The Church of England has called for communities to join together in conversation and prayer as discussions over the UK’s departure from the European Union reach a pivotal point. The debate is splitting communities in the UK. The UK Government and the EU have reached a withdrawal agreement; but this has twice been rejected by the country’s Parliament. Today, the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that the government could only bring it back for a third vote if the motion was “substantially different”. Britain risks leaving the European Union without a deal on 29 March unless the other 27 EU member countries agree to a British government request for an extension.
Churches are being encouraged to host “informal café-style meetings” over the weekend of 30 March “to bring together people of all standpoints and encourage open discussion.” The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, have today backed newly-commissioned resources to invite people to “get together and chat over a cup of tea and pray for our country and our future”.
Under the slogan “Together”, the packs include specially-chosen Bible passages, prayers and questions designed to prompt conversations. The introductory notes urge participants to have “respect for the integrity of differently held positions, encouraging communities which feel the same about the issues to use their imagination to consider the viewpoints of those who feel differently.”
“As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to demonstrate that love for God and for each other, along with compassion, solidarity and care for the poorest, are our defining values”, Archbishop Justin said. “These values have been the bedrock of our national life for many centuries. They are not simply our history: they are also our best hope for the future.
“For this reason, a century from now the Church will be remembered for how it responded at this crucial moment in the life of our nation and country. Will we be those who worked to defuse tension and hostility? Will we be those who called for civility and respect in how we speak about, and treat, each other? Will we be those who never stopped praying with urgency and hope for our country, our communities and our political leaders – and for a way forward that allows every person, family and community to flourish?
“This is an opportunity for the Church of England to join together in prayer for God’s kingdom to come, and for the good of all in society. I hope that each of us will take hold of these resources to help us pray for our country at this critical time.”
Dr Sentamu added: “St Paul advises and urges Timothy to ‘offer petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for sovereigns, and for all in high office so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life, free to practice our religion with dignity. Such prayer is right, and approved by God our Saviour, whose will it is that all should find salvation and come to know the truth. . . ’ (1 Timothy 2:2 ff). Beloved in Christ, let us also pray without ceasing.”
Other Anglican Churches in Britain and Northern Ireland are also urging prayer. Last month, the Scottish Episcopal Church College of Bishops said that they had “been praying for and supporting all those involved in the debate on Brexit as well as those who believe they will be adversely affected by the outcomes of the debate and decisions made.
“As the debate has continued and Parliament’s inability to reach an agreement has become more obvious, we have become increasingly concerned at the level of aggression heard in the media and at times in parliamentary behaviour in regard to those from across Europe who we firmly believe are valued members of our communities.”
They continued: “Scotland is rooted in values that make us an inclusive place and that is mirrored in the life of The Scottish Episcopal Church. We would emphasise that our church welcomes all those from beyond Scotland and the UK who choose to live amongst us. We celebrate all that they bring to our communities and we offer them our support at this anxious time.
“We are ready to welcome new Scots from across the world: those who bring such beautiful diversity to Scotland.”
The bishops of the Church in Wales have warned that Brexit “could bring a time of confusion and anxiety as the country begins a new era.”
They are calling on people in the country to pray for the nation on 29 March, and have asked churches to be kept open for private or corporate prayer or simply for people to spend time in quiet reflection.
“Leaving the EU will impact on almost every area of our lives; and as we approach 29 March many people are fearful at the prospect of leaving without a negotiated deal, leading to unknown consequences for people, businesses and communities”, the Bishop of St Davids, Joanna Penberthy, said.
“The Bishops of the Church in Wales are calling for 29 March to be a day of prayer for our nation, at this time of confusion and anxiety”, she added. “In addition, churches are being advised to prepare for Brexit in several other practical and pastoral ways. These include being aware of the pressures facing businesses, employees and families with members abroad; helping any EU citizens in their congregations with the new registration process; making sure foodbanks are well supplied with goods and volunteers; reaching out in friendship to other faith and minority ethnic groups and teaching about the importance of welcome and hospitality to promote community cohesion; and praying for politicians, negotiators and civil servants.”
The Church of Ireland covers both the Republic of Ireland – a continuing EU member – and part of the UK – in Northern Ireland. The status of the border between the Republic and the North has been one of the sticking points in the British Parliament accepting the agreement.
Belfast Cathedral, in Northern Ireland, is hosting a series of “public theology” Lent talks focused on Brexit, in partnership with the Corrymeela Community, an ecumenical reconciliation and peace-building group on the island of Ireland. The talks, at St Anne’s Cathedral, are based on the Book of Ruth, and include topics including “Ruth and the Law”, “Crossroads Decisions”, “The Challenge of the Migrant”, “Who is Family?”, and “The Political importance of Compassion”
- The Church of England’s “Together” resources can be downloaded here.
- The Church in Wales guidance “Preparations for Brexit” can be downloaded here.