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Prayer for the week

09 May 2014

Christians, particularly the clergy, can feel threatened by each other. Rob Wickham offers a remedy


Our only Father, humble us Mary-like before the cross of your Son, our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, so that through the Spirit we may be joined in the one body, the Church, thus becoming your mighty prayer for the world. Gracious God, whose grace terrorizes and sustains us, we pray for courage as we begin this course. Invade our lives, robbing us of fear and envy so we might begin to trust one another and in the process discover a bit of the truth. In this serious business grant us the joy and humour that comes from your presence. And for your sake, save us from being dull. Amen.

Stanley Hauerwas (b. 1940) from Prayers Plainly Spoken  (Triangle/SPCK, 1999)

SOME years ago, after nearly 15 years in inner-city ministry, I decided that it was time to do some more study. I enrolled on an MA course at King's College, London, which focused on theology, politics, and faith-based organisations. In many ways, this explosive mix is the core of our everyday existence of both proclamation and prophecy in the inner city, and so I felt that this would be a good way of trying to understand better the ministry that I have been offering up until now.

I remember vividly sitting in my first class, with all my insecurities oozing from every pore. I was just not clever enough to behere; everyone else was much more academic, and I, as always, was the thick one in the corner.

But then I came across this prayer, which has affected my understanding of reflection and study greatly. For many, study and further training can be seen as boring. Ask any teacher who has been told to attend yet another course or conference on a topic that he or she is not really interested in.

Christians, however, must view reflection and study differently. When Christians come together to study, we must pray that the triune God of love makes himself known in the heart of all that we are learning. We must pray for the courage to let grace sustain us, but also to unnerve us to a different way of life.

We must pray that our lives and, just as importantly, others' lives may be transformed, and that we may not be threatened by each other, but work together. This, I know, can be difficult for the clergy especially. I have lost count of the members of clergy I have come across who are threatened by others' ministry, especially when new creativity is being championed. It would seem that we want others to do well . . . but not that well.

Professor Hauerwas is right. We do need to let our guard down, in the gift of grace, and learn to trust each other better, in a deep spirit of generosity. We cannot let our personaland corporate insecurities set our agenda: they diminish the life of the Church, thatgreat prayer for the world. We cannotbe bound by fear and envy; for these, too, weaken the great prayer for the world. Indeed, love is cast out by fear, not the other way round.

Perhaps Professor Hauerwas is also right in that humour and joy provide such important ingredients when we are faced with our differences when we study and we are threatened. Let us rejoice in difference and in the gift of diversity, and in the learning that comes from listening to one another.

What is clear in this prayer is that God is not dull, study of him should, there-fore, not be dull, and our diversity is certainly not dull. Let us pray that the great prayer for the world may also not be dull, as I do fear that, for many, we currently are.

The Revd Rob Wickham is the Rector of St John-at-Hackney, in east London.

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