Thy Kingdom Come – a wave of prayer across the community
Biddy Collyer talks about the premise behind Archbishops of Canterbury and York’s prayer initiative and shares how churches in the Diocese took part.
My Sunday School teacher was called Mrs Chapman. I still remember her lifting me onto her lap so that she could help me stick the pictures of Jesus into my little book. Looking back, I am convinced that she would have regularly prayed for me to know Jesus. It took some years before her prayer was answered, but I am so grateful that it was.
That is the basic premise behind the Archbishops of Canterbury and York’s prayer initiative, “Thy Kingdom Come” (TKC). It is for us to pray for our friends, family, neighbourhood to come into the Kingdom of God. Starting small in 2016, it has spread across the world with now 85 countries taking part and deliberately concentrating on praying in this way between Ascension Day and Pentecost.
Last year, 85 per cent of Church of England parishes took part, as well as those from other denominations. Among that number were many in our own Diocese.
Beacon events led the way
The 11 days started on Ascension Day with Beacon services in Norwich Cathedral, and Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn Minsters. Funding was obtained to provide a candle for each parish, 642 in all. Fearful that they may have over-ordered, what joy when all but ten were distributed that night. Designed by Canon Andy Bryant, they became a forest of light at the service in Norwich, reminding those present that they are not alone, but part of the world-wide body of Christ. The Bishop of Norwich led the procession out of the West Door onto the Upper Green, where a band from St Thomas’s Norwich were playing. This was followed with a finale of fireworks, lighting up the whole city.
During the days that followed, visitors to the Cathedral were invited to take time to pray at seven different stations put up by Transforming Norwich, which depicted various spheres of national life. In addition, there was a station focusing on a Thy Kingdom Come meditation that changed every day. Nearby were placed free gospels, a prayer card and a leaflet introducing Christianity. They were incredibly popular and hundreds were taken.
Founded as a Benedictine community, Norwich Cathedral is steeped in prayer. As Andy said: “Having dedicated times of prayer is very special but it’s doing it every day that counts.”
At Pentecost, members of the Christian community from many different denominations came together to pray, using the prayer stations that had been moved from the South transept into the aisles. Such a big opening event is not possible every year and Andy hopes that the focus will now be on individual deaneries, benefices and parishes holding their own events.
Shining the light in Lowestoft
Kirkley Parish Church, Lowestoft sits in the tenth most deprived ward in the UK. The Revd Eion Buchanan and his wife Helen moved there only two years ago. His response that year, with little time to plan anything, was a dawn prayer walk from the South Pier to South Beach, concentrating on the areas of highest deprivation. “It was very cold, but a good feeling.” The early risers were rewarded with a bacon roll back at the Rectory.
Food plays an essential part in Eion’s approach to his parish, so last Ascension Day they started with a breakfast, which brought in a number of non-church people. Light prayer stations were set up in the church using material from the TKC website and focusing on families. They held “Messy Prayer” after school, encouraging children and their parents to use craft as a way of expressing their needs and desires.
Sadly, few attended, for one of the big challenges facing St Peter and St Paul in Kirkley is that historically people have found it difficult to step into the church. However, they will attend the Rectory garden parties in good numbers so this year the focus will be outside the church.
On Ascension Day, a parish breakfast is planned, which will be opened up to the homeless. Prayer kites will be made in the church hall, or on the beach if the weather is good. When the kites are flying, they will be lifting all those prayers to God. Given Lowestoft’s fishing inheritance, there will be a two-mile Ichthus trail on the Sunday, followed by a BBQ. This year, the Saturday before Pentecost clashes with the royal wedding and FA cup final, but undaunted, the plan is to put up a big beacon in the garden and invite the whole parish to a Beacon, Prayer and BBQ.
In his mind, the outcome is for people to know they are loved. “This is about a place where people can find light, they can be loved, they can find warmth, vision and hope.” And the signs are that things are changing. A child from a single-parent family that Eion has supported now refers to it as “Our church.”
Profiling prayer in Cromer
Further up the coast at Cromer, Jane Loades told me that they have no problem filling the church, which boasts a magnificent tower and so has a steady stream of visitors from Easter to November. Their challenge is providing a quiet space. Their main event was on the Wednesday, starting with their usual midweek communion.
Prayer stations were set up, with a children’s section on the carpeted area. Using resource ideas from the TKC website, they had plastic ducks, a giant jigsaw that made up into the Lord’s Prayer, and drawing around hands. Jane said: “It was lovely seeing families doing this together.”
The adult stations featured opportunities to pray about the news, light candles or make a ribbon bracelet with five knots each representing someone you pledged to pray for. Most of the people who came were from outside the church: the benefit of being a popular holiday destination and the church being in the centre of town.
Encouraged by last year’s event and the fact that people had answers to their prayers, they plan to be part of this global wave of prayer again this year. They are currently developing their plans, which could include having someone speaking prayers centered around scripture every hour and making it easier for those who are too shy to ask for prayer.
Jane was very clear that part of the reason for engaging again this year is to raise the profile of prayer in the church and encourage them all to pray more.
Sensory prayer space at Fakenham
My final visit was to another big church, this time in Fakenham and again one that is busy all week. In 2016 they had a few prayer stations, and wanted to expand on that last year. Although the team, led by Heather Schofield and the Revd Joy Elkins, hoped that non-church goers would come in and explore, their emphasis, like Cromer’s, was to encourage their own congregation to pray more.
They had a daily rhythm of prayer throughout the 11 days, at varying times, enabling everyone to have a chance to attend. Joy put together an outline service including some of the TKC prayers and a short reflection, each day on a different phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, using material from the Diocesan Pilgrimage Prayer Book. “We had a good steady attendance, including members from the other churches. People commented on the prayerful atmosphere.”
The big event, “ways2pray”, was held on the Saturday before Pentecost. This time prayer stations were set up throughout the church and stewards were on hand to help guide people, answer questions and pray with those who asked. A world map, icons, “wailing wall”, mandalas, and stones were all put to prayerful use.
The senses were employed to help break down barriers to prayer, with clever use of MP3 players so you could listen to different types of sacred music, candles for sight, and flowers for smell. The children loved the Rainbow Prayer Space, on loan from the Diocesan resource centre, and the colouring table. One Dad sat colouring with his two children for some time. “They looked so contented and happy,” Joy said.
Though the numbers attending were not large, comments made showed how valuable it had been for those who came. One lady had said: “Thank you so much. It is a long time since I have had a chance to enjoy space, time and peace.” Joy said: “Many find prayer difficult but don’t like to admit it. Our aim was to show that prayer is not just about words and to give an opportunity to try different ways of praying.”
Worldwide wave of prayer
The Archbishops’ hope in 2016 was that Christians would join in a wave of prayer across the world, using imaginative methods to engage heart and soul and senses, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Christ.
Clearly, from the comments heard about how hard people actually find prayer, this is an important and timely challenge which the churches I visited have taken seriously, knowing that the only way for God’s Kingdom to come is if we pray it in.
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