Maryland church offers ‘prayer board’ as invitation to community for residents’ prayer requests

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 28, 2024
Emmanuel prayer board

Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown, Maryland, created its public prayer board in November 2023, and since then its 30 blanks regularly fill with names and other prayer requests, which are read during Sunday services. Photo: Claire Nevin-Field

[Episcopal News Service] When Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown, Maryland, reads the Prayers of the People in the middle of its Sunday services, those prayers aren’t limited to the concerns of people sitting in the pews. Since November, the church has invited anyone from the community to submit their own prayer requests – by writing them in chalk on a board hung above the sidewalk outside the church.

Across the top of the chalkboard are the words “Today I pray for,” and the 30 blank lines underneath are waiting to be filled. Many of the prayer requests are for individual people, their names scrawled by hand across the board. Other requests reflect issues of the day, such as prayers for Israel, prayers for Palestine, for the incarcerated, for the hungry, for world peace.

Every day, a parish administrator documents the latest prayer requests, to be read by the congregation on Sunday. Then the chalk is erased, so that more prayer requests can be written on Emmanuel’s prayer board.

“It helps the community outside to know that the church cares and is alive, and it helps people within the church, the faith community, understand those around us,” the Rev. Claire Nevin-Field, Emmanuel’s rector, said in a phone interview with Episcopal News Service.

Nevin-Field, who began serving at Emmanuel in December 2022, brought the idea for the prayer board with her from a previous parish, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She pitched the idea to the Emmanuel’s vestry, and the congregation warmly embraced it as a way “to be more aware of some of the hopes and fears and anxiety and suffering of those in the community.”

Emmanuel is located on North Cross Street in the heart of downtown Chestertown, a town of about 5,500 east of Baltimore on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The street gets plenty of foot traffic, Nevin-Field said, especially on Saturdays, when a farmers market is set up nearby. Parishioners and other community members regularly fill the 30 blanks on the prayer board.

The board itself is a simple rectangle of wood painted with chalkboard paint and framed with white plastic. Two parishioners created it and hung it from the iron fence near the church’s front entrance and added a basket of chalk next to the board.

Cost to the congregation: about $150.

“It’s good for us in the parish to care about the community, and I think it’s good for the community that they have a place to put their prayer requests,” said Elizabeth Riedel, who helped make and install the prayer board.

Riedel, 61 and retired, moved to Chestertown about three years ago and now serves on Emmanuel’s vestry. She and others in the congregation were thrilled when Nevin-Field suggested the prayer board, and they have been humbled by its success.

“It’s helped me to recognize more the specific needs in our community. You can imagine what people are praying for, what they need,” Reidel told ENS. “It touches my heart how many people will bring their needs to a chalkboard, knowing that other people are going to pray for what they need.”

Some people ask for prayers for relatives. One person even wrote in “Chai Cat,” which Riedel found curious. After praying for the cat, she said would love someday to find the person who wrote that request, to see how the cat is doing.

When the congregation first hung its prayer board, some members raised concerns about the possibility of obscenities on the board. That hasn’t been an issue so far, Nevin-Field said. In fact, the only time someone wrote an obscenity, someone else passing by spotted it and wiped the word off – a example of the public policing itself.

The prayer board “seems like it’s become a community property,” Nevin-Field said, “which is great.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at