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surgery. I asked whether he’d like to start the prayer. He began, “Dear God, I thank you for Thomas. Thank you for giving him the courage to offer prayer in this place. And Lord, may Thomas know that you are well-pleased with what he is doing.” Heaven embraced me with that prayer. I was

second-guessing my ability to reverse trends, to draw more people to worship, to inspire more generosity. Then a stranger prayed for me and I felt, at least in that moment, that I was doing something right. The bulk of my ministry is still among people

within my congregation, but I’m grateful for those free prayers at coffee shops each week. I think of the schizophrenic woman who asked for prayer because she sees witches. We prayed for courage, strength and protection. An owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts asked me to pray for her shop. Upon seeing my free prayer Facebook post, an old acquaintance asked


for prayer for his nephew born three months early. A Starbucks manager sat down at my table to share what God had been up to in her life. While this ministry has done admittedly little to

expand the ranks of my congregation, it has done much to expand my vocation to include the ranks of God’s people I’ve never met who are searching for answers, waiting for comfort and willing to pray. An Amari walks into a coffee shop every day in

your town. It may be a man or a woman, young or old, but an Amari is there—and he or she could use some prayer. I set up my sign to invite people to “pray, and let God worry” right where they are because the Amaris need prayer and aren’t about to walk into my office at church. Sometimes we have to move beyond the shadows

of a steeple to take care of our people. In so doing, we may just find that God takes care of us too.

A version of “Why I offer ‘free prayer’ in a coffee shop” was originally published in Faith and Leadership, an online magazine of Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C. Living Lutheran interviewed Rusert to learn more about his “free prayer” idea and what has changed since his post went viral.

Living Lutheran: What gave you the idea to make the “Free Prayer” sign and take it with you on your weekly coffee shop visits? Rusert: A Lutheran pastor shared a story of his

campus ministry days. He and his students would take a couch to the middle of the quad with a sign that said “Share your story.” I didn’t think I could quite get away with that in Panera, so I adapted the idea. Stories take time and a great deal of openness.

Prayer, on the other hand, can be shared in a few seconds, and it’s something that most people are receptive to or have done before, even if they don’t go to church. There is something universal about prayer.

What has happened since your post on Faith and Leadership became popular online? Many people took interest in the article and the

Rusert encourages fellow pastors to be creative in ministering in their communities. “Sometimes ‘our people’ are the ones we have never met,” he said.

Free Prayer ministry. Fox News posted a nonpartisan article about it and more than 50,000 liked or shared it on Facebook. Then it started showing up in all kinds of places, many of which I had never heard of. I even got a call from a megachurch to do a Skype interview. Thankfully, most of the interest has been positive and encouraging.


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