Chatting with Paige: Anglicanism and Prayer
Last week I crossed the beautiful Brazos river to Paige Gutacker's home, cozied up with a hot mug of licorice tea, and had one of the most amazing and humbling couch chats of my life. Paige made an instantaneous good impression on me when we first met in January on our first Sunday at our church. She has the best laugh, and the most hospitable spirit, and it was exactly that kind of love and warmth that I had been craving since finding myself planted quite firmly in the heart of Texas, and not at all excited about it, either. In this first part, we’ll learn a little about her move to Waco with her husband, Paul, and the relationships they left behind. Then we’ll delve into a discussion on prayer, corporate and personal. I have read these words over an over again and glean new things each time. I know you’ll be encouraged as well. So grab a warm drink and enjoy these wise and delightful thoughts from Paige.
Mary: You and Paul moved to Waco in August of last year, the same as us. Did you have any particular priorities upon making this fresh start? How did you want to pursue relationships when you moved here?
Paige: I don't know that we had anything super intentional as far as a "fresh start mindset." We were definitely in a season, and still are in some ways, of feeling like we needed to pull back. We love coordinating things, and we tend to just sort of end up being the people who are behind the scenes of all the social gatherings of all kinds, and we love that, but there's a certain kind of exhaustive quality to that sometimes. Because of this, we wanted to fly under the radar for a little while after we moved to Waco. So in a lot of ways, last year was a kind of respite from leading stuff.
It was a really challenging season, relationally, moving here. We left behind some dear, dear community. Most particularly, we had a Friday night dinner group that met for our last year in Vancouver. The same group of 10 people came over for dinner every week and we rotated who cooked each week. It was the highlight of every week. The laughter and the level of comfort was so wonderful. Somehow when it was time for us to move away we were the only ones from the group to be moving at that time, so we felt sort of cut away. Because of these friends, last fall was a season of grieving for us in many ways, and then slowly, over time, sweetness of memory was added to the bitterness of that loss.
Mary: Yes, I always feel like a mess for about a year after we move some place. I have to constantly tell myself, 'It's because you moved. It's because you moved.’ It's a hard thing and takes a long time to recover from being uprooted and to make a home in a new place.
So you guys started going to Christ Church your first Sunday here?
Paige: Yea, like the day after we moved in!
Mary: Awesome. So were you guys Anglican before joining Christ Church?
Paige: We had been at an Anglican church for 3 years in Vancouver. It was a beautiful church, the largest Anglican church in Canada. They had lost their stunningly gorgeous cathedral a few months after we started attending, and so we actually got to be with that church as they physically exited one Sunday—their parish church they'd been in all their lives. People's grandparents were buried in the graveyard there. We processed out after the cross, singing "Lift High the Cross" about a million times because we were nearly the last people to leave the church. That's what I'll always think of when I hear that song. Then we went to the new church building they would be renting, and finished the worship service together.
Watching these elderly people who had been at this church their whole lives make that move, and the loss in it, not just of gorgeous stone and wooden pews and stained glass and organ, but of everything it had meant to these individuals and these families who gave it up for the sake of the gospel, was a huge witness. Basically, they were the first group of people we had ever been with who encountered real loss for the sake of the gospel, and counted it as joy.
We were essentially won over by the testimony of those people long before we had any idea that we might eventually be Anglicans. We were just going to worship with those people, and in the course of those 3 years fell in love with the liturgy. We started going to the early morning communion service where the whole thing lasts about 45-50 minutes with a 10 minute homily, and you kneel for a ton of the service, and it's all straight out of the prayer book. It was refreshing and beautiful in a way that we were really hungry for.
Mary: Here in Waco you and Paul kind of spearheaded, with some other people, starting morning prayer 5 days a week, 3 of which are at your house. I feel like my prayer life has been abysmal—practically non-existent really. But last week I started doing the Devotions and Prayers for Families from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) a few times a day with the boys. The last two nights Bruno has fallen asleep while I've read the Close of the Day prayers, which was so sweet. I guess as I see more of a need to faithfully pray every day, I am wondering how this practice of having morning prayer at your home has changed how you view prayer?
Paige: I think we're on the same journey that you're on. We didn't intend to start a long-term prayer thing back in April. A week after Easter we were confirmed, which was really a significant time for us spiritually, learning that it's a time where you expect a fresh work of the Holy Spirit in your life. It's a thing I've never been told to expect in that way. I think the week after that, Fr. Lee did a catechesis class that was about the Offices, and how they're the centerpiece of Anglican spirituality, which seemed like kind of a big deal considering we had just committed to being Anglicans!
There's actually a centerpiece to Anglican spirituality, and it's pretty clear what it is: morning and evening prayer.
We had prayed morning and evening prayer before but only a couple times, and we didn't really even know how it worked. So a few of us enthusiastically decided to pray together that week. Part of what is hard about morning prayer is that it's half an hour on your own. But what if we did it together? So we did! We prayed together every day that week. And so then we decided, 'let's do this for two weeks,' and then, 'let's do this for the rest of Easter!' So we kept going, and then it was like, 'this is great, let's do it this summer! Is 5 days a week still good? Okay!' And then it was like, 'I think we're just doing this.'
Paul is very faithful about going 5 days a week and I go 3-4 times. Sometimes there are just 4 of us, 9 of us, 10 of us, but you never know who is coming and when it’s at our house we just put a post it note on the door that says, 'come on in.' Lila howls at everyone and we try our best to make her a more hospitable dog.
It's really new for us and we didn't have this grand plan, but although I don't usually talk in terms of “promptings of the Holy Spirit”, I will say that when we were leaving Regent (College) a year and a half ago and we had zero expendable funds, I slowly but surely collected 4 prayer books from the Regent bookstore. Paul was like, 'But we don't need 4 prayer books. Maybe two if another couple is over.' And I just said, 'I think we're going to need more. There's coming a time.'
But we weren’t even praying out of it. I didn't even know how to use it! I just felt like we needed to leave with prayer books, which I just love, because when confirmation and Easter and prayer came without warning, we had this stack that we used all summer until Fr. Lee got more for us.
Mary: It's always so encouraging to me to hear of seemingly illogical ways in which the Holy Spirit has worked, only to see the fruit of it later in life. I also love that when you started talking about morning prayer you weren't planning some revolutionary thing, or even a permanent thing for that matter!
Paige: No, not at all! Even when we started talking about it, some people wanted to do it every day that first week, which I was really hesistant about. I used to start work at 7 a.m., so I was the one who suggested twice a week. I could hardly commit to those first two weeks, so there was no way we could have commited to doing it forever.
Mary: Right, then you guys would have been organizers and planners again, which you were trying to avoid!
Paige: Yea, and even though we were part of the first handful of people who wanted to pray together, we weren’t the hosts to start with, which was probably pretty important for us.
My objection to morning prayer back in April was that those were important hours for me. It's a lot of time, I didn't think I had time, but now that it's in there as a first building block to the day and everything else shuffles around it, I never don’t have time. Somehow time wiggles it's own way around. That's been an interesting observation for me, and I don't think anymore that I don't have time for prayer.
So yea, we love praying in community. I would, like you, have identified my prayer life as being dry, if I could even have called it a prayer life. I'm pretty good at the emergency shout-outs and the quick one-liner prayers throughout the day, but they're all intercessory.
There have been two surprising things about praying the morning office with other people. One has been delightfully surprising, and that is that the office leads you through all the different types of prayer when you, on your own, would probably forget them. I tend to think of prayer as merely intercession, when actually there's a lot more going on. It leads you through confession, which is something I don't think of daily in prayer. It leads you through adoration, thanksgiving, as well as intercession. We read the Old Testament and New Testament scripture and the Psalm, and it is part of prayer. Reading aloud together from the Word of God is part of the prayer conversation, so it's really broadening my go-to definition of prayer.
The second surprising thing was that praying with other people most mornings has opened up a way for other people to carry our intercessory prayers, and vice versa.
Sometimes you just can't pray for that thing you need any more, and on those days someone else in the group will pick up those prayer requests. I've had people pray for my aunt who has had a brain injury since this summer. She's not me; they don’t know her. She's distant. But sometimes when I forget to pray for her, or just can't anymore, someone else does. That kind of thing has been a tangible way for us to bear one another's burdens. If it hadn’t been for morning prayer, we would not have known the need of a friend and asked her to live with us. There’s only so much you can learn in the hey-how-are-yous before and after church.
Paul and I are historically very bad with sharing our needs with other people. We do a lot of, 'we want to hear about your life!' and not a lot of even knowing what our needs are, let alone finding words to express them. So Morning Prayer is opening us up to community at a different level and has been one of the best things about our lives this Fall.
People pray for me a lot of mornings of the week. I haven't been prayed over consistently in I don't even know how long. I think I fatigued of asking for prayer for physical well-being in college at some point, so that's been really profound, too, starting the day with people asking big things of God for you.
Additionally, Paul and I often pray the devotional prayers for families at night before we go to bed. We started doing this during Lent last year and it's been really sweet for us to end the day on that note even though one of us is usually falling asleep! One night we were so tired, and I don't even know how this is possible, but we both prayed the Lord's Prayer incorrectly on two different lines in ways that clearly indicated we were both falling asleep. I think I prayed that God would deliver us from pain instead of evil? And I can't remember what Paul said. But anyway, those pages are so short that by now we know them by heart. That was probably my first experience of noticing how meaningful the liturgy was becoming to me. During that Lent, one of the harder things in our lives took place with a close family member. During those first days the lines that kept reverberating through my head were, 'Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name. Do not forsake us O Lord our God.' And I was like, 'what is that? Where is that from? Is it from a song?' It wasn't until that night when we prayed the evening prayer that I realized we had been praying that every night. Of course that came back to me when I was in distress. So much of the prayer book is straight up scriptural quotation, which means we're doing that thing we talked about in our protestant background of hiding the word in our hearts, while not even intentionally memorizing a passage of scripture.
Mary: I'm really appreciating the structure that the prayer book provides. I frequently think that I don't have time to add more things into my life, and use that as an excuse too much. I feel like as a mom I'm so often told, 'It's okay, just do what you can do.’ I know that I’m doing important work, and it’s okay if I don’t do anything that is seen as traditionally productive, but at the same time it's really easy to make excuses for myself. Not long ago (like last week) I would have said that I didn't have time to do 4 short prayers with my boys every day. There will be days that I don't, of course, but a lot of the days we're home for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then of course bedtime. I've noticed that by taking the time to pray with my children, I'm putting my phone down more and being more present at meals. We've started lighting a candle at the table to mark it as a peaceful, set aside time, and it has given us the chance to explain more of the liturgy to the boys. A few days ago I got to explain to Seb what it meant to ask, 'Lord Jesus, Kindle our hearts.'
And what blows my mind about it is that I didn't have to do anything! The prayers, scriptures, and meditations in the liturgy are open and waiting for us.
Paige: Yay, Book of Common Prayer!
Thanks for reading, friends! Keep an eye open for the 2nd part of Paige's interview, which is all about hospitality.
Paige Gutacker is the Alumni Network Director at Summit, an non-profit ministry combining truth and relationship in 12-day worldview conferences for high school and college students. She loves getting to write, give workshops, and host webinars for her work.
Additionally, Paige is one class away from graduating with her interdisciplinary Masters in Theological Studies (MaTS) at Regent College, wherein she's been exploring the intersection between pedagogy, spiritual formation, and technology.