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Reform Magazine | March 29, 2020

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘We’re not chasing bears, we’re chasing prayers’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘We’re not chasing bears, we’re chasing prayers’

Paul Kerensa is on the hunt for prayers

Every now and then, in our church, I do the prayers. I mean, they ask me – I’m not nudging anyone out of the way. I’m on a rota. I write them based on the week’s news, or what our community might welcome prayer for, via a swift check of the church newsletter on the way in, in case of any specific late requests. But now and then, something more unusual is nice.

On this occasion, it was an all-together family service type of Sunday. No children’s groups. Brevity was important, as was avoiding words like ‘brevity’. Keep it light. Keep it simple. Leave out the ‘forsooth’s (actually, that’s generally good advice.) Not dumbing down but opening up.

The sermon was on Elijah ‘running scared’. How we needn’t be afraid because we’re not alone when we can call on God. I pondered that passage, and how to keep the prayers fresh and child-friendly. A book by my kids’ bedside prompted the theme: ‘We’re not scared, we’re going on a prayer hunt!’ (If that means nothing to you, go and shout it in the children’s section of Waterstones. Someone will explain it to you, as they ask you to leave the shop.)

Instead of bears, we were hunting prayers – both in church and at home in advance. My children helped scour the house in search of prayers, hidden in plain sight. We found prayers on greetings cards, ornaments, walls and in books. The children spotted them in the pictures on their bedroom walls (thanks to fab artist Hannah Dunnett). A fridge magnet offered a Celtic blessing, while a motivational slogan on our calendar read: ‘Help me Lord to remember that nothing’s going to happen today that you and I can’t handle together.’ A prayer, of sorts – it made the cut.

Having hunted down these prayers in our own habitat, we brought them to church in a big net (alright, on a piece of paper), before freeing them back into the wild (we read them out.) The Elijah reading of 1 Kings 19 had another prayer, one of the Bible’s 650 or so. We added to that a prayer of Jonah – another running scared – sent from inside a fish (very child-friendly, if you don’t picture it too graphically). In Jonah’s distress, sea-deep and covered in seaweed, he cried out and was answered.

More prayers were scattered around the church. As a centuries-old building, plenty of stone inscriptions gave us engraved epitaphs on memorials and ledger stones. To conclude, above the dais (for any ecclesiastical architecture newbies, that’s the low stage at the front), one prominent slab includes the Lord’s Prayer. It’s projected each week but, just a few metres above the big screen, it’s been there, carved into rock, for generations. Long after the projector bulb goes, those prayers will still be there.

So, it’s not just every now and then, or just in church, that we do prayers. Forget the rota (actually don’t forget the rota – I’d be in big trouble.) Divine messages are dotted through our daily lives: in novels, on TV, on the lips of motorists after a near miss. Hopefully they’ll be on our hearts as well as on our fridges, day in, day out – a means of communication that pre-dated WhatsApp, email and letter writing. Throughout human existence, when facing storms or trudging through mud in our lives, there are challenges that we can’t go around, we can’t go over, we’ll have to go through. But we’re not scared…

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster

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This article was published in the March 2020 edition of Reform

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