How to Hold a Prayer Vigil

Prayer vigils can be private or public.

Prayer vigils can be private or public affairs. They can involve a small number of people or they can involve a larger group. A prayer vigil may be quiet and meditative or it may be a forum for debate, consciousness raising or have the goal of persuading government or community leaders about the error of a particular policy. Prayer vigils played an important role in the civil rights era and they are often used to shown solidarity with people undergoing suffering and tragedy.

Clarify the goals and purpose of the prayer vigil. Prayer vigils can have a specific goal, such as to raise community awareness about particular social or political issues, deepen and enrich the spiritual commitment of individuals or to remember and offer prayers for victims of a recent tragedy.

Select a location for the vigil. The location depends in part upon the purpose of the vigil. If the purpose is oriented to spiritual retreat and renewal, a calm and serene setting is best. If the purpose is to raise consciousness and influence community and government leaders, a more public setting may work better. Seek permission from the appropriate authorities if you wish to use a public space.

Set a date and time frame. The time frame is dependent upon the purpose of the vigil as well as the participants. On the one hand, an all-night vigil may be a strong demonstration of the group's solidarity and commitment with victims who are enduring a tragedy. On the other hand, a one- or two-hour vigil may be sufficient to accomplish particular goals, such as highlighting a political or social issue.

Put together a program for the vigil. The program may include different elements, such as songs and music, two or three spiritual leaders offering prayers, a main speaker to inspire the group, a time of prayer and commitment, a candlelight walk or a dedication ceremony. Print copies of the program.

Make a list materials and accessories needed for the vigil. The size of the venue or location may require a PA system so that the speaker and prayer leaders can be heard. The vigil may also require other audio or video equipment. Banners, candles and decorations help to create a mood or atmosphere for a vigil.

Advertise the prayer vigil. If sponsored by a church, ensure that the event is announced at services or published in the prayer bulletin. If the vigil is being held in a public place, send press releases to the local media.

Clarify the guidelines and rules of conduct for the vigil. If the goal of the vigil is to raise consciousness and influence community and government policies, misconduct on the part of the participants can jeopardize the goals of the vigil. Create a list of specific guidelines and rules of conduct and share them with the participants.

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.