Schools, charities, chaplaincies from universities and workplaces, and churches from across the spectrum of denominations were all represented; and with each reflecting something of their own tradition and style of prayer, we experienced the church in all its beautiful diversity. Together we prayed in words and in images, in stillness and in movement, in words and in silence, and often in music. We sang hymns passed down through generations and contemporary songs, we clapped to lively African tunes and were drawn into silence by reflective chants. Many of those present had the opportunity both to engage with the familiar and the reassuring but also to step out of our comfort zones to meet with others whose way of praying was a new experience. The number of people who were present ebbed and flowed throughout the event, but this was never about numbers anyway. It was always about providing a space of prayer that could bring grace and blessing.
For me, the 24 hours of prayer stands as a witness to the possibility of unity with our Christian brothers and sisters from different traditions and hopefully serves to bring that vision of Christ, that all may be one, a little closer to being within our reach. But while part of the purpose of the event was to celebrate and contribute to Christian Unity, the theme that was chosen, “All Are Welcome” spoke too of a much wider message. It was a recognition that Christ’s call that “all may be one” is not just an end in itself, but rather enables the church to witness to God’s love for all the world. The 24 hours of prayer was part of that witness: offering a prayer which reached out and encompassed the whole of our city and our world: in all its joys and all its suffering; all its beauty and all its complexity, in all that it is and all it can be.
Helping to organise the 24 hours of prayer is quite a significant undertaking. In amongst everything else that occupies my energies, there were moments when I wondered if my involvement with it might now have run its course. Almost before the day had started, and certainly as it reached its conclusion, those thoughts had evaporated. By the end of the 24 hours, I felt uplifted and inspired and ready to look ahead to next year's event. If this is such a meaningful interlude in my calendar, something into which I have willingly poured a lot of time and energy, I think the reason is very simply this: it is an opportunity to be upheld and supported in my belief that prayer really matters.
For all the very different expressions of it; everyone who took part did so in the firm belief that prayer has real value. Value which is tangible even if it is indefinable. This is something I cling to at the core of my being. It is the very foundation of the life we have chosen to live here at Carrs Lane. But sometimes it can be a lonely place to be. By its very nature prayer does not have the concrete visible outcomes that are inherent to other aspects of our life and work. By its very nature it is deeply personal and often indescribable. By its very nature, prayer whispers, it does not shout. Even in the churches, let alone wider society, it feels like prayer can be all too often squeezed out by all those other 'good things' which place their demands on our energies. As we have tried to established our community life here, we have attempted to recentre our lives around a routine of prayer. Sometimes that is in itself enough. Sometimes it is good to be reminded we are not alone.