Hats off to subversive prayers
At a previous church we set up a prayer tree – well, it was actually a handsome shrub. We encouraged people to attach their prayers to the stems of the plant using tiny clothes pegs. We got plenty of prayers but the shrub was having none of it and died.
We replaced the 'tree' with twigs, placed in a large vase. Some weeks we got so many prayers we couldn't see the wood for the tree.
At our Wednesday Eucharist we read the prayers out and placed them on the altar. Many of the prayers were being left by youngsters who attended a dance club in the hall. I began to notice that from their ranks we had a subversive person of prayer.
We had a lovely old parishioner who would read out the prayer-tree prayers every week. He never read the prayers beforehand and would just plough through them regardless. It was a rollercoaster each week.
One week he read out a prayer for cheese. Next week this had been extended to cheesy feet. We all hoped that the subversive prayer-tree writer might go away.
As the weeks went on we had prayers for clouds, apples, rabbits, cuddly things and chocolate. Gerbils were popular. Oddly, one week we had a prayer for chinchillas one week.
Things took a darker turn when we had a prayer for 'poo and cheesy things'. I am sorry to report that I guffawed, which is not grown-up, not funny and not clever.
I decided to take matters in hand and edit the prayer tree each week before the service. I prevented some terrible mishaps. Each time the handwriting was the same and the inventiveness cracking but ill-judged, in terms of audience and context.
But these amazing prayers made me wonder: what should we be praying for? How much fun should we have?
One week I was too busy to edit the tree and we got a prayer for unicorns that dropped like a stone. I spoke to my lovely old congregation member and said we shouldn't pray for mythical beasts and asked him to redouble his efforts to root out silly prayers. A week or two later we had a prayer for leprechauns.
I realised that I was fighting a losing battle and should probably pray a great prayer of thanks for the wit and wisdom of young people.
I never found out who was writing the prayers. I always wondered who was the genius behind them. Perhaps I should have checked the handwriting more carefully. I am plagued by a horrible fear that it was one of my daughters.
Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214