Would you value some help with your prayers?

Posted on: January 30th, 2018

The Revd Canon Steven Harvey, Newcastle Cathedral’s Canon for Education writes:

I don’t find prayer easy. Is that a terrible thing for a priest to say? I hope not. Moreover, experience has taught me that many people find prayer difficult.

School of Prayer

A group at the Cathedral has recently been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World. The author is a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States. In a chapter on prayer, she writes that, while she has shelves full of prayer books and books on prayer, ‘I am a failure at prayer. When people ask me about my prayer life……my mind starts scrambling for ways to hide my problem. I start talking about things I do that I hope will make me sound like a godly person. I try to say admiring things about prayer so there can be no doubt about how important I think it is.’

Our author acknowledges the difficult questions surrounding prayer. ‘Does prayer work or doesn’t it? Never mind for a moment how many different things ‘work’ might mean. Is it right for me to ask God for particular outcomes, when God alone knows what is right? Isn’t the point of prayers to sharpen my hearing, not God’s? Are words necessary at all?’ And she says that she does not know ‘anyone who prays very long without running into the wall of God’s apparent non-responsiveness.’

Taylor makes the important point that ‘prayer is a practice and not a discussion topic.’ In response to that, and to the sense that many people would welcome some help with their practice, this Lent there is to be a school of prayer at the Cathedral – on Thursday 15th March. The idea for the day comes from Michael Mayne, who was Dean of Westminster from 1986 to 1996. Early in his time as Dean, Mayne proposed that once a year the Abbey should be closed to all visitors and tourists, and that an ecumenical day of prayer should be held – a day of teaching and learning, a day of theory and practice, thereby affirming the Abbey’s primary function as a church, and encouraging people to explore together the life of prayer, which Mayne regarded as the spiritual practice that is at once the most natural and the most difficult. The first such day was held in 1999, with hundreds in attendance.

On 15th March we shall welcome The Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, until recently Dean of Durham, and The Revd Prof David Wilkinson, Principal of St John’s College, Durham. In the morning, Michael Sadgrove will focus on the practice of prayer, helping us to review how we pray, and suggesting some approaches which might help us to enliven and enrich our prayer life. In the afternoon, David Wilkinson will focus on such questions as What happens when we pray? Does God always answer? Why does it sometimes feel like he doesn’t? David is a scientist and a theologian, and he will share his insights and struggles, and his own, sometimes painful, experiences of answered and unanswered prayer. His recent book, When I pray, what does God do?, has been widely welcomed and appreciated. One reviewer says that the book is ‘profoundly helpful and encouraging to anyone trying to pray with both heart and mind’, while the Archbishop of York describes the book as ‘deeply illuminating and highly accessible.’


Bishop Christine says: “I am delighted to endorse this event. One of the aims of our Diocesan Strategy is to ‘create opportunities for deeper engagement with God in prayer’, and this day on prayer seeks to do precisely that.”



Do put Thursday 15th March in your diary. The day will start at 10.00am and end at 3.30pm. Come prepared to be encouraged, enriched and challenged. Tickets cost £20 – including morning and afternoon refreshments and a buffet lunch – and can be obtained via Eventbrite: https://school-of-prayer.eventbrite.co.uk.

For further information, please contact The Revd Canon Steven Harvey by email: steven.harvey@stnicholascathedral.co.uk or telephone: 0191 232 1939.