*** DEBUG END ***

Prayers before business — and during and after

12 October 2012

PCC meetings would be more efficent if more time were spent in prayer together, and it came more naturally, argues Nick Jowett

MANY clerics and lay people pre­paring to chair church meetings will have had the experience of wonder­ing how to start or finish proceed­ings. (Sadly, however, some people don't seem to think about it at all.)

Shall I select a finely wrought prayer from a favourite book or the internet to read at the beginning? Do we need a Bible reading as well? Should I just pray extempore as the Spirit guides me? (But what if the Spirit seems to be moving a bit sluggishly today?)

Perhaps I could ask Jane to pray - she doesn't mind doing it off the cuff. Or maybe I'll print off a whole short liturgy, so that everyone can join in. Why don't we, instead of anything boringly formal, simply stop and pray at critical points in the meeting, whenever it seems right? Again, we could end with prayer triplets, and let the groups of three pray together about all the issues raised in the meeting.

But, then again, why not end with compline? Or why not simply run a well-ordered meeting, recognising that the Church, both individuals and the community, prays about all the critical issues regularly anyway?

I WOULD have to confess that there have been times when the prepara­tion of a prayer for a meeting has been a rushed, last-minute affair, whether selecting a written prayer or quickly running through in my mind what I might pray extempore. (Equally, on many occasions, I have prepared something thoughtfully.)

Members of my congregation quickly found out, when some­one else was chairing a meeting, how much I hated being asked, unforewarned, to lead a prayer. My dislike was a combination of two aversions: to being jumped on, and to the assumption by some lay people that only the clergy can lead prayers.

My other pet hate was having to take part in prayer triplets, with people I barely knew, at the end of diocesan meetings. This had all the relaxed intimacy of sharing a small changing room with strangers.

I have also known extempore prayer by the person chairing a meeting used as a sort of summing-up of the mind of the meeting; it could easily shade into a summing-up of the mind of an individual who had not really been listening to the debate.

REFLECTING on the dilemmas of prayer at meetings, however, I have realised that we are all to some extent victims of the strongly secularised character of contemporary dis­course: the language of spirituality and prayer is no longer natural to us; so it feels odd and difficult when we try to make the transition from the everyday language of practicality and business to that of prayer.

Charismatic Evangelicals may say that they have a natural free-running language of prayer which flows out of and into everyday concerns; that may be true in some circumstances, but equally it can often seem like a self-conscious performance, deliber­ately done in defiance of secularised norms.

If prayer is only a reaction or challenge to the language of practical materialism, then it lacks something of the unselfconscious naturalness of true prayer, and the 21st-century secular world has really won.

THERE must be some ways in which it might still be possible in the 21st century for a church meeting to say, naturally and without any cringe-factor, like the members of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15: "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" about its decisions.

A number of ideas are worth ex­ploring. One approach would be to encourage more seriously the members of a meeting to pray about the items on an agenda before they get to it. (This is an ideal to which many pay lip-service, but few seem to carry through.)

There could be a quarterly or monthly time of prayer in church, open to all, focused entirely on the next PCC agenda. That would re­quire clearly explained agenda items to be made available in good time, and such clarity and efficiency would in fact be worth more than 100 ill-prepared prayers.

Another practice, which is not used enough, is to incorporate periods of silence into a meeting, perhaps at the beginning and end, or at one or two significant moments through the agenda. We could all learn from the Quakers in this regard.

Third, it would be helpful if the Liturgical Commission could pro­duce a number of short liturgies for the beginning and end of meetings. Such provision would be a real answer to prayer for hard-pressed clerics.

THE Church is often accused of moving like a mighty tortoise, but it is rather an indictment of us that the slowness in making decisions is rarely caused by decision-makers' spending too much time in prayer.

Could it be, ironically, that if more of the time of a meeting were spent in recollected prayer, churches would come to quicker decisions? In any case, they would surely be better ones.

The Revd Nick Jowett is a retired priest, formerly Vicar and Minis­ter at St Andrew's, Psalter Lane, Anglican-Methodist Part­ner­ship, in Sheffield.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)

*Until the end of June: we’re doubling the number of free articles to eight, to celebrate the publication of our Platinum Jubilee double issue.