A Book Review – Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer, by Fran Pratt

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Pratt, Fran. (2018) Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer. Outpost Press.


The Rev Fran Pratt has been on a faith journey which may be familiar to many Christians. She has gone from the charismatic experience of certitude within the Vineyard Fellowship to a place of doubt and uncertainty, where prayer did not come easily to her. She then found a place within a Reformed Church of America congregation in San Francisco where ordered prayer allowed her to re-experience Spirit back to a place of faith. The experience of ordered prayer became part of her regular spiritual practice (even to the point of buying a copy of the Book of Common Prayer), and now forms part of her ministry at Peace of Christ Church, a church in Texas which is part of the Alliance of Baptists.

She describes this experience poignantly, as a meditation, in the Introduction to this volume, subtitled ‘How Liturgy Saved My Life’. In fact, I found the Introduction the most fascinating part of this volume. This is a Christian who, like many others, has made a transition from certitude to doubt to faith. This journey, though, unlike many others, has not been marked primarily by shifts in theological principles or styles of Biblical hermeneutics (although I suspect these may have undergone change as well). Rather, it is a shift in spiritual practice, more specifically, in accessing the resources of corporate prayer which have been based in Scripture, the heritage of the church catholic, and the strains of wisdom found in modern writers through which the voice of God is heard anew, which has undergirded her faith journey.

I find this inspiration by the practice of prayer and worship to be uniquely refreshing and not unlike my own awakening to the liturgical heritage of the universal church which I experienced as I took the first steps in answering a call to ministry. The only point of caution I would raise concerns her perception of what prayer was like in her former charismatic Christian experience:

I’d absorbed the idea that the best, holiest kind of praying was done extemporaneously – no one ever said this out loud to me; rather it was communicated by emphasis and practice. You stood up and prayed whatever came to mind. Anything else was lesser, emptier, overly formal and rote. (p. iv)

As a person who has ministered and worshiped in places where the evangelical and charismatic strains of Christianity have held sway, I can say with some certainty that the testimonies and prayers which were held up as being ex tempore, or as the participants would say, ‘from the heart and not from a book’, had recognizable stock phrases and formulae (disclosure: I work as an English teacher, and oral discourse analysis formed part of my Master’s degree studies). In fact, in a search I did as part of preparing for this review, I discovered a doctoral thesis on evangelical Christian altar calls[1]. I believe that if we scratch the surface hard enough, there are structures which support and enable these supposedly ‘spontaneous’ utterances.

As worthwhile as these queries are, I must proceed to the ‘meat’ of the text – the prayer litanies which Pratt has written and offers to those preparing for Christian worship. She has organized them into groups – Litanies for ‘Looking Inward’, ‘Looking Outward’, ‘Coping’, ‘Church Rituals’, and ‘Communal Worship’. There are further litanies contained in Appendices focused on ‘Injustice’, ‘Advent’, and ‘Lent’. Tantalizingly, her ‘bonus litany’ is a litany ‘for the Heretics’.

While all of the litanies are meant to be used in a church context, some, especially within the ‘Coping’ section, may be especially appropriate in small group contexts. The ‘Communal Worship’ section appear to be quite appropriate to use as ‘gathering litanies’ for the community as it comes together for worship. The language, while leaning toward traditional formulations of the Divine, is gender inclusive. Though I am reading them as a reviewer and not within a public worship context, I find the most effective litanies are characterized by the following characteristics:

  • Repeated responses – It seems to me that the litanies which contain series of petitions with a single response would allow the individual worshipper to commune with Spirit at a deeper level. For example, in the ‘Litany for Stillness’ (p.12f.) we find:


That we often avoid quiet reflection,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That we often mistake stillness for sloth,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That we often become hoodwinked by our culture of excess,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That intentional stillness often requires great effort from us,

We confess to you, Oh God.


When we are running around, attending to our to-do lists,

It’s you we seek.

When we are looking for pleasure and consolation,

It’s you we seek.

When we are in need of affirmation and success,

It’s you we seek.

When we are avoiding our pain, or nursing our wounds,

It’s you we seek.


When trying to use communal prayer to help the individual experience Spirit, fewer words are often better.


  • Repeated forms – Where a series of thoughts are put together, the use of a chain of similarly constructed clauses or phrases can effectively emphasize and reinforce those thoughts, such as in the ‘Litany for the Earth’ (p.22f.):


Arouse in us a new compassion,

A new willingness to change,

A new excitement to foster community,

A new zeal for establishing the Peace of God,

A new understanding of the connectedness of all things,

A new appreciation of the gift of Earth.


  • Parallelsim – Echoing the Psalms and other poetic parts of the Scriptures, the repetition or mirroring of ideas can be effective. A simple example is found in the ‘Litany for Justice and Equality’ (p.33)


Our way is not of violence and empire, but in the power and beauty of the cross.

Our faith is not in politics, but in the transforming love of Christ.


The expression of our faith is at its most powerful when it enters the realm of the poetic. Echoing the poetry of Scripture can be a most profound tool of inspiration.

This works is not without its places for improvement, though. If there is anything which I find can use more work in Pratt’s craft of litany writing, it is the tendency to split sentences where it reads like a single thought has been ripped in half, making less sense as a consequence. This can happen in juxtaposition to some of the positive elements in Pratt’s litanies, for in the same ‘Litany for the Earth’. There is:

Even now we realize that our home

Is suffering,

Help us to become aware

Of the needs of humanity,

I find that this kind of splitting simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, does this problem render such a litany unusable? By no means! From my experience as a language teacher, I bring the MAD principle into my use of worship materials by other writers – Modify, Add, and Delete. I never treat worship materials as finished works. They are palettes for me to use in order to help create the forms of expression which (I hope) will bring the attendees to the services that I lead into a greater sense of the Holy.

The other area for improvement is in Pratt’s tentative steps toward language which fully affirms sexual and gender minorities. I see from the website of the congregation she serves that it appears to be genuinely affirming[2]. Can that not be more fully expressed in the worship materials she writes? She does hint at it in places, but I see a glaring omission of this respect in her litany written in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, Florida. She gets full marks for naming terrorism, and I can understand that this litany needs to be anonymized for general use. However, she identified it as being written in the aftermath of the Pulse Massacre. This litany as it stands does not address the reality that those who were killed and wounded were gunned down because they were LGBT or supported LGBT persons. As someone who ministers to persons who are members of the sexual and gender minorities communities, I don’t think skirting around this reality really honors the memory of the forty-nine angels of Pulse, nor does it honor the identity of the sexual/gender minority members and attendees she serves. This being noted, I’m again not going to say this resource is useless because of this error. There’s too much that is good here that should not be thrown away. The MAD principle applies here, as well.

In closing, then, I view Fran Pratt’s Call and Response as a valuable set of resources which can be used in a variety of congregational and group settings for local church worship and prayer. They are informed by the resources of the Universal Church – the Scriptures, the rhythm of the liturgy, and new wisdom. Wherever there are shortcomings, I encourage liturgists and worship leaders to add, delete, or modify as is appropriate to their local situation. I particularly recommend it to those who come from backgrounds which don’t emphasize the corporate nature of prayer. These are resources steeped in Scriptural allusions, carrying with them the best of the worship traditions of the Universal Church.

[1] Bryan, C D (2016 May). “Heads Bowed, Eyes Closed”: Analyzing The Discourse Of Online Evangelical Altar Calls. PhD Dissertation, Middle Tennessee State University.

[2] As noted in the website of Peace of Christ Church (peacewilco.com)


One thought on “A Book Review – Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer, by Fran Pratt

  1. Hello,
    Thank you for this review. I only just now found it. I take your criticisms gladly and with gratitude. In particular, I’ll take another look at the terrorism litany. I am always on a journey of growth and improvement.
    Rev. Fran Pratt


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s