Across the years there have been various attempts to dispense with prayers in Parliament of the United Kingdom. The latest is headed by MP Crispin Blunt of Reigate, a former career soldier. He told the House of Commons that beginning sessions with prayer is “not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion.”

But with the apparent deadlock on the terms of Brexit, Bishop Graham Tomlin of Kensington (London) has said U.K. politicians “need all the prayers they can get,” and they should not be so quick to dismiss the benefits of prayer.

“Talks between the government and the opposition do not seem to offer much hope of a way forward and the future seems anything but clear,” he wrote in a Sunday Times essay. “So it seems a strange time for the suggestion that Parliament drops the practice of starting its business with prayer to present itself. You would be forgiven for thinking that MPs and lords need all the help they can get.”

He said prayer is needed to change the nature and tone of the U.K.’s political life. “Much has been said recently about the toxic and polarized nature of our political debate, whether on social media or in Parliament.”

Parliamentary prayers are “a healthy preparation for negotiation that makes us that much humbler towards each other, takes the sting out of toxic debate and has the potential to produce a better kind of politics.” Prayers serve too as a reminder to politicians “of the limits of their power.”

“We need our politicians to pray because we need them to know that they are not God, that whatever power they have is borrowed,” he wrote. “We need them to treat each other well, to debate wisely and carefully and to know they are accountable not just to us and our passing fads, but to something bigger, deeper and more final: a God whose kingdom will last long after Brexit is a footnote in the books of history.”

Sessions of the Parliament begin with this prayer, among others: “Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit.

“May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.”

John Martin

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