Prayers in Parliament

Last week the organisation Humanists UK launched a petition which calls for an end what they call “the discriminatory and outdated ‘prayer card’ and parliamentary prayers procedures”. The system provides reserved seating for parliamentary business (and thus, they say, a higher likelihood of being called to speak in debates) for those MPs and Lords who attend morning prayers earlier in the day.

Instead, they would prefer an arrangement similar to that employed in the Scottish Parliament, which has an inclusive time for reflection rather than prayers. This includes an invited guest, representing a variety of religions and none, who “shares a reflection in a way that is designed to best prepare all members for the debates to follow”.

We believe it would be a shame to change the current procedure in the UK parliament and end this particular connection with our Christian heritage. We believe that prayer is heard by God and changes history, so it is a very good thing for Christian prayer to be at the heart of our government’s deliberations. Our leaders need wisdom and guidance from God and his help as they formulate their plans; praying for this seems wholly appropriate.

Contrast this with multi-faith prayer times and secular reflections. By definition, participants address a variety of deities or none at all ; there is no shared belief, and thus no genuine joining together to support one other as parliamentarians at prayer. However, providing for other faiths to organise their own prayer times within the Palace of Westminster seems a reasonable compromise.

We would also support the provision of enough seats for all MPs and Lords to be able to sit in their respective chambers. There needs to be a better system, not based on attendance at a prayer meeting, to ensure someone is able to get a seat – perhaps something to consider in the upcoming refurbishment!

Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity

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