handsWe have, I hope, dealt with the misunderstanding that common prayer = inflexibility.

Common prayer has at least two dimensions. A gathered community prays together – that is common prayer. A second dimension is that the community is bigger than the particular gathering.

This post is not about common prayer in its descriptive sense (eg. saying “Lift up your hearts”, responding “We lift them to the Lord” is how Christians invite each other to pray). This post is reflecting on the value of what is prescriptive in common prayer.

Here’s some reasons for common prayer; add your own; disagree with mine…:

  • Common prayer is a group (two or more) praying together. Hello! It doesn’t work if you don’t pray in agreement with each other. Together. (Duh!)
  • Agreed common prayer protects/empowers/(choose your word) laity/the “congregation”. In abandoning common prayer one is in danger of everything being controlled by/at the whim of clergy/leadership. I’ve been at services (I suspect some/many others reading this have also) where the service is on a screen, and I have suddenly (for example) been confronted with a “creedal statement” that I am expected to affirm aloud with the others gathered there. I’ve never even seen this “creed” before! [Fascinating to me, not wanting to restart the now-defunct Anglican “Covenant” discussion, is that the case springs to mind was in the context of a priest speaking very strongly in favour of the “Covenant”, not noticing that the “Covenant” included strong points about creeds and common prayer!] As a priest, I don’t want to arrive as part of leadership of a service to suddenly find I am declaring a lot of stuff I have no real agreement with.
  • Common prayer means people can prepare for a service. We know what the readings will be this Sunday when the community meets. We can meet in small groups to reflect on and pray about the readings. We can reflect on and pray about them individually.
  • Common prayer means we are deepening our own prayer. Yes, repetition can mean stuff wears thin; but for most human activities repetition is about deepening.
  • Common prayer has a history of deepening relationship with this material. We are saying the same prayers (etc) all the way back to Jesus and centuries back into our Jewish roots. There is, year by year, week by week, a deepening relationship I have with this material. It is increasingly “by heart”.
  • Common prayer is about shared spiritual disciplines.
  • Common prayer crosses denominational boundaries. One of the most astonishing movements of the Spirit (far too taken for granted!) is lectionary agreement. People (can) meet ignoring denominational lines to reflect on the shared choices of the scriptures. Clergy and preachers can prepare together. There are books and websites providing musical resources, exegesis, prayers, sermon ideas, images – connected to the lectionary; across denominations.

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