THE congregation at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday night, at the end of nine days’ “wave of prayer” summoned by the Archbishops, departed with a clear mandate: the re-evangelisation of the nation.
One of several “beacon events” held across England, this was an evening designed to instil morale. Opening the service, the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd David Ison, suggested that those gathered take inspiration from the monks who “took a step of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit” when they brought Christianity from Rome to this “dark, cold island”.
The service concluded with a communal prayer for “renewed vigour and fresh confidence to share the good news of Jesus Christ”.
The founder of the 24-7 prayer movement, Pete Greig, described how, in an “extraordinary week”, tens of thousands of people across the country had prayed “for the Kingdom of God to come”. In a culture in which elements “conspire to eliminate God”, it was the Holy Spirit that “enables us to speak with courage, authenticity, creativity . . . as witnesses to the love of God”.
”We declare that you are Lord in this nation,” he proclaimed.
The music — contemporary, played on guitars — was led by the Revd Tim Hughes and Seth Pinnock. The congregation, mixed in age, needed no encouragement to participate with gusto. The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, congratulated them for “fitting so easily into our normal cathedral-style worship”.
Promoted as an opportunity to pray for “a generation to rise up with a fresh passion and confidence for the proclamation of the gospel”, the service gave centre stage to young evangelists. A testimony was shared by Toby, a member of St Anselm’s Community at Lambeth Palace. It was contemporary worship music, he explained, that had led him back to the Church, which he had grown up hating.
He described how, since he began praying for them in September, his mother, nephew, and a client had all become Christians.
Huge applause was secured by a theatre company, Inter-Mission, established at St Saviour’s, Upper Chelsea, which works with young people at risk or lacking opportunity. Combining a script based on Acts 2 and stunning contemporary-dance performances, its performance concluded with a joyous celebration to “When Jesus says yes, nobody can say no”, based on a Nigerian gospel song. Their joy was infectious. Bishop Chartres later paid tribute to “the Purple Wonders: the dancing bishops”.
Special prayers were said for those engaged in creative endeavours. Mr Greig prayed for an “entrepreneurial spirit, that we might provoke, innovate, and attract. . . Too often, we have ignored or imitated our culture, when we are called to shape it.”
Bishop Chartres delivered a sermon of commission. “The Spirit is urging us out, in a universal mission to unite the whole human race, heart to heart,” he said. “The problem is that we become confined to our churches. . . Christians in our own day do not have spiritual ambition of the kind that flows whenever we pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’.”
As night fell, the dancing continued, joined in gamely by several Bishops (most notably the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, who appears to be a practised pogo-er).
The bishops were not alone. Although organisers spoke of encouraging a new generation, at least one white-haired man could be seen dancing in the south transept aisle of the cathedral.