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June 12, 2011

Question: Is worshipping together better than praying by yourself?

The phrase “better than” could reflect the value judgment that praying in a group might be more powerful than individual prayer. But can we say that a team sport like soccer is better than jogging? One is a group activity; the other is simply an individual one. In my experience, both types of prayer (individual and group) are inspiring and sustaining. It is a joy to pray alone without distraction, but it is also very enriching to pray together in a group, where one hears a variety of voices.

Every major world religion prescribes prayers for the individual and the community. In the Bahá’í Faith, the individual may choose from among one of three daily “obligatory prayers,” the short, the medium and the long. Prayers are said in community during the 19 Day Feast, the Bahá’í worship service which is held every 19 days, the length of the Bahá’í month, and during holy days. During the first or devotional part of the Feast — the second and third parts are the consultative and social parts respectively — one individual reads the prayers and readings while the community listens reverently. Since there are no clerics in the Bahá’í Faith, these readers have no special status.

The same process occurs during our devotional meetings, one of our four core activities. (The others are study circles, children’s and junior youth classes). During these devotionals, which are open to the public, a variety of prayers from the world religions and other devotional writings, such as poems and meditations, are read. The playing of music complements the prayers and readings. Here, again, the prayers and readings are recited around the circle, while one person reads and the others listen.

Bahá’ís observe only one congregational prayer, meaning that one person leads the community in prayer while everyone stands. This is the prayer for the dead. - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen June 12, 2011
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