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F Prayers

Stories from the four churches

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At St Ann's one of the church leaders comes forward to lead the intercessions, and asks the congregation to mention things to pray for. A series of people say 'Can we pray for . . .', usually mentioning things of a fairly personal and practical nature. The leader fits this list of requests into the litany prepared before the service. From the intercession that follows, it is clear that the leader has been awake during the notices and sermon. Both the sermon and the Bible reading on which it was based are clearly reflected in the prayers. St Ann's have tried other variations for the intercessions, and at the all-age service these are sometimes led by a family together (using the microphone for all of them). Once or twice for a special occasion they have used visuals - photographs, video clips and drawings (but with few words) on the data projector - inviting people to have their eyes open as they pray. Occasionally they pray in small groups, which they find a good way of including children in the intercessions. Some have suggested using extempore prayer with the whole congregation free to join in, but the severe difficulties with audibility have ruled this out.

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A small group from St Bartholomew's went to a deanery course on praying in public and in private, and came back with a checklist of do's and don'ts (see pages 173-174). Intercessions at Evensong, where the congregation is small, are usually led by the preacher, who can most easily relate the contents of the prayers to the sermon. Recently in the mornings they have been following a pattern using traditional collects, each introduced
with a bidding from a different person, followed by silence before the collect. Today, the intercession is based on the Lord's Prayer (in its traditional form), with a pause after each petition, into which another person (with a contrasting voice) inserts appropriate intercessions relating to the petition. Next week they are going to do the same sort of thing with the lesser litany in Evening Prayer. Some of the topics come from the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, so that they get a wider - and international - view of the Church. Since going on the deanery course they have adopted the practice of the intercession leader joining the preacher and whoever is leading the worship in the vestry for prayer before the service.

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As you enter St Christopher's today, there are display boards with some posters, newspaper cuttings and pictures which indicate the theme and some of the contents of the intercession. The person leading the intercessions is well prepared, and has arrived in time to look at the requests for prayer pinned on the board by the votive candle stand, and decide how many of these can be included within the Sunday intercessions - not all are suitable! The prayers are led from the centre of the church, among the people. The standard form of response to the intercessions, from New Patterns for Worship, is sung to a Taizé-style chant. The congregation picks up the note and hums it while the intercession leader continues to the next response. This didn't work very well the first time they tried it, but they soon got used to it.

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At St Dodo's, the person leading the intercessions says 'Let us pray', but hasn't found the right text, so we hear the pages of New Patterns for Worship turning during the ensuing silence. He begins the responsive intercession for Creation, which unfortunately fits neither the readings nor the mood of the congregation. He forgets to rehearse the response at the start and so has to stop at the first break and say 'When I say … you should say …' in a voice which implies that the congregation should have known this all along. He keeps switching between addressing God and addressing the congregation throughout the prayers: 'We really ought to pray for Ann ('Who is she?' half the congregation wonder) especially today because …' - and more of his views of the circumstances of members of the community follow.


Constructing prayers of intercession

The standard Common Worship pattern, both in Order One and in Order Two (Contemporary), provides a helpful outline covering five areas:

The prayers usually include these concerns and may follow this sequence:
* The Church of Christ
* Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority
* The local community
* Those who suffer
* The communion of saints

As Note 15 to Common Worship Holy Communion says, 'Several forms of intercession are provided' (pages 281-287 in Common Worship), but 'other suitable forms may be used.They need not always conform to the sequence indicated.' The forms of intercession in this section are designed as further alternatives to the options in Common Worship, and are also intended as models for those constructing their own prayers. It may help to note the pattern for the response most commonly used here, which is designed to help the congregation to know when to make their response, without needing to have the full text of the prayers in front of them.Two things are of particular help to a congregation:
* First, making the response unvarying, short and memorable, introduced each timewith the same 'cue line'.
* Second, taking care over how the response and its cue line are introduced to the congregation at the beginning of the prayers. This may be done by saying 'Each section of the prayer concludes [the words of the cue], and the response is [the words of the response].' For example:

Each section of the prayer concludes 'Lord in your mercy,' and the response
is 'hear our prayer':

We pray for all people everywhere.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

Another perfectly acceptable way of constructing the prayers is to use a series of short prayers or biddings, followed by silence and one of the congregational endings.

A variety of patterns can be used, for example:
* bidding - silence - collect or own prayer
* bidding - set words of one of the litanies - silence - response
* series of biddings with silences - longer prayer such as that on page 282 of Common Worship.

Whatever pattern is used should be used throughout the Prayers of Intercession. It is important to keep the distinction between biddings (addressed to the congregation) and prayer (addressed directly to God and not referring to him in the third person)and not to slide from one to the other without realizing it.

Other points to note:
* In planning the prayers section of A Service of the Word, remember that the outline requires that the service should include thanksgiving (and the Lord's Prayer) as well as intercession. Suitable material is provided in Resource Section G on pages 234-257.
* In some circumstances it may be appropriate for the president to say both the opening invitation and the concluding words such as the collect or other endings.

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St Bartholomew's checklist: how to lead the prayers

* DO read the readings. Sometimes they might be used as a basis for prayer ('Father, thank you for . . . [what the verse says]; now please help us to . . . ).
* DO discover the main theme of the service: is it based on the readings, the season or
day? Ask the preacher if there is something specific to pray for if the prayers follow the preaching.
* DO find out about particular needs, who is ill or what church meetings or organizations need prayer this week.Watch the news, and vary the way in which international topics are prayed for; DON'T be out of date! But remember also the need for balance and breadth. As Note 15 to Common Worship Holy Communion says, 'the prayers of intercession are normally broadly based, expressing a concern for the whole of God's world and the ministry of the whole Church'.
* DO be aware of special events like baptisms or when there are large numbers of children or the Town Council present. DON'T focus on them (for example, a group of bereaved people the week after a funeral) in a way which will embarrass them.
* DO remember what was prayed for last week: should there be thanksgiving for
prayer being answered? What other thanksgiving should there be? Again, as Note 15
says, 'intercession frequently arises out of thanksgiving'.
* DO decide what pattern of intercessions will be best, given what has been discovered and the pattern of the rest of the service (see the section on constructing the prayers of intercession on pages 172-173).
* DON'T cram so much in that you have to rush.
* DON'T forget about the need for silences, and how and whether to introduce them.
* DON'T preach at people ('We pray we may all give generously at Gift Day').
* DO pray the intercessions out loud before the service, especially if they are homegrown.
Watch the speed: will the congregation have time to pray, or be overwhelmed by the variety of images and topics? Will they know when to come in with theresponse? Is it short enough to remember? Look at the examples in this section.

Collects: stories from the four churches

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Today, St Ann's are using A Service of the Word with a Celebration of Holy Communion. They have seen that the rubric in the service shows that they can use the Collect as a summing up prayer which draws together the intercessions and thanksgivings before the service moves on into the Holy Communion. This means that it need not be particularly linked with the readings or the Liturgy of the Word.They have recently been printing it othe notice sheet, so that members of the church can use it at home during the week.

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Children in the church school at St Bartholomew's have been learning this week how to write collects.They have used a very simple formula (see page 176) which shows them how to take a verse of Scripture, thank God for something about himself and then pray for something connected with that aspect of God's character. The teacher hopes it will help them in making up their own prayers at home (and the vicar secretly thinks some of the adults would find this a help too!). He recently preached on the prayer of the believers in Acts 4.24-31, pointing out how many lines of the prayer were taken up with telling God how great he was and what he had done, using that as the reason why God should take notice of their request, which was to result in 'wonders and miracles … through the name of Jesus'. Compare this with the pattern in the 'Collect construction' section on page 176. Four of the children's collects are going to be used in the worship this month.

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The vicar and Reader at St Christopher's have been particularly struck recently by how good some of the BCP Collects still sound.They have been using them in less formal settings, in small groups and to open or close meetings, following the pattern: 'Let us pray (for …)' - silence - collect.They have also used them, where they fit the theme or season of the year, before the final prayer at the Eucharist. The congregation already know three
alternative post-communion prayers by heart, so that they can join in from the first phrase of the prayer.

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At St Dodo's, the vicar announces the Collect on page 498 of Common Worship as if he intends people to join in with him. He realizes with dismay that this is the traditional version and he had intended to use the modern version. There is quite a silence before the Collect (which is unusual for them) as he gets almost to the right page but then, despite blowing hard at the pages to try to separate them, he gives up the struggle and prays the Collect one page earlier instead, which one or two remember from last week. He also announces that as it is 'St William Tyndale's day' tomorrow, he is going to pray that prayer too. There is another suitably long silence while he fumbles for the page in another book. The congregation are left with the impression that the Collect is just a bit of mumbo jumbo to be got through, rather than contributing to the movement of the worship.

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Collect construction


    Ash Wednesday
Address: Almighty and everlasting God,
  God, you are … you hate nothing that you have made
  you say … and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
  you do … / have done …  
Petition or request: create and make in us new and contrite hearts
  Therefore, Lord, please …  
Result or reason: that we, worthily lamenting our sins
  So that ... and acknowledging our wretchedness,
    may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
    perfect remission and forgiveness;
Ending: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,


Guidelines on language

These guidelines may help those writing their own material, for collects or intercessions for example, to be on the same level of language as the new writing in New Patterns.

* Use concrete visual images rather than language which is conceptual and full of ideas.
* Avoid complicated sentence constructions.
* If there is a choice, prefer the word with fewer syllables.
* Address God as 'you'.
* Keep sentences as short as possible. Use full stops rather than semicolons.
* Use language which includes women as well as men, black as well as white.
* Watch the rhythm. The language should be rhythmic and flow easily, but take care not to have a repetitive 'dum-de-dum'.
* Liturgical language should not be stark or empty. It is not wrong to repeat ideas or say the same thing twice in different words. Cranmer recognized that people need time and repetition to make the liturgy their own: we need to do it without a string of dependent clauses.
* Be prepared to throw it away after using it, and to do it differently next time.

Notes to the resources

This section includes:
* Responses for use in prayers of intercession;
* Alternative endings for the intercessions;
* Introductions for the Lord's Prayer;
* Responsive forms of intercession and litanies.

The forms of intercession in this section may replace the intercessions in the Holy Communion, or be used in the prayer section of A Service of the Word, or after the third collect in Morning or Evening Prayer (The Book of Common Prayer) or after the Creed in Morning or Evening Prayer on Sundays.They may also be used at eucharistic or non-eucharistic services on weekdays.

Texts for this section


The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, 2000-2004
All of the official Common Worship publications are being published by Church House Publishing.