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Prayer for the week

31 May 2013

Patrick Irwin reflects on a plea to grow closer to one another


O Lord our heavenly Father, we pray you to guide and direct the member states of the European Union. Draw us closer to one another, and help us to attain justice and freedom, and to use our resources for the good of people everywhere; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Irish Alternative Prayer Book 1984

READERS will not be surprised to learn that this prayer is provided by the Church of Ireland rather than the Church of England. Leaving on one side the question of British membership of the European Union, it is worth while recalling that we should indeed ask God to draw us closer to one another, in amity if not constitutionally; that we need God's help to attain justice and freedom; and that our God-given resources (of which we have so many) are to be used to assist our fellow inhabitants of this planet, many of whom are in dire need.

This approach of friendship, humility, and generosity may not be the platform of any political party, but it is clearly what God is asking his followers to adopt.

At the Kirchentag in Hamburg this month (News, 10 May), a gathering hosted by the German Protestant Church and attended by more than 100,000 people, the preacher (in German) at the closing service was none other than the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines. He reminded us that things do not need to be as they are.

God has not called us to follow him in order that we may sit back and do nothing. There is much that we can do, and often we achieve more when working with friends and learning from their experiences than we do when working on our own. This applies to nations as much as it does to individuals. This prayer reminds us that there is much to do, and that we need God's help in our endeavours.

As a start, we can enrich our prayer for those in need, such as our fellow-Christians in Syria, or the homeless on our streets, by imagining what it would be like to be in their position. To envisage how we would react to conditions that reports have made familiar can bring alive to us a tragedy that otherwise can seem far away and insoluble. By entering imaginatively into their world, we may both draw closer to them and glimpse how we may best be of assistance.

One of the best sermons at the Kirchentag was actually the performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in St Katharine's, Hamburg's oldest city church, which was destroyed in the war and has recently been beautifully restored. The boys of Coventry Cathedral Choir joined Hamburg choristers to give a memorable performance. In Britten's work, the combination of Wilfred Owen's poetry and the text of the requiem mass speak both of the horrors of war and of hope for the future.

In the ticket queue, I met a local teacher, whose son was one of the choristers. As we sat chatting companionably in the sunshine, and the German father described how the English and German choirboys were happily playing football together as well as singing, it was easy to forget the horrors of the past.

Yet the War Requiem reminded us of them, just as news reports remind us every day of contemporary horrors. Whatever the future of our political structures may be, there is no doubt that God is calling us to work for his Kingdom in this world, and that this requires both our prayers and our action.

We do not need to go to Hamburg in order to grow closer to one another. In our congregations there will be people from different backgrounds, with whom we have never had a proper conversation. If we did, we would probably discover both how much we have in common, and how our outlook can be enriched by their different perspectives.

The Revd Patrick Irwin was until recently Anglican Chaplain in Bucharest and Sofia.

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