‘Thy Kingdom Come’! This has been the prayer on the lips of Christians all around the world during the nine days of prayer between Ascension Day and Pentecost. Just before He was taken up into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and, as they waited, to pray for the Holy Spirit. Did they fully understand what they were praying for? Were they prepared for the life-changing experience of the Holy Spirit? If they had known what lay ahead, persecution, imprisonment, false accusations and, for some of them, martyrdom, would they have continued to pray for the Holy Spirit? I wonder. Mingled with their sense of anticipation, might there also have been a touch of apprehension?
I have just returned from a conference whose title was ‘What Next’? With changes in our political and social landscapes, both global and local, we may also be wondering “What next?” As I write, a historic summit between President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un looks set to break down; the much celebrated renewal of friendly dialogue between the leaders of North and South Korea shows signs of strain; violent demonstrations have broken out between Israel and Palestine and the world continues to question the dominance of Russia in inter-continental conflict. Closer to home, the clock is ticking on the final Brexit agreement with so much yet to be agreed. What next indeed!
The Anglican Church is not exempt from this question as, on a global, national and local scale, the landscape appears to be changing. Less than twenty-five years ago, there were no women priests in the Church of England. Now, in some dioceses, the numbers of women clergy almost match those of men. Less than five years ago, there were no women bishops in the Church of England and now, with the most recent appointment announced a few days ago, there are 15 women who serve as Bishops in the Church of England. ‘What next’, we ask, for the Anglican Communion that is divided over the issue of same sex marriage and Assisted Dying, just two of the issues currently on the table for debate. Even here in our benefice, the question ‘what next’ lies at the heart of our “Single Parish” deliberations as we prayerfully seek the best structure that will enable us to grow and to flourish.
“What next?” For the disciples, their patient waiting and dedicated praying caused them to be ready to receive the gift promised to them at Pentecost. Through this gift, they found new confidence to step out into the next stage of their personal journeys of faith and, with others, establish the early church. Perhaps they didn’t know what was round the corner but they had the courage and the wisdom to face all the issues that emerged day by day because they had willingly and faithfully prayed ‘Come Holy Spirit’. This is not a prayer just for Pentecost. It is a prayer to be prayed every day of our lives as we seek God’s wisdom and work with others to establish his Kingdom here on earth.