A Church Tradition Reimagined in Our Time: Athens’ Outdoor Vigil Prayer Hill


In response to the impact of a global health and economic crisis in her local community of Athens, Rev. Deborah Woolsey proposed a creative way to come together, grieve, and pray. She offered a reimagining of a church tradition.

After reading a May 2, 2020 Forbes Article, Weep for Ohio University but Don’t Forget Athens, Ohio in your prayers, she was able to rally other local leaders–both from the Church of the Good Shepherd and from Ohio University.

Below is the full message shared in the church newsletter. Scroll through to read her piece on A Church Tradition Reimagined for Our Time. 


YOU Are Invited

To share your prayers in Church of the Good Shepherd’s Outdoor Votive Prayer Hill.

Even though our building is currently closed to the public and we are not yet allowed to return to worshipping together in person, there is still a way we can pray together.

Mother Deborah and the Wardens have set aside space in the church’s yard where we can symbolically put our prayers and invite others to add their prayers.

How to Participate:

Starting Sunday, May 17: In the church’s front yard there will be stakes with reflective gold ribbons attached to them. These are prayer stakes intended to symbolize a prayer.

 – select a prayer stake. If you choose, you can write a prayer on the gold ribbon, but you don’t have to. Please bring your own permanent marker to write the prayer in the ribbon.

 – put the stake in the ground anywhere on the hill. Think about your prayer as you put the stake in the ground.

The gold reflective ribbons will reflect the sunlight and move in the wind. We hope all the prayers together reflecting light will be a positive symbol of faith, hope, and our love for our neighbors.

If You Can’t Make It into Church, We’ll Put Your Prayer Out for You

We want everyone to participate. If you would like to add your prayer to the Votive Prayer Hill, and are not able to come to the church, please call, text or email Mother Deborah revdebwoolsey@gmail.com or David Burton and they will put a prayer stake in the hill for you. They’ll even take a picture for you so you can see your prayer on the hill. 

 A Church Tradition Reimagined for Our Time

There is not enough darkness in all the world to extinguish the light of one small candle. – Unknown

     For hundreds of years lighting candles as a form of prayer has been a tradition in the Christian faith, as well as other religions. Some churches have stands called votive stands made of metal or wood with small candles called votive candles people can light. Votives symbolize the prayer a person is offering on their behalf or on behalf of another person or a community. At Church of the Good Shepherd, we have a lovely wooden votive stand made from an old church pew in our Bishop Black Chapel.

      Ever since we opened the chapel to the public, parishioners and our neighbors have been visiting it nearly every day. In our chapel they pause, pray, reflect, and have found peace, healing, and inspiration. 

      Because the church building is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have not been able to visit the chapel and find spiritual rest. In order to be present to our community, especially during a time when there is so much uncertainty, Mother Deborah wanted to find a way to provide what the chapel offers outside our doors. The result is the Outdoor Votive Prayer Hill.

   Instead of candles, we are using tent stakes with reflective gold paper strips attached to them. Gold is a color that can symbolize the presence of the holy. When the light hits it, the gold foil-like paper will reflect the light and when the wind blows, the gold paper will move with the breeze, sort of like the flame of a candle.

   We hope you will participate in this ministry of presence that is for our neighbors and ourselves. We invite you to get some fresh air, go to the church, put a prayer on the hill. Together we hope our those prayer stakes on the church yard will reflect our love of God and our neighbors and is a way for us to be present during the COVID-19 pandemic.