The Inside Story on Alternative Collects

Added about a week ago by Graham Turner

GUEST BLOG: Graham Turner reveals the story behind his radical new prayers, which will both challenge and nourish.

The most important things in life are often messy and require our attention. Sadly, we do not always give these the time they deserve. I find that prayer is just like this; it a messy and difficult business. If we do not resolve this matter carefully, guilt can become our overriding feeling, which paralyses rather than enlivens us.

Fortunately, many people have passed around the oft-quoted advice of John Chapman: “Pray as you can, not as you cannot!” If this man, as an abbot, could say this then maybe we should start to take this advice more seriously. I have found one or two ways that I can pray; one of them is to write prayers down.

Alternative Collects I was quite taken by the care that the Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann took in composing a prayer to begin each of his lectures (since published by Fortress Press in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann). These are not bland catch-all prayers that affirm that God is good and where we promise to try our best. Rather, they are awkward, edgy and poetic, reflecting the passages that were to be studied.

Graham Turner has written a new set of collects that follow in the wake of Cranmer. Turner fully understands and appreciates the force of the genre; his offer is a set of prayers that are fiercely timely, bold in their claims, and venturesome in their voicing. I cannot think of better access points to worship.

Walter Brueggemann (Columbia Theological Seminary)

Therefore, I started to craft my own prayers carefully to use at the end of my Sunday sermons. Precisely because they were not “off-the-cuff” but premeditated and considered, I and others in my congregation found them easier to engage with. It was then possible to say things that, although risky, were worthwhile things to pray, rather than prayers that were dangerously risky and therefore unhelpful.

An example of such a prayer is what emerged out of a Christmas Eve sermon:

O Son of Mary, as we celebrate this season,
     help us to remember that we are light-bearers
     for all creation until you return
     to make all things new.
May we be as unthreatening
     to the poor and disadvantaged
     as a child lying in a manger,
but as subversive to the rich and powerful
     as a man hanging on a cross.
Amen.

Another is a prayer I wrote to follow a talk at the Epiphany:

If magi, kings, and wise men are called, O God, then call us too.
If unbelievers who follow their fortunes in the stars
     are included, then include us too.
If spiritually dubious elders can be among the first to see your Son,
     then let us see him too.
We want light in our darkness
     and unbelievable visions to behold.
But do not just call us to follow:
     call the nations; call the excluded;
     call the bored and befuddled;
     and call those whose lives are rapidly passing them by.
Amen.

I then started to use many of these prayers the following year in the place of the prescribed collect. Soon I had a motley collection of prayers which could be formed into a more cohesive group, so the project of the alternative collects was born.

I did not intend to publish these initially; I just wanted a set of collects that more reflected my approach to prayer and the Bible than what was on offer. The process of doing this became a fascinating discipline as I read through all the readings and Psalms of the three-year cycle in The Common Worship Lectionary. All this happened in just over a twelve-month period and was for me a spiritually uplifting period. Some of the local clergy who tried them out in their churches said that they should be published. And so here they are!

For over thirty years, Graham Turner has served in a variety of parishes, mostly in urban neighbourhoods, working tirelessly to help overcome social injustice while also exploring a range of Christian traditions to help deepen his own faith as well as that of others. Alternative Collects is his second book with Sacristy Press and is available for only £7.99.

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