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Prayer in Parliament

Prayer in Parliament
Speaker Trevor Mallard reads the Prayer

Standing Order 62 of New Zealand’s House of Representatives reads:

On taking the Chair at the commencement of each sitting the Speaker reads a prayer to the House and the Mace is placed upon the Table.

Prayer has begun each day in parliament since 1854. Concern was expressed, even in those days, that no religious persuasion be seen to be given preference. There is nothing in the Standing Order indicating what the prayer should be – so it is the Speaker’s prerogative.

Since 1962, the prayer used was:

Almighty God,
Humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The previous Speaker, David Carter, consulted about altering the prayer, but in the end retained the 1962 one.

Last Thursday, the new Speaker, Trevor Mallard, read a new prayer in Te Reo (video at this link):

E Te Atua Kaha Rawa, Ka tuku
whakamoemiti atu mātou, mō ngā karakia
kua waihotia mai ki runga o Aotearoa.
Ka waiho nei I ō mātou pānga whaiaro
katoa ki te taha, nei rā ēnei e īnoi atu ana
mō Tō ārahitanga, I roto i ō mātou
whakaaroarohanga, ā, kia whakahaere ai
e mātou ngā take o Te Whare nei, I runga
i te mōhio, me te whakaiti mō te oranga,
te maungārongo, o te tūmatanui o Aotearoa.
Amene.

The English version is:

Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand.

Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand. Amen.

Mr Mallard said he would take feedback into account.

This recently used prayer does not pray through Jesus Christ, does not have the NZ parliament recognise Jesus as Lord, and does not have parliament seeking to maintain true religion.

Starting with the last point – what did people understand they were to maintain as the true religion: Roman Catholicism (the previous Speaker who led the prayer was a Roman Catholic)? Anglicanism? Christianity?

I would have thought that parliament, at least in this country, had to make no distinctions between religions, true or less true, shouldn’t be praying for one over the other, and certainly had no right to be maintaining some and not others.

And then there are those Kiwis who would think that putting together “true” and “religion” creates an oxymoron!

The newer prayer can, at least, be said “Amen” to by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Bahais, and others. But what about atheists and agnostics?

The NZ Anglican Prayer Book has examples of prayers that Christians say “Amen” to (in fact Anglican Church licence holders, like me, vow and sign up to the prayers in that book). And others (from other faith positions, and including atheists and agnostics) can use them with integrity as well. They might form a model for a way forward, Mr Mallard. And remember: there’s nothing to prevent using a different prayer on different days.

The first example I present is by an Anglican priest, Jim Cotter (page 162):

For the hungry and the overfed
May we have enough.

For the mourners and the mockers
May we laugh together.

For the victims and the oppressors
May we share power wisely.

For the peacemakers and the warmongers
May clear truth and stern love lead us to harmony.

For the silenced and the propagandists
May we speak our own words in truth.

For the unemployed and the overworked
May our impress on the earth be kindly and creative.

For the troubled and the sleek
May we live together as wounded healers.

For the homeless and the cosseted
May our homes be simple, warm and welcoming.

For the vibrant and the dying
May we all die to live.

My second example is from the Buddhist Thick Nhat Hahn (page 164):

Let us be at peace within ourselves.

Silence

Let us accept that we are profoundly loved
and need never be afraid.

Silence

Let us be aware of the source of being
that is common to us all
and to all living creatures.

Silence

Let us be filled with the presence of the great compassion
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.

Silence

Realising that we are all nourished
from the same source of life,
may we so live that others be not deprived
of air, food, water, shelter, or the chance to live.

Silence

Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
a cause of suffering to one another.

Silence

With humility let us pray for the establishment
of peace in our hearts and on earth.

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9 Responses to Prayer in Parliament

    • Thanks, Peter. The one-minute-silence tradition fits inclusively into many contexts. It could be a great, inclusive way to begin each day in parliament. But it would need a change in the Standing Orders. Blessings.

  1. I too balked at “the maintenance of true religion”.

    But on reflection, I think the new prayer, your suggested prayers, and this from Catholic/Buddhist dialogue, do point to “true religion”.

    https://zenit.org/articles/taiwan-vatican-at-the-sixth-buddhist-christian-colloquium/

    There are times in which the secular state has pointed the way to true religion better than the Churches. Perhaps yesterday’s vote in Australia was one of them ?

    Many Blessings

    • Amen! Chris.

      I regularly think that God is not aligned with places where God’s name may be used frequently, and God may be profoundly present in places where God’s name is never heard.

      Blessings.

  2. Trevor Mallard’s prayer seems agreeable to all the Deists and Theists. And, if there must be a prayer, this one would do the job. And, as the standing order 62 assumes deism, either it should be followed, or altogether dropped.

    As for the wishful non-prayer sentences, what are they good for? I wouldn’t spend my time on silence or wishful thinking.

    This reminds me a thing. There used to be in Brussels an annual “ecumenical Mass”, for a particular event. A couple of years ago, some militant atheists complained about it, saying that it was uncomfortable for Muslims and Buddhists to take part in the event. So the next year, the Eucharist was replaced with a “service of reflection”, made by Christians, attended by Christians, with no Muslims or Buddhists present, and with an awkward “dance of the Sun” in which most of us have refused to take part.

    So, if there are regular atheists in parliament, a short prayer addressed to “none” may or may not be harmful. If it is, drop any prayer. If it is not, take the Theist/Deist prayer. The most holy Trinity will know to be the only valid receptacle thereof.

  3. The prayers of secular governments make little sense to me. If they believe in a god and want his blessings, they should seek out the help of that god in prayer. If, however, they don’t believe in a god, they shouldn’t bother pretending that they do. The idea of offering a prayer that is acceptable to every god when the gods are mutually exclusive of one another irrational, and cannot genuinely satisfy the religious convictions of any of them. If the prayer is not offered for the sake of genuine religious conviction, we are left to conclude that they offer it only as a show to impress on a watching individual in the public that his religion is supported in the legislature, whether it actually is or not.

    • Thanks, Uriah. Whether every god is mutually exclusive is a worthy philosophical debate. I did notice that the Standing Order has that the prayer is read to the House rather than, as one might expect, to God. Blessings.

  4. Perhaps the responsibility is for us who acknowledge Jesus as creator and Lord of all – the spirit world and material world – to pray in his name for the well-functioning of parliament!

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