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Nov. 1, 2022

‘I just close my eyes and type’: The power of Cozy Dorton’s prayer army

Cozy Dorton is a retired teacher who runs the prayer ministry for her small Lutheran church in Custer, S.D.
Cozy Dorton is a retired teacher who runs the prayer ministry for her small Lutheran church in Custer, S.D. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

CUSTER, S.D. — Cozy Dorton keeps a running list as she zigzags through her days — on paper, in text messages, or scrawled on the palm of her hand — of people she comes across who need praying for.

Dorton, a retired grade-school teacher, has lived for 51 years in this Black Hills town of 1,900, known for its autumn bison roundup. Her days are still busy, even hectic, at 74: meeting friends for coffee, playing piano at church, volunteering with a grassroots political action group on issues including health care and the environment. But every night, she makes time for a quiet act of faith, in the form of an e-mail sent to 65 volunteers.

The subject line is always the same: “Prayer”.

Dorton leads the prayer team at her Lutheran church, a small army of believers who rely on her to direct their devotion where it is most needed. Her nightly e-mail tells them who has asked for prayers, and sometimes why — unless she is asked to keep the details confidential.

Perched before her laptop for the nightly ritual, Dorton feels herself disappear, as she becomes a conduit for some greater good. “I just close my eyes and type,” she said.

“Heavenly Father we ask you to be with Heather,” she typed one night in mid-September. “So many things on her mind and heart . . . we join her in prayer for this trip, that it yields the information the doctor desires.”

Many of those seeking prayers are sick. Some have lost jobs or loved ones; others may be struggling to regain their mental health. The goal is not to pray for a specific outcome, but to ask God to give strength to those who are suffering.

“Of course there are outcomes people want,” said Dorton, sipping a root beer float at an ice cream shop housed in a historic former bank in downtown Custer. “But it isn’t our business to know where this goes. This is our heart, and we’re putting it on the altar. . . . After that, whatever happens, happens.”

The parceling out of prayers — each request fulfilled a tiny stitch of human connection — builds a kind of invisible fabric in places like this, a spiritual infrastructure knitting people together.

Some volunteers jot down Dorton’s nightly roster in a prayer journal. Others list prayers on index cards and stash them in a box. If the task sometimes feels heavy, it also offers solace, in a world where sorrow can be overwhelming, Dorton said.

That people are willing to ask for help — whatever it might cost them to be vulnerable, and confess their burdens — is all the proof she needs that the praying matters.

“We pray so they know they’re not alone,” she said.

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