Eric and Amber Coulter have been asking the same question since mid-March.
“How do we continue to impact our community and offer the hope of Jesus while living in a pandemic?”
Eric became pastor of First Wesleyan Church (FWC) in Urbana, Illinois, in the summer of 2012, while Amber served in a volunteer pastor role, helping teach Sunday school and lead Bible studies. Eric and Amber are ordained ministers with The Wesleyan Church.
In October 2019, the Coulters began a prayer initiative at FWC, inviting their small church (attendance is between 20-35 most Sundays) to participate.
“Our church began an intentional prayer ministry recognizing we need revitalization,” said Amber. “God revealed to my husband and me that he has a role for us in continuing to be active in his revitalization of this local fellowship.”
Nine people participated in the Wednesday prayer meeting committed to praying for FWC and the Champaign-Urbana community. The group transitioned from in-person praying to joining via Zoom when the COVID pandemic hit.
This summer, Eric sensed it was time for a change at FWC. Through prayer and after consultation with district leaders, Amber became lead pastor in July. God simultaneously provided the Coulters and FWC an opportunity for ministering to Champaign-Urban in unimaginable ways. FWC was asked to join a city-wide prayer event.
“The goal was to gather as believers in four different neighborhoods throughout the Champaign-Urbana area,” said Amber. “It is a known fact that negative activities (drug sales, prostitution, fighting) occur on corners in our city. Corner Prayer was designed to gather and redeem those corners through prayer.”
The pastor organizing this event chose four of the neighborhoods which have been experiencing the greatest increase in violence during this summer of social unrest. Each Wednesday in July, more than 50 believers of multiple ethnicities and denominations gathered to pray.
“Due to health concerns, only Eric and myself were able to be outdoors praying and walking with Corner Prayer,” said Amber. “But the others [from FWC] prayed from home in July, following the prayer focus for each week.
“We broke into multiethnic and multidenominational groups of five to 10 people and prayed on those corners for an hour. We offered prayer to the individuals willing to receive it who passed by us. And we prayed as a group before moving to the next corner.”
The group prayed for freedom from addictions, protection from abuse, the end of gun violence and deaths, mitigation of COVID-19 and more.
“On one occasion, two young men asked us to pray for them,” said Amber. “As the prayer ended, they both said, ‘Thank you. No one has prayed for me in 10 years.’ On another occasion, a woman shared that she has been feeling unsafe in her home due to interactions with her neighbor. We prayed for her protection and for God to intervene. When we met her the next week, the individual harassing her had moved.”
“[Corner Prayer] expanded my awareness of how people of other communities need frequent and routine prayers for gun violence (shootings) and illicit drug influences,” said Eric. “I was impressed by the passionate prayers and loved to have groups that prayed on street corners, rain or shine, with me. It also confirmed God was at work since the overwhelming majority of people we met were quite pleased and appreciative for the prayers we offered. In a time of division, I was blessed to come together in unity.”
Amber said this experience also impacted her.
“Corner Prayer opened my eyes to the reality of violence in my city.” she said. “It affirmed the power of God to intervene in every community if his people are willing to take his presence there. And it gave me new Christian friends with whom to minister. I keep asking God to open my eyes, my schedule and my heart to how he wants to use me and this local church to tell the story and reveal the power of Jesus. He continues to amaze me with his answer.”
Jennifer Payan, who attends FWC, has been encouraged through the weekly prayer time.
“My prayer life was not where it should have been,” said Payan. “I would talk to God when I was in desperate need of healing or a situation came up that I needed his help, but I wasn’t praying on a regular basis as I am called to do. When I started attending the Wednesday night prayer time last year, I was hesitant because I believed I wasn’t someone who was ‘good’ at praying and articulating my needs out loud in front of people … I found out it wasn’t so bad and felt that God had given me the ability to put my fear aside and just focus on what was in my heart.”
Amber said the Corner Prayer time has “increased the opportunity to have spiritual conversations.” People are sharing their stories and folks are learning more about who God is and his love for them.
“There are still so many challenges in our community. But God is opening our eyes at FWC to how we can be his known and loving presence.”
Corner Prayer churches will gather September 26 for a prayer march and hope to hold regular prayer times on city corners again in the summer of 2021.