Last week I had the privilege of being taken round the Houses of Parliament. I have to admit that this was the first time I had ever visited, which might come as something of a surprise given the subject matter of this blog. I’ve seen it plenty of times from the outside and even studied its architecture at great length at university. Like most of us, I’ve become acquainted with it through viewing it endlessly on the television news. Yet despite this familiarity, actually being there and seeing it in person is a wholly different experience.
Thanks to its High Gothic styling it reminds you of a very large and sumptuously decorated Victorian church. The Bishops’ robing room in particular brought back memories of various vicar’s vestries I’ve been in. The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is one of the most incredible spaces I’ve stood in. Being in the bowels of the building, it survived the great fire of 1834 which destroyed much of the previous Palace of Westminster. As you enter through the doors and see the ornate and rich decoration you have this feeling of going back in time to a place where the craftsmanship and expense lavished upon it indicate that the worship of God was paramount to those who built it and worked there. Before the current building existed God was already in the foundations.
It’s not just the architecture that evokes a strong sense of the Christian heritage that is bound up in the heart of this place. The Bible is literally at the centre of the Houses of Parliament. Inscribed into the stone floor of the central lobby are the words from Psalm 127 written in Latin, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labour in vain.’ Even in the day-to-day activities God is still remembered and acknowledged. Before every sitting in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords prayers are read. I met the Bishop of Oxford moments before he went to read the prayers and then give a speech on behalf of the 26 Lords Spiritual on the day MPs and the Lords were recalled to pay tribute to Baroness Thatcher.
Beliefs and attitudes have changed over the centuries and secularisation has swept through both our society and the houses of power, but I came away from Westminster reminded that when the Houses of Parliament were built there was clear recognition that it is only through an acknowledgement that God holds the keys to power, wisdom and authority that ministers can expect to lead effectively by putting their trust in Him and approaching their roles with a servant attitude. That belief may no longer be universal, but despite what some may think, it can only be good that those working in parliament are reminded of this on a daily basis.
Paul in his first letter to Timothy writes this:
‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
It’s easy to criticise our country’s leaders. If the reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death has reminded us of one thing, it’s that being a prime minister is far from an easy job and being a good one is even tougher. All of our MPs need prayer and whilst we all should be willing to challenge what we consider to be failures and bad decisions, Christians in particular should more so be praying that those running our country do a good job and are guided by God’s wisdom.
Below are two prayers. The first is read out at the start of sittings in the House of Commons and the second in the House of Lords. Their words speak plenty wisdom. If we care about our country, these prayers are a good place for us to start. My prayer is that these words will sink into the hearts of those hearing them being read and that they will act accordingly as they carry out their roles. For when God is allowed to act through our leaders we should all expect to benefit as a result.
“Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen.”
“Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding; we thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian Love and Charity one towards another, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.”
Photo of St Mary Undercroft (c) UK parliament