folks living in the new tent-city in Matamoros, just over the border from Brownsville, TX, which has grown from around 100 to upwards of 1000 asylum-seekers just in the last couple of months.

On Saturday, after learning about the Good Neighbor Settlement House and Team Brownsville–the two primary organizations who are serving the needs of the growing group in Matamoros and Brownsville–we got to work preparing a healthy and hot meal of black bean and chicken casserole for 600 people. A volunteer team from Trinity Methodist Church, here in Austin, made a similar casserole to get to the 1000 meals that, together, we served for dinner on Saturday. It being Dia de los Muertos while we were there, we also gave out a fair amount of candy to the kids who were joyfully running around the camp the whole time we were there. The children and their boundless and undeterred enthusiasm stood out amidst the otherwise dire situation that is happening because of changes in US migration policy in the last few months.

On Sunday morning we returned to Matamoros for the last time to celebrate Holy Eucharist with the folks living in the tent-camp, which was an especially moving experience of being united with each other in faith regardless of differences in language and country of origin. Many in our group were fluent Spanish speakers, but I am not, which made leading our worship service a clumsy and humbling experience, but one of grace and gratitude, nonetheless. I believe all of us would do it again in a heartbeat, and we spent the drive home talking about the next opportunity we might have to serve in Matamoros.

Joyful and boisterous children couldn’t help but bump into our makeshift altar, spilling Communion wine over everything. But we were undeterred and all we still fed, but we said a special prayer asking for the Altar Guild’s forgiveness for staining the linens!

One of the practices the Incarnation Community Builders have been exploring is a Rule of Life, which is an 8-part pattern of living that helps us not just profess but live our faith. The practices of our Rule are:

    • daily prayer
    • daily scripture reading
    • daily confession of sin
    • regular study
    • weekly worship
    • regular service to the world
    • regular service to the church
    • keeping the sabbath

Over the weekend the Incarnation community formed itself around these anchor points, both among the group who remained and worshiped with our House Church and those who were on a pilgrimage of service and prayer. People ask me all the time, “How do you start a church?” This weekend illustrates the answer better than I could put into words. Simply put, we are building a church one person at a time by practicing now, on the small scale, what we aspire to offer for all of South Austin.

On Saturday we handed out balloons with one of the Team Brownsville to kids who were eager and excited to add them to their play.

Praying the Daily Office

The Daily Office is patterned off of an ancient practice of prayer that traces back to our Hebrew ancestors. The Old Testament tell us, “Seven times a day I praise you” (Psalm 119:164), which was also taken seriously by many of the first followers of Christ. Eventually, small numbers of women and men fled from towns and cities to live in the wilderness or deserts so they could dedicate their lives to praying and working for God. When some of them gathered together in communities, which we now know as monasteries, they, too, prayed and recited the Psalms seven times a day.

An icon of the Desert Fathers

The first bishops and priests in the early Christian church, many of whom came from monasteries, themselves, recognized that stopping for prayer seven times a day would be hard for ordinary women and men so they combined the various prayers and readings into two principle forms of prayer–Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This is what Episcopalians call the Daily Office. The word ‘office’ comes from the Latin word for duty, thus, the Daily Office was our ‘daily duty.’

When the Book of Common Prayer was created, shortly after the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, these forms of prayer were included in it so that individuals and families could use them in their homes if they weren’t able to attend church services where they were said. And, until the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was published, Morning Prayers was considered the main Sunday service.

We prayed together at a bar in South Austin and got some pretty funny looks.

Praying using the Daily Office, whether occasionally or every morning and evening, is a robust way to adopt a personal pattern of prayer. The words are beautiful and evocative and there is great comfort in having language already given when our own words fail us. Moreover, they say what we believe to be true about God and ourselves, but they also help express our desires as people who yearn for connection with God and each other.

Below are a few of our favorite online resources for exploring this practice. Let us know in the comments what you’ve found to be the most helpful for your own prayer life, or if you have questions about how to get started. And, if you are looking for a community to pray with, contact us to find out about Incarnation ATX.

Mission St. Clare has a website and an app that includes each day’s scripture readings, as well as the prayers and psalms for the day. You can find the app in the App Store or on Google Play.

Forward Movement has a number of resources, including the full format of prayer and scripture readings, or just the readings–for when you want to use your actual Book of Common Prayer to say the rest of the prayers.

The Book of Common Prayer, obviously, also has the forms for Morning and Evening Prayer (as well as lots of other prayers). It does not include the readings, but it does list them, starting on p. 934, in the Daily Office Lectionary, so you can look them up in your Bible. An online version of the whole Book of Common Prayer can be found here.