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Well, the Missoula summer signs are here: Farmer's markets are in full swing, lunches and dinners at Caras Park are off and running, city band is tuned and ready, rafts are launched (and mosquitoes are out in record numbers).

We are privileged to have such a diverse choice of summer activities. Much of the fun at any of them is to be a people-watcher. You can't help but notice and appreciate the diversity represented in ages, lifestyles, fashion statements and ethnic origins to name a few. Each person is unique and all contribute to make each event unique.

Within the gathering there are people who are at the top of their game - secure in their family and job situation. Others are anxiously waiting for jobs or fighting for fair wages, children and adults in abusive relationships, youth questioning their future, elderly folks searching for worth, men and women saddened by failing or lost love relationships, people of all ages suffering from cancer or addiction, individuals full of promise with new life from recent marriages or births or adoptions.

They're all here every week and they change every week.

Those who gather for worship all around the world are no different. At any given time there is a worship gathering - people of all ages and colors, some who are hurting, some who are glad or mad, those who are broken and those who feel whole, some who are quiet and some who aren't afraid to speak up, those buying new homes and those moving into care facilities.

All are here. All are welcome.

When we gather for worship, whether it's here in Missoula or wherever you travel, we must remember that we do not gather by ourselves. We do not gather as individual congregations or denominations, but we gather as the whole people of God in Christ Jesus.

Like it or not, the Christian community is a global family. Obviously geography and space, among other factors, hinder us from gathering together. So we do the next best thing. We pray for each other.

In the liturgies in my congregation we designate that time as the "Prayers of the People." In your worship you might call it "The Pastoral Prayer" or "Prayer of the Church." Whatever you call it, it is the time when your gathered community prays for the world, creation, and all who are in need.

It is a privilege and awesome responsibility to prepare and lead those prayers. We have several lay people, as well as pastors, who prepare and lead these prayers. I, for one,

appreciate the variety of prayer styles and contexts.

Listen.

You will hear names and concerns being lifted up - people you know and people you don't, people you like and people you don't like, concerns for the Earth and for people in countries far away, people who are sick and dying, people who have been healed and restored to wholeness.

Listen.

You will hear prayers for you and your situation, whether you want those prayers or not.

Listen.

You will hear prayers for government leaders and for discernment to choose new ones. You will hear prayers for peace, justice, hope, renewal, strength, healing and prayers of

praise and thanksgiving.

Listen.

And then, add your prayers and commend them all to God's care and mercy.

Julie Long is a member of Atonement Lutheran Church, the Missoula Ministerial Association, and is a lay pastoral associate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. To reach her, e-mail elcamom@aol.com.

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