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.

 

 

Comments

  1. Meg Rosenfeld says

    I’m reminded of a remark which Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- California–which happens to be my home state and political party) made regarding our current President, to the effect that it would be better if we could help him to be a good president than if we merely got rid of him. Oh, my, did that ever provoke angry outpourings! At the time, I was attending a parish retreat, so it seemed appropriate to mention during a group discussion that this nice elderly Jewish lady was actually quoting Scripture and saying that “God desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” This didn’t go over very well, but there you are. God bless our elected politicians, indeed.

  2. Gordon says

    Amen. We don’t usually pray for the Queen, but we often pray for politicians and leaders. Good challenge about MEPs and those who make international government – EU, Council of Europe, UN etc – work.

  3. Amen. I’m wondering whether this point works in reverse, as well: “If collectively, as a people, we had been more thankful for the EU, would we have prayed more for its welfare?”

    If, collectively, as a people, we had prayed more for the welfare of the EU, would we have been more thankful for it? Might we have felt more like a part of it? It’s difficult to know the answer to either formulation.

  4. this Sunday I was the lay intercessor at morning Eucharist at our church. In preparing the prayers, I looked at the last ones I had done, in Mid November, and used this one virtually unchanged as it seemed as relevant now as then.

    “In our country, political leaders are struggling to agree terms for our exit from the European Union. Our politics seem ever more polarised and confrontational, and it seems that any possible outcome could cause further strife and division.

    Almighty Father, we pray for all who have important decisions to make, and especially for our own country at this time.

    Guide the decisions of those who govern so that they may strive for justice, freedom, peace and the common good.

    Give those of us who are governed wisdom, love and courage, and the resilience to find ways to grow and flourish, whatever the future may bring.

    Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

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