A ROYAL prayer, a prime-ministerial Easter message: what is this country coming to? Could it be that the United Kingdom is not sunk so deep in the anti-Christian mire as both the secularists and the “Not Ashamed” lobby would have us believe? The Prime Minister summed up the mood in his address to Christian representatives in Downing Street on Wednesday of last week: “In this week, when we’re all going to be celebrating a bit of a fairy-tale wedding just down the road from here, in a Christian church, a Christian ceremony, let’s recognise it’s a great week to celebrate Christianity and what it’s done for our country and what it will continue to do.”
The story of recent years has not been about the rise of the secularists but the faltering of the well-disposed. Conscious of the presence of adherents of non-Christian faiths in this country, public figures, from former Prime Ministers downwards, have hesitated before acknowledging the central place that Christianity continues to have in this society. Dr Williams mentioned this in his Easter sermon last year. He rejected the concept that Christians faced persecution, and blamed instead “wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness”, combined with a “well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians”. David Cameron’s readiness to admit that he “does God” helps to bring a little more sense to the debate about public faith.
Mr Cameron’s remarks were addressed to 60 or 70 guests. In contrast, the prayer composed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and read out by the Bishop of London, was heard by 25.75 million on the BBC, ITV, and Sky channels, not counting the mass viewings in pubs, clubs, parks, and churches. The prayer matched the nature of the wedding service: a personal expression of desire — “strengthened by our union, help us to serve and comfort those who suffer” — in a traditional framework: “God our Father . . . We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Probably unconsciously, the prayer that God “keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life” despite the “busyness of each day” mirrors one written in another age and another idiom by Prince William’s aunt, the late Princess Margaret: “When we with worldly things commune and prayerless close our door, we lose our precious gift divine to worship and adore. Then Thou, O Saviour, fire our hearts to love Thee evermore.” In a country that communes too eagerly with worldly things, and is beset with busyness, both prayers have a wider application than their authors perhaps imagined — and a nation more ready to pray them than those hostile to Christianity might wish.