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Sunday Worship 14 April | Prayer for the world

In a break from the usual reflection, this morning's service was a series of prayer focuses and activities, which you will find described below.


Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.


EXAMEN


the examen, or prayer of consciousness is a way of reflecting on the day, or in our case the past week, in the presence of God, asking that the Spirit guides our thoughts.


Being by settling yourself. You may find it helps to focus on a few slow breaths.


Remember that you are in the presence of God, and ask that the Spirit will guide your thoughts during this time.


Look back over the past week. What has been good? Where have you known peace or seen beauty?


Give thanks for those things.


Look back again. What has been difficult? Where have you known stress or sorrow?


Ask for the grace to release or the strength to carry those things.


Look now to the week ahead. What are you looking forward to? What are you dreading?


Commit to being true to God and yourself in all things.


Bring your thoughts together, taking note of any thoughts you need to return to in a quiet moment later.


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PRAYER FOR STRESS AWARENESS MONTH


Stress is our body's reaction to pressure, and with so many pressures on our time and our energy and our resources, it is no wonder a study from 2018 showed that 74% of respondents had felt so stressed they had been overwhelmed at some point in the previous year. I couldn't find any more recent statistics on stress, but with a global pandemic, new international conflicts, deepening concerns about the climate and a cost of living crisis in the last six years, I very much doubt that figure has dropped.


Stress essentially puts us into a fight or flight mode, and while that is good for our survival in an emergency, it is bad for our health if it becomes our constant state of being, as it can lead to chronic conditions such as anxiety and depression, and damaging coping strategies such as disordered eating and addictive behaviours.


Lots of the conversation around stress points to self care as the answer. Indeed the theme for this year's Stress Awareness Month is Little By Little, and focuses on the small positive actions we can take to improve our wellbeing. Self care is really important, and the five ways to wellbeing that are part of the inspiration behind Renew spaces like our own are a great start. These are connecting with others, getting active, taking notice of how we feel and of the world around us, learning something new, and giving something back.


However, I want to counter that a little by saying that self care cannot be the only answer. We need community care too, because some things are just too much to handle on our own. And we need bigger shifts in society that remove some of the stressors that people just shouldn't have to deal with. Poverty, unemployment, homelessness, lack of access to adequate housing or education or healthcare...these need more ambitious and longer lasting solutions.


God, in this Stress Awareness Month, we hold before you all who feel stressed. We pray that through good self care and good community care, they will not become overwhelmed but will continue to find peace and joy amid the difficulty of their lives. We also dare to pray that we as a society might be bold in bringing about the bigger changes that will make life less difficult to begin with, and we ask that you will give us wisdom and imagination for our part in those changes. Amen.


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PRAYER FOR AREAS OF CONFLICT


We're going to take time now to pray for areas of conflict. The situation in Gaza was already dire and now Iran is attacking Israel and the West Bank is on fire. Ukraine's air defences are being overwhelmed by Russia's sustained attacks on the country’s power stations. Haiti has been torn apart by gang violence and a new transitional council is trying to fill the leadership vacuum. Conflict is not just armed warfare and many trans people fear the recent Cass Report will lead to further attacks on their rights and healthcare.


It can be hard to find words in the face of such violence, and so I am going to leave a time of silence, in which you may like to come and pray over the world map, and then I will invite us to say together a prayer we have used before.


Lord, where pain overwhelms, bring healing.

Where hearts are breaking, bring comfort.

Where peoples are oppressed, bring liberation.

Where communities are victimised, bring justice.

Where children are brutalised, bring compassion.

Where lives are crushed, bring hope.

Where evil is perpetrated, bring repentance.

Where war devastates, bring peace.

But most of all, wherever a single voice cries out in the darkness,

bring us to one another,

in the name of the love you bear in your heart

for all people, all nations and all creation.

Amen.


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PRAYER FOR THE EARTH


When we think of creation, there is much to lament. We have not looked after this planet as well as we might, and the damage we have done is becoming ever more apparent. It is important that we recognise that and seek to repair as much as we can.


But there is also much to rejoice in, and I want that to be the focus of our prayer this morning, because if we are going to be better stewards of creation, I think we need to be driven by hope not despair. In a moment you will be given a pine cone as a tangible sign of creation, and I invite you to use it to pray with gratitude and joy for the earth and all that comes from it.


You might like to hold it and marvel at the life cycle of the tree it has come from. You might like to feel your way around it and offer a prayer of thanks for something in nature for each plate that you touch. You might like to imagine going for a walk to collect such a pine cone and rejoice in all the other things you see along your path. We'll take fla few minutes for this, then I'll close with a few words of spoken prayer.


God of the universe, we thank You for Your many good gifts - for the beauty of creation and its rich and varied fruits, for clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants. Transform our hearts and minds so that we would learn to care and share, to touch the earth with gentleness and with love, respecting all living things. Amen.


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PRAYER FOR AUTISM ACCEPTANCE MONTH


We heard earlier that this month is Stress Awareness Month, but it is also Autism Acceptance Month. Autism is a form of neurodivergence that means autistic people experience and process the world differently to those who are neurotypical. This can include a tendency to use and interpret language very literally, greater need for pattern and order, the use of repetitive actions known as stims as a form of self regulation, the ability to hyperfocus on areas of special interest, increased sensitivity to sensory input, and disparities in the development of speech and motor skills. 


Autism has often been talked about in terms of deficit and difficulty, and it is true that there are some things that autistic people find harder, although many of those challenges are the result of living in a world not designed with autism in mind, and can be lessened through greater understanding and acceptance. Fortunately though, we are increasingly realising that difference is not inherently negative, and recognising that there are also strengths and gifts that come through neurodivergence.


Autism diagnoses have increased in recent years, largely because of a growing awareness of the differing ways that it presents, and the differing degrees to which autistic people are able to mask their challenges. This should be a good thing, as with diagnosis can come knowledge and support, but it does mean long waiting lists, with many currently waiting years for assessment.


If you want to learn more about autism, there are plenty of resources out there, although I would encourage you to seek out those that are rooted in first hand experience, and avoid anything that defines autism entirely in negative terms. The National Autistic Society may be a good place to start, and there are a number of documentaries and dramas on BBC iPlayer that may be of interest.


God, in this Autism Acceptance Month, we hold before you all people who are autistic. Where there is sensory overload, may there be peace. Where there is special interest, may there be joy. Where there is a mismatch in communication styles, may there be understanding. We pray for greater acceptance of autism so that autistic people might find help for their challenges and appreciation for their gifts, which are after all the same things that all people hope for. We pray too for greater capacity in the system for assessment and diagnosis, so that everyone might have the knowledge and support that will help them thrive. Amen.


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THE LORD'S PRAYER


Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.


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