United Prayer: prayer in action, love at the center of it all

FHC+United+Prayer+2019-2020+logo

FHC United Prayer 2019-2020 logo

When seniors Ella Guikema and Susan Toppen walk the halls of FHC, waves, greetings, and smiles are far from uncommon. Both girls are heavily involved at FHC and, as such, are familiar faces to many. 

Both girls participate in choir at FHC, and Susan is also on the Leadership team for band. They have both done multiple productions with the FHC Theatre Department, including being a part of this year’s Improv team. Ella runs for the Track and Field team and is Trustee for Student Council.

But, in the insanity of everyday life, there exists a thread of consistency — every Friday, in advisor and teacher Robbin DeMeester’s room — a weekly meeting of United Prayer.

The group United Prayer has existed at FHC for three years now and is traditionally run by seniors. Each year, the previous leaders of UP meet up with DeMeester and decide who of the regular attenders has what it takes to run United Prayer the next year.

Last year’s leaders, Ashlyn Fitch and Sutton Steensma, didn’t have much difficulty in deciding who should be this year’s leaders. Susan and Ella have been a part of UP since their freshman and sophomore years respectively and understand what United Prayer is all about: love.

“I absolutely love the club so much,” Ella said. “It’s such an accepting group. Whenever anybody new comes, they’re accepted in with open arms, and we just love to have anybody. It’s an opportunity to talk about the things that are happening in your life that you generally wouldn’t talk about.”

When Ella was a sophomore, she was a lost boy in FHC’s production of Peter Pan. It was during her time as a lost boy that Ella found UP through then-leader Amanda Riffe.

“I do remember it was kind of a different vibe because it was a lot smaller,” Ella said. “Usually like ten [people], maybe less. It was a very different thing, but I do remember it. It was the coolest thing that I had never really done before.”

Since Ella and Susan’s first days in UP, the group has changed dramatically. Last year’s leaders, Ashlyn and Sutton, made it a mission to open United Prayer up to a wider audience. They never changed their content, but they began drawing more people in through word of mouth, stories by The Central Trend, and genuine friendship building. Soon, more and more people began to join and discover the love that is an intrinsic part of United Prayer. 

“I think [people come back because] it’s such a positive environment,” Ella said. “All of the people there, we have everybody else’s back. We did an activity called ‘sending love’ where you send love to another person in the circle, and you always try and go to people you maybe don’t know as well and just say little things you appreciate about them. It makes people feel good.”

United Prayer isn’t just about sharing the positives and the happiness of life, though. A big part of what makes United Prayer so unique is the fact that it gives students a place to share the tough sides of life in a safe and loving environment.

“I love the term ‘bear one another’s burdens,’” DeMeester said. “While it is a biblical term, despite a person’s religious persuasion, it’s important for all of us to do that. It’s fun to rejoice when things are going great, but it’s more important for us to share the hard stuff. And I feel like [United Prayer] is a space where, hopefully, if we’ve done our job right, people can do that.”

As DeMeester sits in her corner of the room every Friday and watches Susan and Ella lead UP, she sees people being able to do that — to open up and let others into their lives or to be the person who steps into the life of someone who is struggling.

It’s those people who fill the room with love that DeMeester loves the most.

“The people. People who are so busy but who take time for it because it’s important for them to be there. Whether it’s to fill their own soul or to be there to encourage others. That’s absolutely my favorite part — every year,” DeMeester said.

And those people come from everywhere. United Prayer follows no denomination or set of rules. Everyone is welcomed, loved, encouraged, and prayed for.

“There are people from all churches that come to this group,” Ella said. “We’ve had people that just wanted to kind of see what [United Prayer] is all about, and we love having literally anyone.”

One of DeMeester’s favorite memories of United Prayer is an experience she had with one of those first time visitors who never would have thought she’d end up at a group like UP.

“The last [meeting] in May of last year, before the seniors left, a girl came up to me,” DeMeester said, “and she said ‘I got dragged here. I’m an atheist, and I got dragged here.’ And I’m like ‘Great! How’d it go?’ And she said, ‘So much different and so much better than I ever thought it would be. I’m so bummed that as a senior this is the first and only time I’ve come.’ And that to me was my favorite moment because I really desire for it to be a group where people feel encouraged.”

DeMeester believes that even those who don’t attend United Prayer reap the benefits of their Friday meetings. 

“Kids who aren’t at all a part of United Prayer come into this space and say there is something different about it,” DeMeester said. “[They say] ‘what is it about this space that I feel more love?’ It’s nothing I do. I’m blunt, rude, borderline mean most of the time, honest to a fault— it’s not me. It’s the fact that my family came here in August, and we prayed over this space. And every single Friday, prayer is lifted up. The Holy Spirit is in here, and he’s in here all week, not just when the kids are in here praying. That’s what makes this space feel safe and different and loving. It isn’t me. God’s trying, but I fail all the time.”

United Prayer is a group for everyone and anyone. They truly want each and every person who visits — and those who reap the benefits of their prayer without realizing it — to feel loved and listened to. 

Those who come to United Prayer walk away feeling rejuvenated and appreciated.

Those who lead United Prayer gain even more.

“I’ve been a part of UP since freshman year, so I am absolutely honored to be leading it my senior year,” Susan said. “It has truly been a place where over the years my faith has grown along with my friendships. Every person in UP makes my heart so happy, and I am so thankful for them. Ella Guikema is such a fun co-leader, and I am honored to have her at my side.”

But something everyone gains from United Prayer — those who attend, those who lead, those who watch, and those who simply share the space — is love. 

“Love,” Ella said. “I want [people] to take away well, literally just love. One word: love.”