World Day of Prayer 2022 falls on 4 March. It aims to bring together women of various races, cultures and traditions in closer understanding. Each year a different country is selected to write the liturgy for a worldwide day of prayer and England, Wales and Northern Ireland had been chosen for 2022; the first time since 1945. WDP is an international ecumenical women's movement which began in the USA in 1887 and is celebrated annually in over 150 countries.
'I know the plans I have for you' says the Lord (Jer 29:1–14).
I was on the telephone to someone I hadn't yet met. She was asking me to serve as the Quaker representative on the World Day of Prayer (WDP) writing group for the 2022 service. It was August 2018 and I'd recently been appointed to the England, Wales and Northern Ireland (EWNI) WDP national committee on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting. I knew very little about the movement. I was quite anxious at the thought of taking on an additional commitment.
Questions buzzed in my head. What had a Quaker to offer to the writing of a structured liturgy? (We don't do that sort of thing!) What did I know about Jeremiah? (Almost nothing.) How would I manage the travelling and other physical challenges of a long weekend away from home in an unfamiliar location? (I have mobility problems due to MS.) What about the use of 'Christian' language? (Some days I say God and Lord, other days I don't feel at all comfortable with that.) But I heard the words from Jeremiah as spoken ministry, as a prompting from God, and felt compelled to accept the challenge.
I set out to read the book of Jeremiah which at first reading is full of doom and gloom. Finding a Woodbrooke course led by Ann Conway-Jones in October, I hastily booked to attend. Both of these were helpful starts but I still felt very 'out of my depth'.
In November 2018 35 women, aged 23–84, mostly from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and representing a wide variety of Christian denominations, gathered for five days of intensive work. People brought a wealth of talents and experience including puppetry, singing, speaking Welsh, theology and passionate concern for disadvantaged people.
The emphasis was on finding what we could say as women here that would be helpful to people around the world. The bible passage is Jeremiah 29:1 -14 and the themes we were asked to consider were freedom, forgiveness, justice and God's peace. The links were not immediately obvious. As well as the liturgy of the service itself we needed to produce information about our country, suggestions for children's activities and a bible study.
In the bible study group we immersed ourselves in studying the passage together, leaving the detailed work to be completed online later. Working with a national group in an international context was interesting, especially in finding ways to communicate honestly the good and the bad about life here while respecting the major problems faced by people elsewhere in the world. Being involved in such a concrete exercise in an ecumenical group felt a very positive way to engage with people from other denominations.
So now it's 2022, it's nearly Friday 4 March and this service has been distributed to about 150 countries to create a united ongoing wave of prayer around the globe for at least 24 hours. And it doesn't end there. The WDP motto is 'informed prayer, prayerful action'. Prayer is fundamental to this women-led, global, ecumenical movement – but so is action.
Having learnt more about the problems in the world and the causes of them, local groups and individuals are encouraged to take action to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth into reality. To do what they can, where they are, to make the world a better place. Annually WDP(EWNI) distributes all surplus money from collections at WDP services (after deduction of expenses) to registered Christian charities, primarily those supporting women and children around the world. In the service participants are encouraged to make a personal commitment to action, 'to help us to create a movement of passionate hope-bringers across the world.'
Applicable to our times
Looking back over three and a half years with WDP and Jeremiah I have come to realise how much in Jeremiah is applicable to our times. Especially the relevance of the images of the devastation that occurs when human beings do not treat the world as we should ('obey God's laws') and the situation of people living in exile, whether literally removed from their homeland or in other ways prevented from participating in society.
Regarding the written liturgy I am delighted with the balanced language used (e.g. God our Mother and our Father) and the generous use of short periods of silence. I was pleased that we felt able to include an acknowledgement of Britain's past role as a conquering nation and a specific Prayer of Confession for this.
I'd like to thank the Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations (QCCIR) for nominating me for this role. I have found this service challenging, stimulating and uplifting. I have repeatedly left my 'comfort zone' but felt well supported.