Over the past few years, parishes in the city of Peterborough have discovered a new way of working together through a covenant. At the earliest stage of conversations about facing the future, the clergy of the initial four congregations agreed first to meet weekly for prayer.
Now you may think this is a logical step to take, but I suspect that despite our professed faith and worship, we often neglect it. We are so anxious to solve problems and get to the solutions that we dive straight into ideas and plans or arguments about the issues and neglect the very heart of our purpose. We fail to listen to God.
Those weekly gatherings for prayer for the Peterborough clergy were transformative. They deepened relationships within the clergy team and kept them focused on God’s call and purpose. They each will say that this was the most critical step in preparing them to enter a covenant together.
Prayer is the activity that helps reorient our perspective and attitude. Prayer invites us to see the world as God sees it, to offer ourselves to God and God’s purposes and to orient ourselves and the world to God’s ways. It is not a laundry list of things we want or want to happen, but rather an immersion of ourselves in the ways of God’s kingdom.
That takes time – time to listen to God in silence, time to listen to God through scripture, time to voice our heart’s desires, time to listen to one another. Jesus frequently took time to pray – to be with God, even and especially when there were so many other pressures and calls on him. Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has made prayer a priority commitment for his ministry. “If we want to see things changed, it starts with prayer. It starts with a new spirit of prayer, using all the traditions, ancient and modern. When it comes, it will be linked to what has gone before, but it will look different – because it is a new renewal for new times. God’s created community is perfectly designed for its time and place. It almost always comes from below. It comes from Christians seeking Christ.” He has invited the Chemin Neuf monastic community to live at Lambeth Palace as a sign of our need for daily prayer and is gathering a group of young adults to live at Lambeth Palace for a year beginning in September 2015, engaged in a life of prayer, study and service.
What role does prayer play in your own life? In the life of your parish? Often we slap on perfunctory prayers at the beginning and end of meetings as a polite reference to God. Do we stop in the middle of a meeting – in the middle of discussion – to listen for God’s voice, to separate our personal or corporate agendas so that we may hear God’s call? This is a discipline that requires practice. The Peterborough city clergy began that practice over two years ago and continue weekly.
We are unlikely to have three hours to set aside, as Martin Luther did, but a key component of our daily life as Christians is to include prayer. Our baptismal covenant asks us, “Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers?” The Book of Common Prayer invites us to form a Rule of Life that includes both regular participation in worship and Holy Communion and the “practice of private prayer, Bible-reading and self-discipline” (BCP pg. 555).
We are now entering the season of Lent, a time for renewing the disciplines of our faith that may have slipped into disuse or never fully been acquired. I know that the practice of prayer – private and corporate – will be essential to the discernment we need to build the church and God’s kingdom. Will you pray?