I’m so pleased that Deacon Liz Carrington has made it possible for many more of us to listen to, enjoy and profit from Bishop John’s leadership on the rich subject of prayer. Bishop John was the speaker for the Diocese of York’s annual distinctive deacons’ conference: this year, it could not be at Wydale Hall, but as it was on zoom it was recorded and made available to the rest of us.
You may need to download Sharepoint in order to access the link to the video https://dioceseofyork-my.sharepoint.com/personal/rbailey_yorkdiocese_org/_layouts/15/onedrive.aspx?id=%2Fpersonal%2Frbailey%5Fyorkdiocese%5Forg%2FDocuments%2Fzoom%5F0%2Emp4&parent=%2Fpersonal%2Frbailey%5Fyorkdiocese%5Forg%2FDocuments&originalPath=aHR0cHM6Ly9kaW9jZXNlb2Z5b3JrLW15LnNoYXJlcG9pbnQuY29tLzp2Oi9nL3BlcnNvbmFsL3JiYWlsZXlfeW9ya2Rpb2Nlc2Vfb3JnL0VYWXBjdjk2WE9kTXRocWlQMXEwUmNNQmdIdzQ2Sm0wbmhKTWRHcVoxdjkxWVE_cnRpbWU9TExWbEtlRGkyRWc
Deacon Liz and Deacon Dot Hicks have written an introduction:
This year our annual weekend gathering at the Diocese of York’s Wydale Hall retreat centre had to be conducted online instead. Although we were not able to meet together in the usual way Zoom does bring its own blessings through the possibility of a wider reach. We welcomed thirty one participants; deacons, ordinands and people in discernment, with half from dioceses beyond York.
Rev David Mann, DDO, opened the meeting and welcomed The Right Revd John Pritchard, retired Bishop of Oxford, as our speaker. Deacon Liz Carrington led the opening prayers, followed by a brief introduction to the work of Bishop John. His well-known books on intercessory prayer have been an inspiration to many.
Session One – The Story So Far
Bishop John started by quoting Jesus with the words “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15.4-5) as the heart of prayer and invited us to think of our own experience. What were our first memories of prayer? Who was involved? What sort of things did we pray for? What type of prayers were they? Perhaps it was transactional prayer, when we were asking for something; for example when a child’s says “I want you to look after Mummy. If I pray, can I have the answer I want?” Or maybe it was thankful prayer for the good things that happen in our lives and the people around us.
We were invited the ponder these questions in a few moments of quiet.
Bishop John stressed the importance of finding ways to pray that speak to us and that we can make our own.
The ACTS method of praying
- A – is for adoration, where we praise God for his creation
- C – is for confession, our regrets. God does not need our confession, he has already forgiven us, but we need the cleansing of confession.
- T – is for thanksgiving, throughout the day.
- S – is for supplication, to meet our deep concerns.
We should talk with God as if he were a friend.
Bishop John described prayer as a natural response to life, and gave us another striking image, asking us to think of sun bathing. The sun is always there. A sunflower turns its face towards and follows it throughout the day. It draws its life from the sun. That is what prayer is. God is the light of our lives, we must turn our faces to the sun to draw His life to us. “The sun is up early waiting to shine on us if we draw back the curtains.
Using the word PRAY was another suggestion.
- Prepare, light a candle, play some music
- Remember, things that you are thankful for
- Ask, for those you are praying for
- Yourself, offer yourselves to God
Other ways to pray could include Celtic daily prayer, quiet time with bible reading notes, and online prayer such as ‘Sacred Space’. These and many others are means of abiding with God.
Bishop John commented on the varied settings and circumstances that prompt prayer for example praying within a special relationship, or in no special time or place but just getting on with the day, glancing at God and chatting about what we see and hear around us. Things we notice can trigger a meaningful image that draws us into prayer, for example waiting for water to become warm. Prayer needs time, time to be present, to prepare and be quiet.
The following books were suggested:
Stephen Cottrell Prayer: Where to start and how to keep going 2020 How to Pray – alone, with others, at any time, in any place. 2010
Pete Greig How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People 2019
John Pritchard How to Pray: A Practical Handbook 2002
The Intercessions Resource Book 2018
David Wilkinson. When I Pray What Does God Do? 2015
Session Two – Moving On
In his second session Bishop John talked about wanting more. He gave us an image of standing on a dry river bank. Only by wading in can we be transformed. He paused for us to consider which season we were in and whether we were praying in a way that was life giving for us rather than following the ‘ought to’ approach. Where were we most alive, most connected; how was God present and what were we learning?
Moving on in prayer will lead us to greater stillness and silence. Silence allows us to attend to others and turn to God and Bishop John suggested we might try Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), to mediate on a text and move beyond words into contemplation.
God is ever present during our day but the practice of Examen allows us to notice that reality, review its significance, and respond. Music, art and poetry are sensory pathways to prayer.
Session Three Praying With Others.
In the third session, about helping others to pray, Bishop John suggested using prayer groups, short courses on prayer, a sermon series on prayer, intercession workshops, contemplative church services, quiet day and retreats, pilgrimage, and festivals of prayers.
Lastly, he spoke of the spiritual character of the schools of the different Saints and where we might fit.
St Peter shares a robust ‘get on with it’ characteristic ‘ with a recognisable structure. Books of prayers would fit this approach.
St Paul, the thinker, has a drive to perfectionism and wants to make intellectual sense. He is capable of deep, and sometimes mystical, response to God.
St John is traditional with a special relationship with Jesus. Prayer is more reflective, seeking, reaching out and longing. Prayer needs space and time.
St Francis brings a love of nature and people which appeals to those who want a simpler faith.
Most of us will fit into one or two of these approaches.
The day concluded with a discussion in groups about Chaplaincy.
Bishop John had given us something to look forward to when he sent us these words in advance:-
“For a Christian, to pray is to breathe. It’s essential to staying alive. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Nor does it mean we’ve ever ‘got it sorted.’ As deacons we all know our need of help if we’re to breathe deeply and to help others to breathe with us. So this day will be given to the vital experience of prayer, both for ourselves and for others. We’ll ponder and pray, think and practise. And I hope we’ll talk, laugh, and perhaps take some new things away.” We certainly did – especially the inspiring imagery.
Our thanks are due to Bishop John and to all who contributed to a wonderfully enriching day.
Dot Hicks & Liz Carrington
(image from Oxford Mail)