Has prayer been cancelled?

The power of prayer is being neutered in the UK. Since the pandemic, studies have found an apparent and vital openness to spirituality in our country.

A study commissioned in May 2020 – just two months after the UK’s first lockdown – found that a quarter of adults in the UK had watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown began, and 1 in 20 had started praying.

The Church of England also received 6,000 phone calls to a prayer hotline in its first 48 hours of operation in the same month. And it’s not just a ‘Covid thing’, a recent Savanta ComRes survey found over 50 per cent of 18-34 year olds now pray regularly, with 36 per cent attending church or take part in a service – whether online or offline – at least once a month.

These statistics were challenged widely by the press, with many speculating around the methodology of the survey, and some even quoting a ‘non-existent religious revival’ was being reported.

Alongside this scepticism towards an apparent spiritual renewal, social media algorithms and the woke bandwagon have aimed to diminish Christian prayer to something that is irrelevant and even impotent, an activity that is hidden and shameful.

Many now perceive prayer as an activity of last resort with no expected outcome – other than a self-serving sense that we are doing what we can in times when we feel powerless. As our prime minister contracted Covid last year, the newspapers ran the headlines “Pray for Boris” but did anyone actually expect God to answer?

And if he did was anyone grateful?  Despite all the prayers and social media trends, I heard few voices of thanks to the God who answered. ‘Praying’ has become shorthand, for showing solidarity in trying circumstances – but when Christians actually want to speak and share the power of prayer, it’s cancelled, and quickly.

Yet throughout history and even in the current generation, hundreds of thousands testify to prayer as the most intimate, meaningful and powerful activity in their lives, believing that God listens and acts. So how have we got here?

Has society simply grown up and moved away from what author Jerry Coyne labels “the most widespread and harmful form of superstition”, or has political correctness and latterly woke culture cancelled prayer?  It was not always like this.

On 23rd May 1940, His Majesty King George VI announced a National Day of Prayer the following Sunday. As British, Canadian and French soldiers fled fleeing under torrential Nazi fire toward Dunkirk beach, the King of England asked the nation to ‘turn as our fathers before us have turned in times of trial to the God Most High.’

Over a million people visited churches across the nation and prayed for the boys on the beaches. Churchill’s advisers indicated only 30,000 would be rescued – then came the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ and 330,000 were saved. On the 9th June the nation returned to church to thank God for his work. Yet in Christopher Nolan’s Hollywood blockbuster Dunkirk, this narrative was omitted.

The bizarre strategic decisions, meteorological improbabilities and physical miracles that led to the preservation of so many lives has been erased from populist history.

The national solidarity in prayer that contributed to the miracle of Dunkirk has been removed from our consciousness and downgraded to an account of extraordinary human effort, which though worthy of major appreciation, should not be viewed in isolation.

A recent survey found that 29% of those aged 18 to 34 prayed for Boris Johnson when he was seriously ill with Covid-19, and 37% of 18 to 34-year-olds agreed prayer had a positive role in modern British society.

Sessions in both the House of Commons and Lords open with a prayer spoken by the Speaker’s chaplain or senior bishop (lord spiritual) respectively. The form of the main prayer is as follows:

“Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen.”

If the true hope of Her Majesty’s Government is that while in session they want to see God’s name be hallowed, why then does any MP who expresses an intimate and deep faith in the Christian God, receive opposition, mockery and questions over the perceived conflicting motivation to both serving their constituents or party and their God.

Yet, the faith and Hindu prayers of Rishi Sunak for Boris were revered as a great example of society’s openness to religious freedom in this country.

Being on a 17 year journey to collect one million stories of prayer being answered for a piece of public art called the Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer – a sculpture which hopes to preserve the power of prayer by being built out of one million bricks, each representing an answered prayer – I have discovered the Christian church on mute.

Stories are, at best, whispered not proclaimed. As Christians in Afghanistan are hiding for their lives under the Taliban regime, Christians in the UK are hiding for their livelihoods as wokery embeds itself in the legal and political machines.

Christians working in the political, health, education and entertainment sectors cannot say what they believe for fear of being cancelled, and offering to pray for people, outside the aforementioned anaemic version, would risk their job and their families.

Since when was religious freedom for those other than the Christian faith? In particular, Christians seem to be singled out as the naughty religious children who should be seen and not heard. Authorities are happy to receive the billion pound plus input of good works the church provides each year to the national life of the UK.

Yet low betide those same Christians if they actually talk about the love that inspires them, the spiritual power of prayer that strengthens them.

Sure, the fearful majority are not shouting about it but secretly the belief in the power of prayer remains. While we are growing into a more diverse nation, we must hold fast to the importance prayer has had to our national identity, and the positive impact the church has on our society – especially in this past year.

Our nation has a rich heritage embedded in Christian prayer and while many will take the viewpoint that prayer is merely a false hope, a comfort blanket when you can do nothing more – but we need to recognise the increased spiritual awareness our nation is currently experiencing.

If younger generations are exploring faith and prayer, it shouldn’t be a matter of debate, but should be encouraged and embraced. Those who are Gen-Zers and Gen-Alphas will be our future politicians and influencers of society – we cannot immediately cancel them for the expression of hope in Christian prayer.