Every blessing for 2013! When God blesses, he blesses richly – and so we continue to look to his Holy Spirit for guidance, inspiration and protection as we seek to honour Christ in this new year.
Not that honouring God is getting any easier in our increasingly secular society. There are increasing pressures to expel him from our public life, be it the sustained assault on Today’s Thought for the Day” on Radio 4 or the ongoing hostility to church schools for supposed social exclusion.
God is no longer welcome in our public place, at least that is the view of some key players. He should stay where he belongs, in the
private devotions of the individual. Above all, we believers need to
keep our mouth shut in the workplace. Otherwise we risk being reported for proselytizing.
Moreover, prayer in the public space is now becoming a key battleground. I know of one school in Skelmersdale where the headteacher has expressly banned prayer in collective worship! Work that one out.
One of the stranger outcomes for me from 2012 is that my name now appears in so many anti-religious websites. Planetatheism.com, freethinker.co.uk, secularism.org.uk, halaptic.com to name a few. The subject – prayer in the public space.
Way back in April a journalist from the Sunday Telegraph phoned out of the blue to ask for a quote on prayers in the council chamber. As chaplain to the Mayor of West Lancashire for 2009/10, one of my responsibilities had been to lead prayers at the beginning of Council meetings.
As you would expect this long-established tradition had been challenged by some councillors in Gloucestershire. It seems that 40 councils have recently decided to replace council prayers with “a moment of reflection.”
The Sunday Telegraph surprisingly gave my quote some prominence. “The church is very much part of community life here and council prayers are part of that. The national picture is sad. I would support prayers in council meetings. It helps people to recognise that council meetings are more than simply business meetings – that they have a spiritual dimension.”
That simple paragraph has now been picked up in the most unlikely of websites from Christian Concern to Sri Lanka news. For the debate on public prayer has wide implications for the way we live together.
But there is one person who makes it very clear where they stand in this increasingly fractious debate. “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”
This is not some Bishop or stray evangelist, this is the Queen in her recent Christmas Message. It seems that this is one of the few occasions she gets to write the address herself rather than being handed the script by some civil servant. It is as closest we get to know what she actually thinks.
And her broadcast ended with a direct quote from “O Little Town Of Bethlehem.”
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.
Her Majesty concludes: “It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”
After all the message of the angels is for all people. That means everyone. We can thank God for this important lead from our monarch.
Clearly God saves the Queen.