Prayer of the Month

       Given the news of the General Election and the fact that the campaigning will cover all of May, a prayer posted online by Michael Sadgrove, former Dean of Durham.

Eternal God, the Judge of all, before whom we stand at this point in our history, look with mercy on our nation as we approach the timer of decision. Give us leaders of integrity, of courage, of compassion and of vision. Equip them with the Spirit of understanding and make them wise to serve this people. As we pray for the election and the choices we must make, put into our hearts the love of our neighbour, that the divisions of our nation may be healed, and truth and justice be established among us. We ask this for Jesus Christ’s sake, Amen.

Whatever our politics and our priorities in deciding how to vote as Christian people we need to reflect on how our faith shapes those priorities (and we may come to different conclusions,) and how we believe faith is best lived out in the public square. We need to pray for all involved in politics and campaigning, that campaigns are built on issues and principles and not simply on passing vitriolic comment on those opposed to our particular view. The next weeks may not be easy, Michael writes about his prayer,


  We make our prayers too narrow by false limits of our own (apologies to Father Faber for misquoting his famous hymn). We should be more ambitious as we lay the issues of this election before God. It's the outcome that matters, not simply the process that leads up to it. And while we mustn't turn prayer into a kind of spiritual manipulation motivated by party politics, I think we can agree that we should crave leaders who are principled, embody healthy values and who will have the courage to make decisions that will put them into practice. Hence my use of words like integrity, courage, compassion, vision, truth, justice, the love of neighbour and the healing of division in our nation - surely a top priority for everyone in public life right now. The Seven Gifts of the Spirit that are set out in the messianic portrait painted in Isaiah 11 might be a good place to begin exploring what we look for in our leaders: this was the text in my mind when I alluded in the prayer to "the Spirit of understanding".
          No doubt we won't all agree about what these values and virtues mean in practice. But I believe that to pray with integrity about the kind of nation we want to be also commits us to debating with integrity during the election campaign. The lack of it was what many of us lamented during the EU referendum campaign. To descend to empty slogans (or, to quote Chesterton again, the "easy speeches that comfort cruel men") is to devalue what we mean by democracy. An election debate means listening carefully, evaluating evidence, discerning good arguments from bad, and not personalising matters of principle. (So please let's stop referring to Theresa May as "the vicar's daughter" - she deserves to be heard in her own right as a responsible adult woman, not someone who is still being defined by her father, however good a priest he no doubt was.)

         Above all we need to be committed seekers after truth. A good election is one where we don't cling to old political tribalisms, some of which have clearly had their day. On the contrary, we need to take the trouble to think for ourselves as grown-ups who are privileged, in a way not open to everyone in our world, to be able to take part in a democratic election. To listen, to think and to debate in this respectful way is, I want to say, an act of discernment. It asks the question, where might the voice of wisdom and truth be detected amid the babble of human voices that clamour for our attention? Where might we even hear the voice of God? Discernment and prayer are close relatives.

 So as we discern which mway we will cast our own vote and pray for the wider discernemtn in the nation may we always be those who offer a vision of hope, not of anguish.