PRAYER is never restricted to people of faith, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, has said. He encouraged the whole nation to pray daily for all those who had died, those who were suffering and grieving, and those who were working to save and improve the lives of others during the pandemic.
More than 100,000 people in the UK have died from Covid-19 since its outbreak last March. To mark this “terrible milestone” last week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York invited the nation to pray and to “reflect on the enormity of this pandemic” on each day in February, beginning at 6 p.m. this evening (News, 26 January). The focus this week will be on schools and colleges, and children and young people.
Archbishop Cottrell told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme this week: “It is a profound and simple thing; but it is the one thing that we can all do. . . I believe that by praying we can make a difference and we can begin to be that difference.
“One thing we know is — and it is always a strange statistic that surprises and, in a way, encourages me — lots of people who don’t call themselves Christians, who don’t think of themselves as people of faith, do pray.
“Britain today has been called a spiritual but not religious nation. There is a longing for God, a longing for truth, and certainly at the moment, a longing for hope; I believe that everyone can pray. I’d say to people even if you can’t pray or don’t know what pray is, if that feels weird to you, stop, pause, remember, hope.”
He continued: “People can pray whenever they like; but our particular invitation is to pause at 6 p.m. each day in February and remember the grim milestone of 100,000 people who have died, and to pray for those who are suffering, those who are grieving, and for those who are working to make things better.”
In an interview with LBC radio on Friday afternoon, Archbishop Welby said that prayer was not “mechanical”, but about relationship. It was also a call for space. “The clearing away can be as simple as sitting quietly . . . and saying to yourself: ‘What are the things that are cluttering up my life at the moment; what are the things I am sad about?’ Broken relationships, things I know are wrong, and just saying, ‘God, I don’t like this. . . I want to hand that stuff over and get rid of it.’”
He continued: “When there is silence, when there is space, sometimes we can be relaxed and renewed, sometimes all the things we have kept at a distance with noise and business can just fall on us. And it feels as though the sky has fallen in. Both of those, when they are done with God, even with a God we don’t know very well, or a God we have not tried talking to, somehow get dealt with.”
Both Archbishops were asked about the fair distribution of the vaccine; both agreed, as Archbishop Welby said, that “until it is defeated everywhere it is not defeated anywhere because it risks reappearing just through the nature of travel and the interconnectedness of life nowadays in the world. You have to start with attitude: love and generosity.”
Archbishop Welby expressed concern about the selfish attitudes of people demanding to have the vaccine before others. “We need to recognise the fact that the people trying to organise this don’t need that extra pressure; they are really serious about trying to reach the most at risk, the most quickly. . . It is like a sinking ship; you put the most vulnerable in the lifeboats first.”
Resources for the Archbishops’ daily call to prayer are available here