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Sacred Heart church hopes to inspire new devotion with round

-the-clock vigils

On their knees in the flickering candlelight, the parishioners gaze at the gold-trimmed altar or bend their heads in silent prayer.

It's 2 p.m. on a Friday, a time more suited to weekend plans than to worship, but at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, there's now no such thing as a secular hour.

On Oct. 6, the Medford church launched a chapel of perpetual adoration, a round-the-clock prayer center devoted to, well, devotion.

Now I can wake up in the middle of the night and know that there's somebody there praying for us, praying for the world, says the Rev. Liam Cary, a Sacred Heart priest.

In fact, more than 400 people in the parish of 2,100 have signed up so far for adoration duty, Cary says.

That puts Sacred Heart in the company of 19 churches in Oregon and some 400 across the country offering round-the-clock worship.

In Medford, the refurbished chapel behind the church seats 30, and there are times when most chairs are full, Cary says.

Members seem eager to embrace the 24/7 tradition that dates to the Middle Ages, he says. The ritual is simple: Worshippers sit in the presence of the consecrated host, considered to be a literal representation of the body of Christ.

It's based on scripture, Cary says. Jesus asks: 'Could you not watch with me for one hour?'

Accordingly, parishioners sign up for hour-long stints of worship. Although prayer and reflection are the point, there's no specific agenda for adoration, Cary says. The important thing is that they show up.

Once there, worshippers are free to pray silently or to meditate. They can think about anything, from baseball to bills, or even fall asleep, Cary says.

If you had a good friend who came to be with you, and they got tired and fell asleep, it would be OK, he explains. The basic thing is to bring yourself and be yourself with the Lord.

Ann Brophy, who snagged the 8 a.m. slot on Thursdays, says there's not much chance she'll doze off during her adoration hour. For one thing, the Medford mother of teenagers wants to relish the rare calm in her hectic life.

It's a total immersion into contemplative silence, she says.

Staying silent is one of the few rules of the chapel, where complete quiet is broken only by the ticking of a clock in the vestibule.

Keeping the appointment to pray is another. Already in the first week of adoration, there have been a few late-night no-shows, says Mary Gulrich of Medford.

Fortunately, there were other worshippers around. In emergencies, organizers can call upon a dozen or so folks who live close to the church, pinch-hitters for last-minute prayer.

Mapping the logistics for maintaining year-round, round-the-clock vigil has been no easy task, says Dan Rice, who coordinated the effort.

The place had to be secure, so there's a well-lighted lot, an emergency telephone and a door with a keypad lock. That's especially important during the wee hours of the night, when volunteers are scarce.

The hard hours are from — a.m. to — a.m., Rice says. They're the hours between the late-night folks and the early risers.

Despite the challenges, Cary believes the rewards will be worth the work. The silent prayer vigil is one way for the church's English- and Spanish-speaking members to worship together, he says.

Non-Catholics are also welcome, so it's a way of reaching out to the community, he adds.

The cozy chapel is an intimate venue for meditation, says Cary, who now prefers it for his personal worship.

And, of course, there is the cumulative power of constant prayer. Cary believes church members will be able to maintain the vigil in perpetuity for themselves and for the world.

Brophy hopes so, especially in a time and a place when traditional church worship appears to be waning.

Isn't it moving, she says, that when articles are coming out that we are the most unchurched place in the nation we have people stepping forward to pray?

Volunteers keep prayers going 24 hours a day in a Sacred Heart Catholic Church chapel. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven