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How I Pray

By David Atkinson.

(Ministry Today asked a number of Christian leaders if they would write a short article on their habits of prayer. We are grateful to Bishop David for the following)

I am the sort of person who benefits from some sort of discipline, so I try to have a time for prayer each morning. I am fortunate to have a little quiet room, with a cross on the wall, a picture, and a candle which help focus my attention. I have benefited very much from the pattern of Celebrating Common Prayer, and more recently the new Church of England office, Common Worship. That gives me:

* a framework of thinking about God;

* reading psalms and a passage from the Gospel which helps me worship God;

* and some basis for praying about people and their needs, my family, friends and work.

I often do not know what so say, so my prayers for people are often a quiet holding them in mind before God. I am not sure, however, that I do it very well. In the evenings I am less well disciplined, but do try to close the day with a time of reflection, either Evening Prayer or Compline.

I start the week with a Communion service with my wife and secretary and anyone else who is in the house, first thing on Monday morning. At other times, prayer is sometimes formal (I like, and need, to be at a Communion service regularly), sometimes very informal and erratic - I can often pray best when walking, or sitting in the garden, or even escaping from the phone and fax by having a bath. There have been times when I have angrily stamped around telling God what I think of him. There have been times when I have been overwhelmed with a sense of his loving presence. Most of the time I don't feel very much at all, but trust God is there and hope he takes my rather muddled offerings and make something of them - rather like he took a small boy's bread and fish, and used it to bless rather a lot of people.

I think of prayer mostly as an awareness of God's presence, trying to offer myself and my time and activities, hopes and struggles to God, and a time when I consciously remember other people and the wider world before God. Often it is just a presenting of confused thoughts to God. I really value the prayers which Christians in the past have written: One of my favourites, to which I often turn, is from Launcelot Andrewes:

"Thou, O Lord, art the Helper of the Helpless,

the Hope of the Hopeless,

the Saviour of them who are tossed with tempests,

the Haven of them who sail;

be thou all to all.

The glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us;

prosper thou the work of our hands.

Lord, be thou within us to strengthen us,

without us to keep us;

above us to protect us,

beneath us to uphold us,

before us to direct us,

behind us to keep us from straying,

round about us to defend us.

Blessed be Thou, O Lord our Father, for ever and ever."

The Rt Revd David Atkinson is Bishop of Thetford.

You Can't Please All the People Any of the Time


For a number of years, this particular hedgehog has been out of pastoral ministry. However, through my work as a parish consultant, I have been kept well aware of the things that clergy struggle with. Wherever I went in my diocese, clergy complained constantly about the stress they were experiencing. The themes were usually to do with paperwork, the incessant telephone calls, the demands of parishioners (read 'church members' if you're not Anglican or Roman Catholic), emergency callouts, and the 'cognitive dissonance' of not having time to do what we thought we were being ordained to do.

All sounds depressingly familiar, doesn't it? But I confess to being a bit mystified by all this 'stress'. Sure, it's a whacky way to live, and sure, you can't plan very far ahead (especially if you're an Anglican parish priest - people have a habit of dying and needing to be buried at the most inconvenient times!).

But the fact is that church leaders are doing fewer funerals, fewer weddings and fewer baptisms than we were ten years ago. There's always plenty of paperwork, but a closer look usually shows that the parish officers (who see to it all anyway during pastoral vacancy periods) are perfectly capable of dealing with it.

The phone calls can be a pain at times, but an answerphone and 'caller ID' can render them manageable.

Emergency callouts are very rare in most ministries. And as for not having time to do what church leaders thought they were being ordained to do, I suppose it depends on your expectations. If you thought you were being ordained to care for the people of a parish and to encourage them on their spiritual journey into God, funerals, weddings, baptisms, Scouting services, school assemblies, home communions, pub lunches and just wandering about in the parish (a good way to spend less time on paperwork!) are all just fine.

And alongside all that, church leaders have the advantage of flexible hours and the freedom to come and go as they please.

So where does the stress come from? Presumably from the size of the workload, but I suspect that church leaders are as busy as they want to be. Are we trying to please all the people all the time (can't be done!)? Are we trying to assuage some vague sense of guilt about the fact that these dear people are paying us to care for them? Are we trying to justify our existence? Or have we just forgotten that we are being paid a stipend - a living allowance that sets us free to seek God on behalf of others, then lead them to encounter this same wonderful God?

Hedgehog is a pseudonym for a lovable but occasionally prickly person. If there is something you would like to sound off about, you could be Hedgehog in the next edition of this journal. The address for articles is on the back cover.

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You are reading How I Pray by David Atkinson, part of Issue 28 of Ministry Today, published in June 2003.

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Ministry Today aims to provide a supportive resource for all in Christian leadership so that they may survive, grow, develop and become more effective in the ministry to which Christ has called them.

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