On what should have been Brexit weekend, churches and cathedrals open their doors for prayer and dialogue

Photo: Reuters)

The first weekend after the UK was supposed to leave the European Union, churches and cathedrals are offering spaces for conversation and prayer on Brexit.

Many churches across the country are holding prayer vigils this weekend on what should have marked the start of a new post-Brexit era for the UK. 

But after another week of votes and debates failed to break the deadlock on Brexit, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are inviting people to come together in dialogue and prayer as part of five days of prayer for the nation and its future relationship with the European Union. 

Cathedrals across England have answered that call. On Friday, Leicester Cathedral hosted a prayer vigil led by the Bishop of Loughborough, Guli Francis-Dehqani, Chair of the European Council of Churches, while Wakefield Cathedral has been inviting members of the public to come and write down their prayers for peace and for each other on prayer cards.

The Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain was due to take part in a drop-in session at St Botolph's Parish Church in Boston, Lincolnshire at 6pm on Saturday.

He said that unity was possible in spite of people's differences over Brexit.

"In a time of great uncertainty, the one thing we can do is to come together and pray together and in doing that we are sending out an important sign that whatever our differences are perceived to be, we can be united," he said.

"Boston and the surrounding area expressed a strong preference to leave in 2016. However, even in Boston, there were those who voted to stay.

"As we know, the political situation is unclear and there are still strong differences of opinion. Given that, the one thing we can do is to come together and pray together and in doing that we are sending out an important sign that whatever our differences are perceived to be, we have the capacity to be united.

"The church in Boston considers itself to be a place of hospitality and where there are deep differences hospitality matters."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, was joined by local politicians at a service of Eucharist and informal prayers on Saturday morning. 

He said that the gathering was a chance for people to come and talk not about Brexit but rather how communities could work together for unity, peace and the common good across the UK and Europe, and also how to re-establish the British values of respect and tolerance. 

"Whether you voted leave or remain, the one thing that does unite us about Brexit is a concern that our nation itself is feeling divided," he said, adding that "the kettle will be on."

At Derby Cathedral, doors will be open over the next five days for people to come in and pray for peace, reconciliation and a way forward after years of division over Britain's exit from the EU. 

The Dean of Derby, the Very Rev Stephen Hance said: "After what has been a divisive political process during the last three years, we want people to be encouraged to pray for someone they disagree with, as a step towards reconciliation and a fresh vision for the whole country.

"I hope everyone in the city, including citizens of other EU countries whose future here has been made uncertain since the referendum, will feel welcome to come and say a prayer or take a few moments to be still in the Cathedral, which is here for the whole of Derby and Derbyshire as a sign of healing and peace."

Jan McFarlane, Bishop of Repton and Acting Bishop of Derby, who said:"Our church communities, like the rest of the nation, are divided over whether or not Brexit is the right way forward. But as Christians, our role is to promote peace and reconciliation in the places where we live and worship, and to demonstrate that we can live peacefully together even when we disagree."

Hexham Abbey in Northumberland was also holding in drop-in sessions and prayer gatherings for Brexit on Saturday morning.  

The Rector of Hexham, Canon Dagmar Winter said: "For generations, people have come to the Abbey at significant times of community life, and it is here that we are cherished with all our hopes and anxieties and frustrations.

"Whatever shape the Brexit process now takes, it will be good to come together in a relaxed and respectful manner."

Resources for prayer and conversation can be downloaded from churchofengland.org/together