How shall we pray for our elected representatives?

Last Sunday morning there was a service from St Mary’s Cathedral on Radio 4. It was my job to write the script for the service.

To many people’s surprise, the service goes out live, meaning a very early start.

One of the features of doing a live broadcast like that is the necessity of listening to the news at 7 am and 8 am before the service starts at 8.10 am. Should something significant have happened, it is not unreasonable for that to be reflected in some way in the service.

We had a really tough one a few years ago when we were doing the same live broadcast on the weekend on which there was a terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport. This had taken place just before we had a rehearsal on the Saturday and it meant rewriting the service throughout the evening to reflect the unfolding news story. One of the clear things that I remember was that I wasn’t allowed to use language to describe what had happened until the newsroom had used it. Throughout a long evening, we went from “unexplained incident” right through to “terrorist attack”.

I also remember a time when the choir had rehearsed the South African national anthem before a broadcast as it seemed entirely possible that Nelson Mandela might die at that time and we had to be ready.

This week there were no sudden incidents. There were no unexpected deaths announced on the news and no particularly shocking incidents in the 24 hours before we went on air.

The script was unchanged – though a huge amount of thought had gone into how we were to pray at this time.

How are we to pray  in any religious community at a time when the country is divided and our elected representatives are thrust so entirely into the spotlight?

How do we pray about Brexit at all?

It seems to me that one of the characteristic things that Christians do is to pray for those  whom we have elected.

I suspect that this means very different things to different people. For me, I think I’m holding them before God and hoping that they will be blessed with wisdom, generosity and understanding. I know others who pray that God with cause elected politicians to implement particular policies but I don’t really see God doing that much so that’s not for me. It does seem reasonable to pray for the places that we are associated with and again that seems a very long tradition indeed.  The book of Jeremiah seems to give a strong steer:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7

I rather like that – seeking the welfare of the city seems practical and active alongside the injunction to offer prayers for the city too.

But we don’t always know or agree about where or who we are.

Last Sunday for the radio, I wrote a prayer which went:

Saviour of the world,
we remember all who have decisions to make which affect the lives of others.
We pray for elected representatives in our parliaments in
Strasbourg, Westminster and Holyrood
as decisions are made which will affect all our lives.

We pray too for this great city and pray that you will let Glasgow flourish.

God in your mercy

ALL: HEAR OUR PRAYER

Now, that’s a fairly uncontroversial prayer to pray here in St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow but it is entirely possible that a Brexiteer might have spat out their morning cup of Earl Gray with something of a splutter to hear our European politicians being prayed for.

I think it is significant that Europe has been rather absent from the intercessions of a great many churches. After all, I often hear people in churches praying for the Queen, Ministers of State, the Government,  MSPs at Holyrood, the First Minister, the Prime Minister and so on but I don’t ever remember hearing anyone pray in a church in the UK for Donald Tusk.

If collectively, as a people, we had been more thankful for the EU, would we have prayed more for its welfare?

Praying for leaders can be controversial too. Within the history of Episcopalians in Glasgow there were those who very much didn’t like the Hanoverian monarchs to be prayed for. It was said that at one time people snorted snuff in order to provoke a sneezing fit at the weekly mention of one of the King Georges in the intercessions. In other places, people slammed shut their prayer books at that point.

I don’t really know the historical truth about this, but it was said in Perth when I lived there that St John’s Episcopal Church still regularly prayed for the Queen on a Sunday as they had essentially been a Qualified Chapel, whilst St Ninian’s Cathedral did not normally pray for the Queen on a Sunday as its congregation was formed from the Jacobites (and wannabe Jacobites) of the town who refused to Qualify.

[Please sprinkle a load of Scottish Episcopalian Rose Tinted History Petals upon the last couple of paragraphs as you read them]

Prayer is a complex way in which we define ourselves, even as we couch our prayers as supplications to God.

I remember being in the Middle East in a large congregation once and someone nudged me and pointed to a couple of well dressed men wearing sunglasses. “Look,” I was told, “the secret policemen – they are here every week to make sure we are still praying for the President”.

Prayer – or lack of prayer, can be dangerous.

I like to know my Member of Parliament and other elected representatives. I know what it is like to stand in elections after all. I’ve done it.

When I meet politicians, I sometimes say to them – “Don’t forget we pray for you”.

Generally speaking they seem grateful.

I suspect that thinking thoughtfully, carefully and kindly about our elected politicians right now might be a rather important thing to do.

God bless them.

 

 

Sermon preached on Radio 4 for Feast of St Mungo

 

He quite took me by surprise as I walked down the high street.

A friend of mine. Wearing a beanie hat and a beard. A sweatshirt and a casual jacket. But holding out his hand, on which was perched a robin.

I was absolutely sure it was someone I know. He looked just like him.

He was the spitting image of my friend. But larger than life. Quite a bit larger than life in fact.

His face filled the side of the end gable of one of Glasgow’s tenements.

It was a new mural that I hadn’t seen before. One of a number of striking images that have been appearing around the city centre.

I went on my way and later on phoned the friend whom I thought I had recognised in the mural.

He denied posing for it and said it was nothing to do with him at all though he did admit to having had several calls that week from people who thought it was him.

“But do you know who it is supposed to be?” he asked me.

I looked again at a picture I had taken of the mural on my mobile phone. For the first time I saw that there was a round circle behind the figure’s head in a slightly different colour to the rest of the background.

I realised it could be a halo.

And thinking about where it was, just down the High Street from the place where the city was founded, I managed to put two and two together. I realised it was Mungo and the robin in the mural was the one that he purportedly brought back to life as a child. It had belonged to Mungo’s uncle St Serf who had taken in him and his mother when they were on the run from her violent father.

Right there on the street was St Mungo. Looking just like a friend of mine.

At this time of year, Glasgow remembers its founder and its patron saint. The thirteenth of January is his feast day. And so we call him to mind with thanksgiving today and join our prayers with his, praying for the wellbeing of the city and giving thanks for the impact that he made upon those around him.

Whenever we remember Mungo’s feast day, there are two things that I always bring to mind which make me love him.

The first is his name and the second is the way he died – so different from the way many saints seem to meet their end.

I love the fact that 1400 years or so after he lived, we still know Kentigern by his pet name. And a name which tells us a great deal about him.
He received his affectionate name from his uncle.  But it was the common people who popularised it and used it in remembering him.

Mungo doesn’t mean the loving one. It means the loved one.

The Christian faith isn’t about being good, it is about being loved.

Christians believe that the love we have for one another is just one of the many ways we have of experiencing the love of God, and I think I dare to tell people that they are loved because I know that I am utterly loved by God.

Mungo’s name reminds us that ….

  • for all the legends of his mission – founding the city here and the diocese of St Asaph in Wales,
  • for all the Christian work he did– setting up a mission centre in what we call Dumfriesshire and evangelising Galloway,
  • for all the church politics he was involved in – establishing churches and monasteries all over the place

 

Notwithstanding all these things, he was remembered primarily with a nickname that tells us that love was at the centre of his life.

CHOIR + ORGAN

ANTHEM:  Thy Perfect Love (Rutter)

Words: 15th Century / Music: John Rutter

Text:  Thy perfect love
Jesu, my love, my joy, my rest,
Thy perfect love close in my breast
That I thee love and never rest;
And make me love thee of all thinge best,
And wounde my heart in thy love free,
That I may reign in joy evermore with thee.

The gift of being able to receive the love that is offered to you on this earth is just as precious as the love that you offer to anyone else.

The other thing that I love about Mungo is the way he died.

Not for him the way of martyrdom. He didn’t die by the sword. He didn’t die in battle. He didn’t die being persecuted. There was no blood. There was no gore.

Mungo is said by those who told his legend to have died in his bath – surrounded by friends.

And that little detail of Mungo bathing may tell us something about his affinity with Roman custom. For the Romans had built baths round here during their occupation and Mungo was said to have visited Rome seven times.

Various miracles of his life are told in this city, as well as the story of the robin. Of a fire he miraculously rekindles with a hazel branch. Of the miraculous catch of a salmon in the Clyde with a wedding ring in its mouth that cleared the name of a falsely accused local queen.

But perhaps we should remember Mungo for greater miracles and ones we can share in – being loved and being a friend.

Mungo was a great traveller and clearly cultivated friendships with those whom he met. He was much loved by St David in Wales and his fame was such that St Columba came visiting.

When they met, it is said that they “hastened to unite in mutual embraces and holy kisses, and having fattened themselves first with a spiritual feast of divine words, they afterwards restored themselves with bodily food”.

It isn’t difficult to imagine them relaxing over food and conversation at the end of the day – their common task of building the church giving them an instant and enduring bond of friendship and affection.

 

When I want to relax at the end of a long day, I go to a local institution built in the same year that this cathedral was in 1871. It is a local Victorian swimming club. I swap the soaring arches, stained glass and Minton tiles of this building for the soaring arches, stained glass and Minton tiles of the Arlington Baths Club and relax in the heat of the Turkish bath and chatter with friends about the events of the day.

And when I’m there this week, I’ll spare a thought for Mungo, founder of this great city, taking to his bath with friends all around him.

And I’ll give thanks for the great twin miracles that seem to have been part of his life. The miracle of friendship and the miracle of being loved

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.