Day of prayer and fasting

I imagine most of us have been shocked by the events of the last few days. We find it hard to believe that there are still people in our continent, which suffered so much less than 80 years ago, who seem to think that war is something to be entered into lightly and that an attack on a peaceful, free country is an acceptable means of achieving political goals. We watch the news and grieve with those we see fleeing in confusion and fear, and those who have lost loved ones. And possibly you feel the same helplessness I feel.

There is much that we can do. We can support our leaders’ attempts to change Vladimir Putin’s mind through sanctions, even though it will cost us financially. We can send money to charities caring for the suffering. We can encourage our local politicians to be welcoming to refugees.

But more than anything we can pray. We can ask God to bring about peace and justice, to calm fears, strengthen tired hands and heal the wounded and to help leaders see paths of reconciliation and cooperation rather than hatred and destruction. Only when hearts are changed will lasting peace be possible.

We do not ask because we are better than others; we all know that is not true. We come because we know that God desires a world of justice and peace, and so do we.

Pope Francis has encouraged us to set aside this Ash Wednesday (2nd March 2022) as a day of prayer and fasting. To humble ourselves before God. To acknowledge that we all need his help to pursue righteousness and peace. And to plead with him to have mercy on our world, not just on our neighbours in the Ukraine and Russia.

Fasting is simply the act of showing how seriously we care by choosing voluntarily to deny ourselves a meal or two. It also provides us with more time in our busy schedules to pray. It doesn’t force God to act, but it is good for us to be a little more serious than simply giving five seconds’ thought to others’ suffering.

There won’t be any extra services across the Benefice, but the usual Ash Wednesday service (at All Saints, Yatesbury at 1pm) will include a time of prayer for Ukraine and Russia.

If you don’t know what to say, that doesn’t matter. Say whatever you like to God – he doesn’t need fancy words. However, please feel free to use the following is it helps:

Almighty God,
from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed:
kindle, we pray, in the hearts of all, the true love of peace
and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who take counsel for the nations of the earth
that in tranquillity your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Praying through Lockdown 2

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called us as a Church of England to make this month of November a month of prayer for our nation.

Some of us might want to do this because we have more time on our hands. Others might choose to pray because they know that bringing our worries to God helps lighten our load.

All of us will hopefully choose to pray because we are called to love the people amongst whom we live – not just our friends and family – and because we know that by doing so, we are actively making a difference. Yes, we are called to show love in practical ways wherever we can, but prayer is not a second best.

So let me encourage you to join me in accepting this call. The set prayers are available here (or as larger print here), and take just 2 or 3 minutes to pray. Of course, you can pray much longer, including specific people and situations in your prayers, but if you are not used to praying, I think that this is a great start.

The suggestion is that we pray at 6pm, and it is useful to know that thousands of others will be praying at the same time as you. But if 6pm doesn’t suit the pattern in your house, pick another time that does.

Assuring you of my prayers during these next 4 weeks and on into Christmas


PS – you can find more information about this initiative, along with lots of helpful resources to support you through this time, at the Church of England website here.