The power of prayer is being neutered in the UK. Since the pandemic, studies have found an apparent and vital openness to spirituality. A study commissioned in May 2020 (source: The Guardian) found that one in 20 adults 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 isn’t ‘just a COVID thing’. Since the pandemic, churches are being flooded with newcomers and a recent Savanta ComRes survey found over 50% of 18-34 year olds now pray regularly, with 36% attending church or taking part in a service – whether online or offline – at least once a month.
These statistics were challenged widely by the press. Alongside this scepticism towards an apparent spiritual renewal, social media algorithms and the woke bandwagon have aimed to diminish 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 expect God to answer? ‘Praying’ has become shorthand for showing solidarity in trying circumstances, rarely translated to an earnest seeking of our Creator for help. There has been a significant cultural shift that we have seen in this generation, moving from the appreciation of God at work to the denial of any possibility of divine intervention.
Yet throughout history and 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, or has political correctness – and latterly woke culture – cancelled the power of 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 under torrential Nazi fire toward the beaches of Dunkirk, 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. Then came the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ and 330,000 were saved. On 9th June the nation returned to church to thank God for His work. 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 power of prayer that contributed to the miracle of Dunkirk has been removed from our national consciousness, and downgraded to an account of extraordinary human effort, which, though worthy of major appreciation, should not be viewed in isolation.
For Christians, faith is fuelled when we share and celebrate the things Jesus has done in our lives. Being on a 17-year journey to collect one million of these stories 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. 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. In particular, Christians seem to be singled out as the naughty religious children who should be seen and not heard.
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 onto the importance prayer has had to our national identity, and the positive impact the Church has had on our society – especially in the last 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, we’ve got to be bold in sharing the spiritual power of prayer. If younger generations are exploring faith and prayer, it shouldn’t be a matter of debate, but should be encouraged, embraced and an example for all of us.
RICHARD GAMBLE co-founded a software business and a marketing consultancy. With a keen love of football, he became CEO of Sports Chaplaincy UK, and was former chaplain of Leicester City Football Club. Richard lives in Leicestershire and is married with three children. For more information and to contribute, please go to crowdfunder.co.uk/eternalwall
Written by: Richard Gamble