Welcome to Faith and Worship.com which has been around for a few years now, albeit in different forms.
And for US visitors, can I assure you that I have no connection with a certain US society of the same name (this seems to be an issue with some folk)!
The following article, which appeared in the Spring 2013 editition of the CofE Reader magazine sort of explains why faithandworship.com is on the web!
The brief for this article was to share something about the origins and content of faithandworship.com, a prayer resource containing a growing collection of hundreds of ancient, traditional and contemporary prayers, the latter being self-penned.
From its creation over a decade ago, the web site now attracts not far short of a million visits per year, and feedback from as far afield as Alaska and Tasmania. It has helped a many ordinary church members who offered to lead prayers and then turned to Google for help, assisted a lot of church magazine editors looking for material to fill small gaps in their publications, and aided pastors looking for a bit of inspiration. It has led to a collection being translated into Swedish for publication, other writing opportunities and on a more personal level it has touched individual lives through specific prayers for healing or comfort.
Enough trumpet blowing! The important thing is that it started with one prayer.
In 1997, a lapsed Anglican, sometime Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian, I began training to become a Local Preacher within the Methodist Church as that was where God had led us as a family. Practical training of course involved service preparation and the choosing of appropriate prayers (not being tied to a specific prayer book or liturgy).
The choice was a simple one - I could use extemporary prayer, turn to collections of prayers, or I could write my own. Not feeling confident enough to pray ‘off the cuff’, and with less than fond memories of the ‘traditional’ Presbyterian opening prayer which can happily meander along for fifteen minutes in the hands of a true expert, I opted for the second but found that I wasn’t altogether happy with the books I had purchased. There were good prayers within them, but also many that didn’t speak as I do, and maybe didn’t excite or challenge me as they should.
So that left me the choice of writing my own.
Now in theory that shouldn’t have been a problem as I had been writing for pleasure for many years, even winning a national prize for poetry. But writing a poem is one thing, writing a prayer of adoration to God is quite another!
I see prayer in a very real sense as a conversation, because at the end of the day this is our chief means of communicating with the Almighty. But how does God like to be talked to?
As a sometime poet, I'm always drawn to the Bible and particularly the Psalms, those poetic masterpieces which have formed a centrepiece of our worship for generations. So much emotion packed into so few words. Praise, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, anger and frustration are all there, condensed at times into just a few words of raw emotion. They are given to us as examples of how folk such as King David poured out their praise and petitions, through good times and bad.
“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 17:6 NIV)
Being honest seems to have been the key, not being afraid to admit that they sometimes felt God had abandoned them, and left them in peril.
I also have an abiding interest in the prayers of the early Christian Church in Britain, generally known as Celtic Christianity. I love the way that the prayer life of these early saints extended into their everyday working environment, that they felt a closeness to both their God and that which surrounded them.
Lord, be with us this day,
Within us to purify us;
Above us to draw us up;
Beneath us to sustain us;
Before us to lead us;
Behind us to restrain us;
Around us to protect us.
I have no idea what the first prayer was that I wrote during my training, and if I’m honest then I suspect that it wasn’t that good. Like much of what we do creatively in life, the more we practice the better we get and the easier it becomes. The same is as true with writing as it is with playing a musical instrument.
One of the reasons I give for going down this route of self-penned prayers is that the person praying is able to take ownership of the words, express them in the way it was intended, but most of all pray from the heart. It is difficult sometimes with a prayer book liturgy written by committee to achieve the same level of connection with the words, theologically correct though they might be (and I speak as one who can still recite off by heart most of the Anglican liturgy for morning and evening prayer!)
A prayer must not remain on the page, but leave it and touch both reader and listener’s heart.
When faithandworship.com was hatched as an idea, the vision, if I could call it that was to bring together my joint interests of creative writing and Celtic Christianity, into a useful resource that others might possibly be able to use. The success of the site has been both a surprise and also a challenge, to keep writing!
Over subsequent years Bible studies and ebooks have been added and, more recently, some worship songs based upon prayers on the site, composed by a Canadian musician who found the web site and inspiration. The high visibility of the site on search engines has also led invitations to contribute to other publications, and more recently to write a three year cycle of prayers for the Lectionary readings (a total of 700 prayers, deadline twelve months!)
What keeps me going is the feedback which I receive, from individuals, clergy and organisations who have been able to make use of the resource. It is this feedback which has enabled me to look at the site less as a hobby and more as a real ministry. This feedback comes in many ways:
“One of your autumn poems was perfect for a photo of one of our windows.”
“Just stumbled across this site, seeking some prayers for a group prayer, praise and worship I am conducting shortly”
“I'll be using them in my daily prayers and have them printed for my fridge, for blessings at meals and teas”
“I used some of your prayers in the weekly devotional notes I write for the congregation.”
“I have copied several to include with cards... for three of us struggling with a long term health condition”
The Internet is a wonderful resource for preachers and leaders of worship. It is also a resource used by people on the fringes who are seeking knowledge, comfort, healing and inspiration. There is a responsibility on Christians who have the technical ability to connect with these people through the medium of their Internet browser. This is their window in the world, and believe me, the world would have them believe all manner of strange things.
In a sense this a challenge to some of you reading this article to be inspired to do something similar, however small or large.
Prayer is important, it changes lives. There are many people out there looking for Christian prayers. It may be the liturgy of tradition that speaks, but I firmly believe that a simple prayer, written from the heart can reach out and touch another in a very special way, whether read by the author or by anyone else.
Into the daily cycle of our lives
when all seems well
with us and with the world,
when our yoke is easy
and the burden light,
You break in
and scatter our complacency.
Into the daily cycle of our lives
when we are comfortable
and at our ease,
when the fire is lit
but eyes are closed,
You break in and challenge our dependency.
You break into
our daily prayers,
lay souls bare,
You break in,
You break in.
You break in
when defences are down,
with an Angel's shout
or the quietest sound,
You break in
You break in
And we change
and all things change
when you break in.
John Birch currently has several books of prayers published either in paper form or as downloads, and is also a regular contributor to the International Bible Reading Fellowship notes.
His prayers have appeared on various websites, been reprinted in many worship services around the world (from Alaska to Tasmania!) as well as in Church of England and Methodist publications and BRF Sacred Space Magazine.
In 2010 a selection of his prayers were translated and published in Swedish. He also sells pet food online in the UK and is the proud owner of a new allotment plot which is his pride and joy!