Hour by hour, the prayers seemed to take on a weight and importance all their own.
There were prayers for kindness and for acceptance, for resolve and, of course, for love. Written on note cards or scribbled on walls, these were the innermost wishes of mothers, fathers and children at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital last Monday, part of a continuous chain of prayer and reflection that will go around the clock for seven days.
Rosalyn Johnson prayed for the healing of broken fathers, who in turn might mend their broken children.
Dr. Yong Kim prayed for the strength of his patients during difficult times.
One note read simply, "God, I love my mom. Please make her well."
The continuous worship is a small piece of a 24-7 Prayer movement that is growing in popularity in the United States and globally. With its emphasis on disciplined, communal worship, 24-7 Prayer has been particularly successful at attracting young men and women of faith who've rejected the sometimes rigid confines of the church, organizers said.
"I think a lot of people have been turned off by the traditions of church: the do's and don'ts, the lectures," said Elisa Brown, the hospital's assistant chief financial officer, who introduced the idea of transforming the ground-floor chapel into a continuous prayer center this week, coinciding with the National Day of Prayer on Thursday.
"I don't think people have been turned off the church because of God. It's because they've had bad experiences."
In an era when church membership is in decline, 24-7 Prayer offers something different. It's less structured than the typical church setting, in that communities of worshipers can gather just about anywhere -- warehouses, theaters, nightclubs. It's also less formal. There usually aren't set programs to follow or pastors leading discussions about scripture. Even the word prayer is open to interpretation, as it has evolved over the years to include activities such as journal writing, dance and art.
Whatever form it takes, participants say, continuous prayer puts communication with God at the center of their lives, forging a more spiritual and personal connection. Individuals pray for as long as they wish, then pass the thread of prayer to others in the group who continue for as long as possible. Large prayer sessions can span hours, days and sometimes weeks.
The 24-7 Prayer movement was founded by a small Christian church in England in 1999. It spread through literature, savvy online marketing and word-of-mouth promotion, and now includes more than 1,500 churches, student groups, religious organizations and private clubs in the United States and about 4,500 around the world.
"It's astonishing the number of people who believe in prayer," said Wendy Andrews, co-national leader for the 24-7 Prayer movement headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. "Even for those who profess Christianity, not all of us have prayer as a priority. It's sort of a foreign concept for a lot of us."
That's not the case at Adventist Hospital, part of a network of Adventist faith-based health centers across the Midwest, where doctors are free to openly pray with their patients and that has ministry workshops to train people to become volunteer chaplains.
In preparation for the week's prayer event, hospital staff members replaced the chapel's sterile lighting with flickering candles and soft music. They taped construction paper on the wall so visitors could record their thoughts. In other places, people taped readings from the Bible.
Prayer service began at 7 a.m., and the hospital enlisted its employees, church groups and members of the public to ensure the room was staffed 24 hours a day until it closes at 7 a.m. Monday.
"Everybody needs something to believe in greater than themselves," said Kathy Morales, who oversees clinical information systems for the hospital. She sat in the dim light beside a wooden cross draped in gold fabric. A thorny crown sat atop it, not far from where someone had written, "Please bless the patients here at the hospital. Bring healing to their body and soul. Amen."
It was the type of spiritual setting that might speak to someone no matter what he or she believes in, Morales said.
"You see on the walls where people have written notes to God, to Allah, to everything else," she said. "This is so important, especially nowadays when people aren't going to church and seem a little lost in their faith."
Andrews acknowledges that some church traditionalists might find the idea of 24/7 prayer strange and be suspicious of any movement that promotes itself with T-shirt and sweat shirt sales online ( www.24-7prayer.com). But Brown and others who've participated in the prayer sessions consider them life-changing -- a continuous and uninterrupted conversation with God.
"I know this is out of the comfort zone of a lot of people," Brown said. "But there is such energy in prayer that you can't come away from this experience without feeling something."