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Prayer for the week

22 November 2013

Robin Vickery on a neighbourhood prayer from Canada


O Lord our creator, by your holy prophet you taught your ancient people to seek the welfare of the cities in which they lived. We commend our neighbourhood to your care, that it might be kept free from social strife and decay. Give us strength of purpose and concern for others, that we may create here a community of justice and peace where your will may be done.

Book of Alternative Services
Anglican Church of Canada

WHOEVER first said "Think globally, act locally" (and the source of the saying is a matter of debate) would have been in complete agreement with the sentiments expressed in this week's prayer. The focus here is on neighbourhood and community.

This immediately gives us the feeling that what we are asking for is achievable. Neighbourhoods and community are visible and tangible. You can walk around them, and they have boundaries - well, roughly. They're made up of people who greet you and shake your hand; people whom you can get to know and feel you belong with. Praying for the community is not like praying for world peace - vital as it is to do that. When we pray for the community, what we are praying for is somehow within our grasp.

Locating our church, congregation, and parish within a wider reality called "the community" reminds us that the Church can no longer claim any privileges for itself. This "community" of which we are part is multicultural and multireligious, and it does not give a special place to any religion.

It expects the different religions - "faith groups" to use the sociological term - to accept each other, and it also acknowledges the right to have no religion. We all know this, but we may not yet have fully adjusted to it. The local church is just one part of what Teilhard de Chardin called the "bundle of human activity".

This being the case, what do we mean by "mission" and "outreach" - these words that trip so easily off the clerical tongue? Looking again at the prayer, we are not only praying that more people will come to church, we are commending our neighbourhood to God's care. We should certainly hope that our church will flourish and grow. But we should set that hope within the wider context of care for our neighbourhood.

We are also praying for the strength and concern needed to create the kind of community we want, one of justice and peace, not of strife and decay. Creating takes some effort, and we are not going to be able to do it on our own. As we work with our neighbours in creating this community, we will surely discover what mission and outreach are, in the deepest sense.

What I love about this prayer is its realism. It starts by remembering God's ancient people and the cities in which they found themselves, and the reference, of course, is to the prophet Jeremiah. But then it immediately moves close to home, and to the communities which have been given to us, and to which we have been given.

In so doing, it surely points the way forward for the Church. Political issues and inequalities underlie the social problems of our villages, towns, and cities, and the voice of the Church should be clearly heard at national level, as we demand social change. But it is also within our grasp to work with others in our neighbourhood to create communities. So let's grasp the opportunity, and refuse to let go.

The Revd Robin Vickery is a priest-worker in the diocese of Southwark.

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