This month churches across Gloucestershire are going to “Pray Like Hannah”...But why?
It's an answer to a question, and also an invitation. So many churches are asking
“Why do we have so few children coming to church?” - and the answer takes the form of another question
“Have you prayed for them to come?”
The invitation is to all of us connected to the church: Pray like Hannah
I'm sure you remember her story, which is found in the Old Testament Book of Samuel. Hannah is the loved wife of Penniel, but she is childless – in her culture the ultimate disaster for a wife, a badge of shame, a judgement of God. Children were vital to secure the future of the family, the tribe, the nation. In desperation, Hannah is driven to pray, to “pour out her soul”. Her prayer is so urgent, so passionate that the old priest, Eli, assumes that she is drunk.
So the first invitation is to pray passionately for children to know that they are part of God's family. It's as simple as that. It's born from a deep longing and love for children, and a sense of loss that they are absent from our midst.
Hannah's prayer is answered; Samuel is born. But then Hannah takes him to the Temple and leaves him in Eli's care. He grows up to become a prophet and leader of God's people – probably not what Hannah had expected when she longed for a baby to cradle in her empty arms.
So we too have to be ready for answered prayer to look quite unlike our expectations...We may find that instead of the children flocking in to church on a Sunday morning, we are called to go out and take God's love to them....We may believe that we have much to teach them, but will surely find that they have more to teach us.
So this month parishes across the diocese are invited to Pray like Hannah...It's a good time of year to focus on children, a time when things change for many of them as they move from home to school, from one school to another...It's a time with endings to face and new beginnings ahead. It's also a time when we can expect to meet children on holiday from school, shopping with their parents in the Co-Op, riding their bikes in Victory Park. Sometimes their presence will delight us, at others we may wish that they could leave us in peace.....but each day as we encounter them, and each day that we don't, let's pray for the children of our community. Jesus welcomed children – loud, mucky, unkempt street kids...He told us to become like them. As the Body of Christ, the church is handicapped, incomplete if our children are not with us...so please join me in prayer this month.
We know that prayer changes things – so we've much to look forward to.