Durrington Community Church, Wiltshire

Changing the culture through prayer

If you ever feel Christianity is being marginalised in an increasingly secular culture then take encouragement from Rural Ministries Partner Durrington Community Church. Leader Andy Lund takes up the story.

Someone once defined culture as “the way we do things around here”. I like that and at the same time I find it a challenge. Increasingly, it seems, in our society in the western world the way we do things is to leave God out of the equation and far from our everyday lives.

There was a time not so long ago that it would have been routine to start all public meetings with prayer or a short act of worship. That is no longer the case and can land us in all kinds of trouble, if attempted. A year or so ago, I read an article about a local council having re-introduced prayers to council meetings and I was encouraged by that - especially as the council in question was in the Devon town where I had spent much of my youth and met my wife. As a member of our Town Council I felt a personal challenge too.

But would it work elsewhere? As a church leader in our village I had mooted some time ago the possibility of starting a Prayer for Schools prayer meeting at our local infant school. I am on the governing body of the school and the Head welcomed the idea. This has now been running for some considerable time with two meetings per term. The Head puts in information for the prayer time and we have prayed for all manner of things such as the transition to a multi academy trust, children starting school, staff illnesses, new family members and finances. Initially the meetings attracted a few people from the churches in our village but as time has gone by we have seen the figures grow to double figures with staff, parents and local residents attending. It has not been seen as odd to want to pray for our local school. (On the governing body whilst prayer had previously been on the agenda, it took a change of Head to ensure it really happened.)

It is one thing, and maybe not such a challenge, to propose prayer in what is after all a Church of England school but could prayer be introduced into other aspects of village life? Because of this encouragement at the school, I felt last year that it might be good to at least broach the subject of prayer at the Council level.

I have a friend, who is a County Councillor and a Christian and I sought her advice about how to proceed. The advice was very simple -“Andy, pray a lot about it!”. I prayed and asked for the subject to be a discussion topic at a Council meeting. It was scheduled and the discussion took place and councillors were able to air their views and any objections they had. Some felt that it was inappropriate as “religion is a private thing”. I had intended to “lobby” various councillors when I saw them around but in the event I only got to speak to a few.

At a subsequent Council meeting the issue was scheduled for discussion and at the end of the discussion a vote was taken. The vote was 4 in favour and 4 against with a number of abstentions. With an outcome like this, the Chair of the Council is expected to have a casting vote. She refused to take this option and the matter was put to the Council again for a revote - thanks to the intervention of a councillor who was wise in the ways of procedures. This time it was carried 5 to 4. Since that time prayer has begun all our full Council meetings.

What did come as a surprise was when I was sent the agenda for a sub-committee of the Council considering the future of our community and a village plan. That also was scheduled to start in prayer. This sub-committee has a mixture of councillors and residents and two of our Community Church had been encouraged to sit on the group. So now we have a choice of three Christians who can bring the affairs of that committee before the Lord at the beginning of each meeting.

It was important that the prayer at the beginning of meetings didn’t become overlong or anything other than prayer. This meant that councillors have become used to it in a very short space of time. It also means that the prediction of councillors staying away until the coast was clear and prayer had taken place has never come to pass. When an ex-councillor died I was asked to lead the entire council in a prayer and time of silence.

It has been important to accept good natured banter about our faith such as the comment at a recent Council skittles match that I had an unfair advantage, having God on my side! It is not a huge step forward for the kingdom but there has been a culture change in the way we do things around here and for the Christians in our village, it is important to continue to seek to bring God into the everyday life of its residents.