After the Ascension Day service, Jo and I went for a drink. At the bar, the barman and barmaid asked whether I was a Father or a Priest. I said I was an Anglican priest, but that they could call me Andrew.
A little later, I went back to the bar for another round. The barman told me that the barmaid wanted me to pray for her university exam results, but was too shy to ask, and would I be willing? I said that I would be happy to pray for her; and we got into a conversation, where she asked that I pray not only for her but her whole cohort. I told her I would pray, took the drinks back to Jo, and reported the conversation.
Jo asked me whether I had prayed with her there and then? She didn't want people out-sourcing prayer to professionals. I hadn’t; but Jo was right. My role is to teach people to pray, to help people pray, (yes, to pray for them, but) not to remove it from them. So I did some introvert processing, and went back to the bar...
I asked her what she wanted to do with her degree, and she told me her ambition to be a wedding planner, and how she loved organising weddings and christenings for her friends. We talked about her passions and dreams, and how God loves a party, and then I said I was going to pray for her, there and then.
She asked if she had to join in? I said she didn’t have to, but she was welcome to. I said we didn’t need to close our eyes and bow our heads, or anything weird like that; and she seemed a little disappointed, so I said she could if she wanted. I started to pray, and another barmaid who was clearing tables came up and noisily deposited several glasses on the bar, and the barmaid I was praying with told her colleague that “we are just praying,” in a do-you-mind and don’t-interrupt kind of a way.
After I prayed a blessing on her, she was so appreciative; and expressed her thanks once more when we left a little later—as did the barman.
Here’s the thing. We think that people are uncomfortable with the idea of prayer, with praying. But that just isn’t true.