It’s always good when someone asks you a question that comes from left field, as it were.  I was attending the Resolve course at Southwark Cathedral last week.  It was the third of four sessions and we were looking at the soul after looking at the body and the mind in previous meetings.  In the conversations that happened afterwards one of the members of the small group that I was in asked, in a very interested way, why those of us who were Christians prayed.  It was a good question because it made me really think about what was a reasonable answer I could give.


Durer’s image of praying hands

Others in the group gave their responses, a lot about the ongoing conversation that we have with God, the idea that it is always there in the background, in the way that T S Eliot talks about it in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, part of the ‘Four Quartets’.

And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

There was also of course something about the kind of ordered prayer that we engage in in church, the words that we’re given to pray.  I made the point that I was obviously ‘paid’ to pray, that it was part of what I’m required and called to do on behalf of the church.  But all the talk also made me think about how important prayer is, to me, as a response to situations where I simply cannot do anything else.

The news emerging from Zimbabwe is disturbing and distressing.  The Diocese of Southwark has had a partnership link with four of the five dioceses in that country for many years and the Cathedral is part of that, having a direct partnership link with the Diocese of Masvingo.  That is the most recently created of the dioceses, in the rural south.  The people we have been able to get to know are simply wonderful led by Bishop Godfrey and his wife Albertina.  Coupled with that is the relationship that has grown through the Cathedral Shop with the ArtPeace project based in Harare.  The artists who produce the stone carvings we sell are a resilient and talented bunch of people, supported by the Jesuits, and through our contact here in the UK we get to hear their very real stories of dealing with the poverty that has blighted the country.

The recent protests and the violent response of the army and police has affected all these groups of friends.  Members of artists families have been beaten and some have taken refuge in the Jesuit house.  The situation in Masvingo, away from the capital, is difficult as well.  And what can we do?

Zimbabwe prayer

The prayer vigil underway

Well, we have been praying.  After the Choral Eucharist last Sunday members of the congregation spent time before the map of Zimbabwe that is in the nave of the Cathedral holding a prayer vigil.  Few words were said, most of the time was spent in silence, candles were lit and people focused their attention on the map and the people that lay behind it – holding it all before God.  The wonderful thing is that the people for whom we are praying are so encouraged by the response that we have made.  They believe in the power of prayer and the promises of Jesus.

‘Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18.19-20)

It’s an encouragement to pray and an encouragement to agree on the words that we want to pray, agree on the purpose of our prayer.  So when I was asked to write a prayer for others to pray in response to the crisis I was delighted to do so and even more thrilled when I learnt that our friends in Zimbabwe are also praying, using the same words.  Please pray with us – I’m not sure what else we can do at the moment – and I believe that this is an effective response in itself.  God’s will be done.

May there be … no cry of distress in our streets. (Ps 144.15)

Loving God,
strong and merciful,
we hear the cry
of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe
and we place them into your hands.
May the hungry be fed,
the sorrowful consoled,
the injured healed,
the hopeless encouraged
and the dead have new life in you.
May justice flow like a river
and may your peace rest upon them.


Praying for the Brexit Vote

I was asked by the Association of English Cathedrals to prepare another prayer for use today as we watch our elected representatives in Parliament debating and, finally, voting on the Prime Minister’s plan for our withdrawal from Europe.  I had prepared one for the previous vote, but as we know, that opportunity to vote was withdrawn.  In this instance I was inspired by the readings for this morning.  In his First Letter to the Corinthians Paul was writing to a church facing internal challenges, jealousies and disagreements.  He addressees these full on.


Whatever our views we are called to pray for one another and those charged with leadership in this as in every nation.  So please pray.

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1.25)

God of wisdom and strength,
who challenge us in our foolishness,
and support us in our weakness;
give to those who lead us
a desire for that which is best,
a commitment to that which is honourable,
a love for that which is true
and a passion to serve the common good.
In Jesus’ name.

The work of God

My mother was a great one for a routine.  Monday was wash day, Tuesday lots of cleaning, Thursday was the trip to the shops, Friday afternoon baking and so forth. She said that this was the only way that she could work. My sister and I have inherited some of that and living by routine feels to me to be liberating.  You may question that.  Isn’t it just a bind, no space for experimentation, no wriggle room? Wouldn’t it be good if occasionally I washed on a Wednesday and not a Saturday, that I did this or that on another day, live a bit more spontaneously, a bit more dangerously? Well it might work for some but for me. To be honest, I like the security of knowing that the washing and the cleaning will get done because they happen predictably and I don’t need to make decisions about them, in a way think about them.

So I suppose that I naturally fitted into the regularity of the pattern of living and praying expected of a priest.  I say expected because there is a Canonical duty upon us that we pray the Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, daily and publicly. All Christians are expected to pray and so we are no different in that except that the priest does it on behalf of the people dashing off to work, they hear the church bell ringing as they catch the 7.45 to Waterloo and know that the priest is on their kneew.  Well, that is the formal, romantic ideal – but an ideal not to be disparaged or dismissed.

One of the best things about my smartphone is the Church of England ‘Daily Prayer’ app.  It is the most wonderfully useful app I have to be honest.  Wherever I am I can say my prayers, without lugging a library with me.  Romnan Catholic clergy have the blessing of the Breviary which in three volumes, one for each part of the year, contains all the texts necessary for praying the ‘Divine Office’, the Liturgy of the Hours.  But Anglicans have to take with them at least three books – the Lectionary, which is the most complicated document, a kind of clerical ‘log tables’ which gives you the calendar and readings and psalms for each day.  Then you need your prayer book, either the BCP or Common Worship: Daily Prayer which has the form of the Office and the psalms.  Then you need a Bible and as both main Offices include readings from the Old and New Testaments you can’t get away with just the NT.  So praying ‘on the go’ involves lugging all of this around.  So the app is a godsend in that it is like a virtual Breviary containing all things necessary.  It means that the priest can say the Office where they are, and the person on the 7.45 to Waterloo can equally say the Office where they are! It’s a great act of democratisation in doing the work of nGod, what we know in church-speak as the ‘opus dei’.

The poet George Herbert wrote lines which we often sing

Seven whole days not one in seven, I will praise thee.

That is the rule we live by, the regularity that we seek to establish, the pattern of prayer that is as routine as breathing that doesn’t involve making decisions but is simply part of living as a child of God. I’m fortunate to have colleagues to pray with and a choir who will add glorious music to the opus dei enhancing the experience of praying.  But neither of those things is necessary for praying, just the will, the desire to pray, the time, the place, be that in a cathedral or church, in a crowded carriage or a quiet kitchen after the kids have gone to school, with books, or an app, knowing that God is with us in our praying as God will be with us in our working.

God, give us the desire to pray, and the space to do it. Amen.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark