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Viewpoint from the Bishop of Thetford 28/06/2013

alan wintonThe Rt Revd Alan Winton
Bishop of Thetford


One of the surprising sources of encouragement I find as I visit communities around Norfolk is the enthusiasm in many of our schools and churches for Prayer Spaces and Prayer Weeks. On a recent visit to a High School, I was shown into the newly opened Prayer Room that showed lots of evidence of being well-used. From one of our sixth form colleges, the request to the local church was to come and create a Prayer Space for the students
Part of the beauty of prayer is that you can do it anywhere, any time, but there is clearly something in this desire for places that are set apart for prayer. Our church buildings are such places, but there is also a desire to create them in the midst of our busy lives
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Another part of the beauty of prayer is that you don’t need anything other than your will to pray, but there has always been a desire to find aids to prayer. Some people may light a candle, or hold a cross; others will burn incense or use some beads to help focus their thoughts
Many churches and schools are now using really innovative aids to prayer. A house I visited was being used as a space for a Prayer Week. The commitment was that people would come and pray 24/7, and they did, all 168 hours
Each room contained its own ‘station’. One was a map of the world, with information about different places of conflict printed on cards around the map. The invitation was to fashion a weapon from some silver foil or plasticine, and place it on the country where violence was present. On a card were written the words of Isaiah chapter 2 verses 3 and 4 which contain the image of the people who will “beat their swords into ploughshares”. Those visiting were asked to say their prayer for the country or region they’d chosen and then to pick up their weapon and re-fashion it into a peaceful tool, a spade or plough
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It was a surprisingly effective aid to prayer, using my hands to reinforce the words I’d spoken to God in my thoughts – a tangible expression of hope
What are we to make of this renewed interest and enthusiasm for prayer? For some it’s a recognition of their need of God’s help in the challenges facing people of faith today. For others, it may be part of a desire to find God
Is there a sense, behind all this, that people are tired of arguments about religion, but more open to see whether they can find God through prayer?
I find myself coming back again and again to the disciples’ request to Jesus in the Gospel, “Lord, teach us to pray”.  In all the many callings upon our time, perhaps one of the most urgent is to respond to this desire – to use imagination and explore fresh ways of encouraging and helping one another to pray