for Public Worship: The art of intercession
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code
CHANGES in modern liturgies
have made a place for intercessory prayers that are integrally part
of the set service, but allow for independent language and
subject-matter. Samuel Wells is the latest to offer detailed advice
and examples for intercessors.
He recognises the complexity
and pitfalls of this type of prayer: is it always clear whether we
are addressing God or speaking with the collective voice of the
congregation; can we pray without being dogmatic or giving a second
sermon; can we combine shared and individual needs without reading
out a long list of names which becomes otiose as Sunday after
Sunday passes by?
Wells looks to the collects
for structure in crafting intercessions, citation of Bible
passages, and hymns to support what is said. This is all very
useful, though it may be questioned whether inclusion in
intercessions helps with the more "difficult" and disagreeable
passages of scripture, as he suggests.
A substantial part of the
book is devoted to full renderings of his own intercessory
liturgical prayers, covering "seasons", "ordinary time", and
"occasions". These are elegant, thoughtful, and sensitive.
Sometimes there seems to be
almost too much detail, particularly in enumerating human sorrows
and burdens. But, as many of us have learned, there is always the
danger of failing to say something particularly helpful to one or
more in the congregation, and probably a bit too much is better
than a bit too little. Whatever style is used, the effect of being
a sharing and caring member of the congregation as well as a leader
is vital. These prayers could well be read as personal meditations
outside the context of a service.
Wells recognises the
importance of silence, and regular but not too frequent
congregational responses - best kept simple, as "Hear our prayer."
The prayers for times of disaster and shared distress are
particularly sensitive; a current user will need to erase and
replace several references to particular past occasions and
Wells has gained much
pastoral wisdom as Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, and previously
at Duke University in the United States, the latter having
pleasantly left its mark on such things as "Main Street" and
"practice" as a verb. I knew that I was going to like this book
when I read on the first page that an intercessor can too easily
inflict "a social and political manifesto on a defenceless
congregation in the presence of God".
The Revd Dr Raymond
Chapman is Emeritus Professor of English in the University of