When is the first time you pray during the day? For me, if it’s not when I wake up in the morning, it is at the beginning of my workday, with all my coworkers.
Every workday morning at 10 a.m., the whole staff of America Media comes together for a meeting called the “morning huddle.” Before any analytics of the website are gone over, various articles’ unique page views revealed, work discussed or story ideas pitched, we spend a minute together in prayer. We sit or stand around a long gray meeting table scattered with daily newspapers and Jolly Ranchers. Drafts of the next print issue hang on the glass side walls above leatherbound collections of back issues of America. Staff members joining virtually watch from a screen at one end of the table. A different person each day is called upon to read the morning huddle prayer off a printed sheet, coffee-stained and tattered, stapled to a piece of blue construction paper.
The prayer, written by James Martin, S.J., in 2020, is a moment for everyone to remember who we are and what our mission is here. When I started my summer internship at America in June, this morning prayer quickly became my favorite part of the day, as we all gathered together and took a moment to ask God to help us in our intentions.
A Prayer for the Morning Huddle
Loving God, we thank you for calling us into this ministry of your Word.
Give us the wisdom to make good choices, the courage to make unpopular ones, and the patience to carry out our ministry.
Fill us with compassion for those about whom we report and help us focus in particular on the poor and marginalized in our world.
Let us rely on you in all we do, and forgive us for what we need to correct, whether on the page, online, or in ourselves.
We ask this in your Holy Name. Amen.
The staff that surround me has invaluable insight on so many things, from how to write strong ledes to finding the best beach in New York. They want me and my fellow intern, Brigid McCabe, college students at Fordham and Columbia respectively, to learn as much as we can during our time at America. One thing I wanted to know was more about the prayer and how people used it in their work. So I asked our staff, expecting a range of interesting answers, but I was still surprised with what I received.
Starting with prayer, Ashley told me, is a way to indicate that data and mission are not at odds.
Ashley McKinless, executive editor, asked Father Jim to write the prayer in 2020 when she became head of the assignments desk. The reasoning was that, “given the stresses of isolation (we were deep into the Covid-19 pandemic and still working remotely) and the daunting task before us it was important to start our days with a prayer that grounded us in God’s love and reminded us of who we serve and why this ministry is so important for the church and the country.”
The prayer opens the morning huddle, and it is followed by a review of the statistics of the website. This includes how many people have read any given article, viewed a video or downloaded a podcast. Starting with prayer, Ashley told me, is a way to indicate that data and mission are not at odds: our mission is most faithfully carried out when we listen to how readers respond. The prayer reminds us of our mission, and the numbers hold us accountable.
Ashley told me she actually finds the morning prayer to be most helpful when she catches herself not paying attention to it. “Maybe my mind wanders to the next part of the meeting: Which teams are giving updates today? How can we cover ‘enter the church controversy du jour’? Then a line from the prayer will grab my attention (usually ‘forgive us’), and I’ll remember that while I might be in charge of the meeting, I’m not doing it alone.”
The line “forgive us” was a theme in the responses I received. So often in journalism, and particularly when it is Catholic journalism, people can make high demands of themselves. It is a big responsibility to cover so many important, sensitive and emotional topics. No publication will ever be free of mistakes. People I spoke with at America told me that while they may be overly critical of themselves, the morning prayer reminds them of God’s grace of forgiveness.
“It makes me feel like the different types of work we do are united by the things that we state in the prayer.”
Tim Reidy, deputy editor in chief, told me how this line resonates with him as well. The full line is: Forgive us for what we need to correct, whether on the page, online or in ourselves. Tim said that when we get something wrong in the magazine, we publish a correction as soon as possible. He said that recently he has connected this to his faith as well. “When we make a mistake, we need to do more than whisper a silent apology. We need to name it and bring it to the people who we have offended—again and again, for as many times as it takes.”
My fellow editorial intern, Brigid McCabe, said that her favorite part is the fact that we say the prayer out loud, taking turns with who reads it each day. “It makes me feel like we are all really doing something together, and that the different types of work we do are united by the things that we state in the prayer.”
Heather Trotta, vice president of advancement, shared that the prayer is a grounding moment in a morning that is already going in a million different directions. Not only does it build community, but, she said, it is always fun to see the reaction of the person startled to be called on by Ashley to lead the prayer that day. Heather added that she also appreciates the line about forgiveness, because “Lord knows, I have much more to correct in myself than any work on my to-do list.”
Associate Editor Molly Cahill also told me that her favorite thing about the morning prayer is that it anticipates our mistakes. As everyone on the staff knows—no matter how diligently we try or how much care and attention to detail we bring to our work—we are going to make mistakes. Molly, one of the most compassionate people I know, said that she loves that the reminder of forgiveness in the prayer gives us somewhere to go after we get something wrong. “When someone else messes up, we can forgive,” Molly said. “When we mess up, we can be forgiven.”
“Like any good piece of journalism, it includes not a wasted word, just the right number to get the job done, to send us on our way each morning.”
Kevin Clarke, a senior editor, gave me the longest response, starting with his completely honest reaction: “Most mornings the prayer passes over quickly like any other morning ritual, something to get through before the work of the day begins.” Then he added, “But there are some mornings when one or two of its phrases catch me up and give me a chance to think a little bit harder about what it is I actually do for a living: to appreciate it as the ministry and vocation it is rather than a job that I clock into.”
Kevin said it is the lines that ask us to be filled with compassion for those whom we report on, with special attention to the poor and marginalized. “Yeah, that is all worth remembering before I start scheduling interviews,” he said.
Finally, Kevin spoke to what I found most compelling about the prayer from the start: it is so precisely written. “Like any good piece of journalism, it includes not a wasted word, just the right number to get the job done, to send us on our way each morning, special ministers of the Word.”
Robert David Sullivan, also a senior editor, prays a longer version of the prayer each day than everyone else. In the line asking God to “fill us with compassion for those about whom we report,” he adds, in his head, “and for those who add comments to our stories!” In the line that asks God for the courage to make unpopular decisions, he also adds, “and the courage to acknowledge mistakes.”
This addition speaks to the diversity of the staff’s views, and Robert was not the only one who thought about editing the prayer. Lindsay Chessare, America’s account manager, said the prayer should be adaptable. She said it would be nice to change up the blessing with prayers that are pertinent to that day, whether it be an anniversary of a war or tragedy, or a feast day. She said that, as is, the prayer feels too rigid.
Praying with my coworkers makes me feel closer to them and our ministry every day.
I had never thought that the prayer needed any change. But hearing Lindsay’s opinion opened my eyes to the merits of a morning blessing that can shift depending on the day.
After gathering all these responses, I spoke with the creator of the prayer himself. Father Martin said that, “It was easy to write, since I’ve been participating in huddles since they started [in 2016] and, perhaps more importantly, have been working at America since 1998 full time.” Perhaps it did not seem like a significant task when Ashley asked him to write a short prayer, but it is something that has had an impact on everyone’s daily routine.
It has certainly had an impact on my own work here.
Praying with my coworkers makes me feel closer to them and our ministry every day. Hearing the individual faith stories from our staff members makes it that much more meaningful. God’s work is not carried out alone, and as I wrap up my summer internship with America, I will miss this ritual of praying with the whole staff. Though I will not continue to be here for the morning prayer, I will call to mind this prayer when I need to be reminded of compassion, forgiveness or the love of God and others that my coworkers at America have.
(If you are looking for more insider information about the staff, the lovely Jim McDermott wrote a piece crowdsourcing the office about their notes apps.)
Readers: Do you start your morning with a specific prayer? Share it in the comments below!