The wooden box, not quite big enough to hold a pair of shoes, sits on the reception desk, just inside the Sherwood, Oregon, YMCA. Once a day, Roger Button empties the box, finds a quiet place to sit and prays over the slips of paper he finds inside. He prays for someone’s son struggling with drug addiction; for a friend who needs a job; for more blue, figure-8 rubber exercise bands. “Sometimes people mistake the prayer box for a suggestion box,” Button shrugged, unbothered.
As the first ordained chaplain to serve a single branch of the Portland-based YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, Button is one of the people gradually trying to replant the Christian values at the heart of the YMCA—and, in this case, in the Pacific Northwest, where church affiliation is relatively low.