published Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Faith Focus: Pondering public prayers

When he was growing up in Burleson, Texas, the Rev. Dan Scott says, there was a Baptist church on one end of town and a Methodist church on the other.

When he went back years later, he says, "it had everything" with churches of various denominational stripes.

Not only that, says Scott, now chaplain at Baylor School, it was in once-staid Burleson -- which had less than 21,000 people as late as 2000 -- where he first heard a woman preach and first attended a contemporary worship service.

Things change, he says. Religious services change. Public prayers change.

"I grew up in the Baptist tradition," says Scott, formerly a longtime pastor at First Baptist Church in Fort Oglethorpe. "Prayers were extraneous, informal. I don't think I had thought a lot about public prayers."

At a conference once, he heard the Rev. Ernest Campbell, then senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, tell pastors they should spend as much time on their prayers as on their sermons.

"I thought, 'That's crazy. That's bizarre,'" Scott says. "I spend a lot of time on sermons, but ... . Well, somehow, it stuck."

Since then, he has given a lot of thought to public prayer. Indeed, his public prayers since his hiring at Baylor in 2003 have become so well regarded that many of them were recently published in a small volume by Parsons Porch Press in Cleveland.

"Baylor Prayers" contains 37 of Scott's prayers that were delivered, among other places, at the installation of a headmaster, building dedications, faculty meetings, the beginning of a school year, alumni events and football games.

"I would like to think," he says, "that it is a kind of model for praying in a community that includes a lot of different kind of people."

In thinking about prayers in a public setting, Scott says he drew from

the late minister, theologian, author and teacher John Claypool, who said those who deliver prayers should always consider their audience.

Teenagers are often his audience, Scott says, so he wants to use words they understand. And at football games, he says, there is a different audience.

"How you [pray] and the people there are a little broader than that," he says.

For many people, public prayers, especially those that end with the words "in Jesus' name," have become polarizing, Scott says. And while he disdains the idea to "throw [the prayers] all in a blender and have [them] all come out vanilla," he tries "to be respectful of the audience."

Scott also notes that, while the Lord's Prayer is always held as a model prayer, it does not end with "in Jesus' name." And he says that in any reading of the Old Testament, "we read Judaism."

So, he says, "I think there is room if we think it through [to pray in a manner] that all religious traditions pray."

Scott, to be sure, believes in the power of prayer. In his life, he sensed it in a mighty way when his wife died of cancer.

"A lot of people prayed for me," he says. "I could sense the uplift. It was almost like a hug of their prayers. It's very difficult to explain.

"The less I understand it, the more I believe in it," Scott says, quoting a friend. "You can't discount its power, its dynamic in the lives of people, even though you can't scientifically explain it."

"Baylor Prayers," with a foreword by Baylor Headmaster Scott Wilson, is available for $9.95 at the school's bookstore, through or the publisher at

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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