Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Lord's Prayer

Twitter users will know that the Twitter interface continuously displays the top 10 trending topics at any moment in time. It's simply a matter of which 10 phrases are most rapidly being adopted by the mass of Twitter users, and is usually dominated by a combination of the current news headlines, what's on telly, and whatever silly word games have been set in motion by minor celebs that day.

But on Friday, we were all treated to the sight of "The Lord's Prayer" registering as one of the top 10 UK trends. What prompted this apparent revival? It was Archbishop Rowan, who had opined, in response to a question from BBC Newsround, that he thought it would be quite good if the Lord's Prayer was re-introduced in schools.

I wonder what people think about the idea. The loss of the Lord's Prayer from the collective memory of the nation is, or is a symptom of (not sure which), a massive shift in the cultural landscape of this country. I was probably one of the last generation to be taught the prayer at school. Now only church schools will do this, and probably not universally.  As a minister this makes things a little difficult at weddings, funerals, etc. Until now, whatever difficulties you might face in getting the message across to a congregation, there's always been the Lord's Prayer as a point of contact that everyone can engage with, and perhaps by grace, experience a moment of prayerfulness. Increasingly, though, that last point of shared spirituality is fading away.

On the other hand, I guess that for many, the memorisation of the Our Father represents all that was wrong with a stultifying mid-20th century drab and compulsory Anglicanism. How many thousands associate it in their minds with the most dull and forgettable moments of childhood? Even the ancient phrases, which once soothed the minds of the English, came to be associated with boredom and irrelevance (for which reason we always use the "modern" version in our Sunday worship at Kea, even though it lacks the poetry of the older one). That kind of enforced religion can only have been damaging to Christianity in this country.

So what would it be like if we tried to bring back the learning of the Lord's Prayer? Of course we're unlikely to find out. And also of course, that's not what the Archbish. was actually suggesting.  What he wants is for children not to learn the Prayer by heart, but to learn what it's about.

Now there's a thought. Because a lot of modern RE doesn't seem much more exciting than the old rote learning sessions. Worksheets saying "name 3 special customs practised by Christians"? How dull, and just as likely to inoculate the modern child against a real understanding of spirituality. But ..  explain to children that Jesus taught us to call God Father. Introduce them to the idea of giving thanks daily. Think about what it takes to forgive and be forgiven. Understand that Christian prayer means saying to God "your will be done". If that was happening in schools, then there would be some real points of contact, and a lot for those children to engage with when they end up in a baptism or a funeral.

I hope we get another Archbishop who can make the top 10 trends on Twitter, But I especially hope he can still generate ideas as brilliantly simple as this.

3 comments:

Simon said...

When I was ordained in 1998 I recall most people attending weddings and funerals would join in confidently with the Lord's Prayer - it was part of their spiritual/mental furniture (acquired/inbibed one way or another).
Over the last 14 years I've noticed that people know it less well and now here in NZ - a more secular society than the UK - the vast majority neither know it or join in. It doesn't help that the Anglican Church in NZ has for the past 25+ years been saying "save us from the time of trial", which continues to trip me up after nearly 2 years here.

GrahamB said...

Couldn't agree more, Charlie. Some years ago we had a couple of sermons on the structure of the Lord's Prayer - and of course Prof. Barclay has a book on it in his Plain Man series.

It used to be the one thing you could rely on non-churchgoers knowing when they came to a service. A while back I preached at Kea when we had a Norwegian choir with us, and I announced the Lord's Prayer, any version in any language, and we all finished precisely together - one of those magical moments you remember.

A small personal plea - sometimes people introduce it using a phrase like "let's say the prayer that Jesus taught us"; great if you're in the know, but a barrier if you don't twig it's the Lord's Prayer we're talking about.

MisterDavid said...

Thought I would contribute this (as, I guess, an example of the Lord's Prayer when used outside of the expected context).

It's David Bowie:
http://youtu.be/ANQspcmfhJU