GOOD FRIDAY always brings back memories for me of Canterbury Cathedral, where, years ago, John Pritchard opened the eyes of those who had gathered to hear his three-hour reflection on the Passion. It was a prayerful, spiritually charged experience, grounded in his gift for finding the right words to speak to people from all walks of life about themselves and God. The same light shines through his third book on intercessory prayer, The Intercessions Resource Book: Breathing new life into prayer.
Both of the earlier titles sit on my shelf: the first has been well thumbed by people who have read it in preparation for doing intercessions for the first time; the second is not so worn, because it is less useful for that particular purpose — offering instead, inspiration that might be used selectively by those who are used to exercising that ministry in public worship. The third reminds me that this does not diminish the vitality of Pritchard’s mind, but does narrow the potential readership.
To avoid repeating earlier formats, Pritchard offers model prayers of intercession for every month of the year, seasons and festivals, special Sundays, and themed services — the latter covering topics that range from Storm to Sport, Mess to Music, and even The World from Space — which adds a wacky perspective, not easily woven into the tradition of many churches.
This is a book for browsing through rather than picking up in a rush when the person on the rota to intercede has forgotten to prepare anything. It offers no shortage of ideas, and some enviably crafted sentences, but, at times, I feel that the words belong to the pulpit rather than prayer. To synch the latter with the mood of each month, Pritchard pushes the preamble too far, which is more helpful for the intercessor in the writing of his or her own prayers than, I suspect, it would be for the congregation on the receiving end.
The seasonal section works better, not least because there is more of God in the substance of each intercession — with some refreshing responses that echo the words of hymns or scripture. The multi-voiced prayer on the Beatitudes will stay with me for some time.
If you want to push the boundaries of prayer, and take risks that might wake up those in the pews, this book serves that need; but I would pass it on only to a trusted intercessor whose sense of what was apt for the service in question was well-honed. In less experienced hands, the words might be used indiscriminately and less sensitively, prompting complaints about novelty.
Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the quality of parish prayer life. If it needs to be resurrected, this book would certainly get people talking about how best to breathe new life into that endeavour.
The Revd Penny Seabrook is Associate Vicar of All Saints’, Fulham, in London.
The Intercessions Resource Book: Breathing new life into prayer
Church Times Bookshop £9