Back to … What?


This post is based on what I put together for our online workplace prayer meeting at the end of August.  It is based around verses from a well known hymn by Jan Struther – if you don’t know the tune you can easily find performances on Youtube.

September is always a time of new beginnings, especially for those in education.  This year, adults too are having to make adjustments, whether it’s to the “new normal” at work, or different ways of being church, or having to cope with redundancy. So this is a chance to pray for all those facing new challenges, as well as for ourselves.  We start by remembering that whatever a new day (or new term, or new job or lack of) brings, God will be with us.

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy:
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.

Back to work

Few jobs will be unaffected by the requirements of the post-Covid world whether it is working from home, serving customers in a socially distanced way or delivering online courses and meetings instead of being face-to-face.  Personally I am just finishing part-time furlough, having previously been on full time furlough for two periods totalling eight weeks earlier in the year.  But I’m only back in the office one day a week to begin with, sat too far from any co-workers to have conversations during the working day and unable as yet to have ‘real’ meetings.   Others such as schoolteachers will have to return to work full time but with the additional responsibility of ensuring the safety of their students.

Whatever your working arrangements, I hope that this prayer that I found online (credited to “Fowiso”) will help you as much as it has helped me these past weeks as I enter the small space that is my home office.

My Heavenly father, as I enter this workplace I bring your presence with me. I speak your peace, your grace, your mercy, and your perfect order in this office. I acknowledge your power over all that will be spoken, thought, decided, and done within these walls.

Lord, I thank you for the gifts you have blessed me with. I commit to using them responsibly in your honour. Give me a fresh supply of strength to do my job. Anoint my projects, ideas, and energy so that even my smallest accomplishment may bring you glory.

The hymn reminds us that God is with us in action as well as stillness:

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe:
Be there at our labours, and give us, we pray,
your strength in our hearts, Lord, at the noon of the day.

Back to school

Pupils and students are going back to classrooms, but now in smaller bubbles, varied hours, having to keep social distance.  Many will have fallen behind in their education, and the lockdown has only increased the gap between those from well-off, well-educated families and those struggling with disadvantages.  Here is a prayer from the Church of England for those returning to school:

O God, the strength of our lives,
We pray for those who join a new school this term.
Make known your will for them,
help them to discover friends among strangers,
to meet opportunities and challenges eagerly,
and to do daily tasks in your name.
Give them strength to overcome worries,
and preserve them in your safe keeping,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

School has its challenges at the best of times – exams, bullying, subjects and sports that students don’t enjoy or feel they will never understand.  Coming back from school to a welcoming home is something that many of us remember enjoying at the end of a tough school day, but not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a supportive family.  Our heavenly father/mother, though, is always there to welcome, appreciate and comfort us.  Remember these young people as you sing or read the next verse of the hymn:

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
your hands swift to welcome, your arms to embrace:
Be there at our homing, and give us, we pray,
your love in our hearts, Lord, at the eve of the day.

Back to church

Church leaders and their congregations have been faced with the challenge of not worshipping together for the last six months. Some have had the resources to respond to this inventively with complex, interactive online worship. Others have made do with a simple recorded service led only by the minister and perhaps their family members from home.  And many smaller congregations haven’t even managed that, keeping in touch only with phone calls.  Many older people don’t have computers or smartphones and have been left out of online worship.

Here is a prayer from the Methodist church for those returning to church:

Dear Lord
We pray for your church in this time of uncertainty.
For those who are worried about attending worship.
For those needing to make decisions in order to care for others.
For those who will feel more isolated by not being able to attend.
Holy God, we remember that you have promised that nothing will
separate us from your love – demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ.
Help us turn our eyes, hearts and minds to you.

Back to justice

At a local level there have been many welcome initiatives during lockdown that bring people together to build community.  Around where I live, someone has set up a ‘Bramley Wombles’ group to  clear litter , while the ‘Bramley Tate’ group is painting vibrant street art to cheer people on their way. Others have been volunteering with food banks,  phoning people in isolation to offer help and emotional support, and so on.  But  while all this has been going on, many people have been concerned at the way the world is going.  This year, whether or not the pandemic has anything to do with it, we have also seen an increase in racism, hatred, violence of all kinds, and lies and scandals in politics.

At the same time climate change isn’t going away, and for all the good signs that more people are taking it seriously at an individual level, there seems to be a continuing lack of action by governments and corporations around the world who have the power and money to make a big difference.

When the world falls apart, people of all faiths call out on God to come to their aid. As Christians, we cannot forget that Jesus warned that things would get worse before he comes again to put everything right.  The following Bible reading reminds us that Jesus knew that his ‘good news’ would face resistance, and he encouraged his followers to concentrate on the people who welcomed his message.   Although Advent seems some way off yet, its refrain “Come, Lord Jesus” is one we can use at any time of year.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” ~(Luke 10:1-11, New Revised Standard Version)

And so we pray for God’s justice to come among us:

Living God,
deliver us from a world without justice
and a future without mercy;
in your mercy, establish justice,
and in your justice, remember the mercy
revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The last verse of the hymn encourages us to hand over all our problems and worries to God, especially at the end of the day.   “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”.  In the face of injustice, all we can do is our best, even if it seems very little, and trust God for the rest.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm:
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

May God bless your new day, your new term, your ‘new normal’.