WE ARE just at the end of the period of prayer for the renewal of the Church urged by our two Archbishops. When I first heard about the initiative “Thy Kingdom Come”, in a letter to all clergy, I was mildly sceptical, although inclined to be obedient. Sceptical, because I instinctively disliked the idea of sending a “wave of prayer” to persuade the Almighty to kindly co-operate with our leaders’ earnest aspirations for church growth; obedient, because I tend to be anyway, and promised to be reasonably so when I was ordained — and what could be better than to spend the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost praying “Come, Holy Spirit”?
I have to admit, my heart sank when I looked at the video on the Church of England’s website. I wondered if it had been put together from offcuts of the banned Lord’s Prayer cinema video. Perhaps some Christian media editor had sat down amid the ruins of that doomed initiative, and thought, “What can we do with the footage?” and concocted a new version for in-church consumption.
My problem was, even when I had watched it, I could not really work out what it was we were meant to be praying for. The conversion of England? This was never quite said, presumably because we embrace diversity these days, and we cannot bring ourselves to ask God to make us a Christian nation, because we are not entirely sure that being a Christian nation was all that good for us (think of intolerance, jingoism, and, if you must, the threat of Brexit).
But perhaps we were meant to be praying for the renewal of personal faith? In current C of E speak, this is about “knowing Jesus”: a phrase that always makes me feel uncomfortable. It reminds me of an ordinand who used to growl crossly about those who spoke of Jesus in terms of what he regarded as undue familiarity: “Jesus is not my best mate. He is Lord.” Just so.
In spite of all this, I have prayed — oh, how I have prayed: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people and kindle in us the fire of your love.” Then I saw that the Church’s Ministry Division was considering new criteria for the selection of ordained ministers. These would shift the current guidelines in the direction of certain key adjectives: “passionate”, “entrepreneurial”, “imaginative”. What is being discussed is ministers for the age of The Apprentice.
All this makes me wonder whether, with all those clerical-collared Sugars and Trumps in the parishes, there will surely soon be no need to pray for the Holy Spirit at all.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.