PLANNING permission has been given for a new national landmark which aims to profile a million answered prayers.
The Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer will be built on a site near Coleshill, on the outskirts of Birmingham, and is expected to attract 300,000 visitors each year. Construction is expected to begin next spring, with completion in autumn 2022.
At 169 feet high, the structure will eclipse Angel of the North, which stands at 66 feet high. It will be constructed using one million bricks, each one representing an individual prayer that has been answered for people across the country. Using interactive technology and a bespoke app, visitors will be able to point their smart device against any brick to read that prayer and the personal story behind it.
The man behind the project, first envisioned 16 years ago, is Richard Gamble, a former chaplain to Leicester City Football Club, and a member of the independent Chroma Church, in Leicester. “To finally receive the official consent is incredible,” he said, after the Secretary of State had ratified the decision of North Warwickshire Borough Council.
“We are building a very special landmark, and it is an amazing opportunity for the British people to leave a legacy of hope for future generations. Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer will make hope visible to the UK. It is unique, in that it is all about the community: it is crowd-funded, and a million people will come together to crowd-create this incredible piece of art with their stories of hope. What we’re doing is historic.”
Snug Architects won a RIBA competition to design the piece. Its founding director, Paul Bulkeley, described it on Tuesday as “a nationally significant and fundamental statement by the Christian community on behalf of the nation.”
The Mayor of the West Midlands and a member of the judging panel, Andy Street, said that it was “an incredibly ambitious, stunning project and a landmark for the Midlands . . . one that will help us remember the Christian heritage of our nation”. The project has been endorsed by Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Anglican church leaders, including the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart.
Mr Gamble, who believes that God has called him to create this landmark, and describes himself as “just a bloke with an idea”, faced some searching questions at a press conference on Zoom on Tuesday. Defending the siting of such a landmark in a multifaith area, he said: “We are unashamed that this is a Christian landmark, but we are aware there are sensitivities around it. The purpose is to start a conversation about prayer. Good art should provoke a conversation but not provide an answer.”
Other faith leaders had the opportunity in the accompanying exhibition centre to talk about what they believed about prayer, he said. “They are going to engage with us. We are using the stories of what God has done, and this is one of the motivating forces for us. Kings of England have called this nation to prayer 15 times.”
In answer to concerns about triumphalism, he emphasised: “We’re not saying God will do this or that: we are more interested in the journey of prayer than the answer itself. The bottom line is, we believe we are doing what God has told us to do.”
Michelle Heritage, the Head of Answered Prayer at the project, said that the 24,600 prayers received so far ranged from the “simple, everyday answered prayer” to the “outright miraculous”.
Responding to expressed concerns about if or how these would be fact-checked or moderated, Mr Gamble said that a team of experts across a broad church would look at them, “and, as long as there is a credibility to them, we will put them on.
“We are producing a piece of art for people to look at and make their own decisions. I’m going to trust in the reader, the visitor. I’m trying to produce a national conversation. I can’t and won’t try to police that.”
The project has an estimated cost of £9.35 million; some of this has already come in from individuals and trust founds, but £4 million is hoped to come from crowdfunding when building starts in May. It is estimated that it will contribute £9.3 million to the local economy, and create 60 new jobs during its two-year construction phase, from 2021.
There will be 20 full-time positions for employees to work for the charity in the visitor centre, café, and bookstore. The monument is also estimated to generate an additional gross social value of £1.4 billion, including £430 million in charitable donations.
Mr Gamble concluded: “Our desire is to create thought-provoking public art, and offer a space for recreation and reflection for everyone. Our hope is that those who visit will see how God can bring peace in life’s storms, and be encouraged to reflect on the power and relevance of prayer.”
Press, page 27