I was sitting in my study at the College last year, when John Weaver suddenly popped his head around the door. ‘Why is it that churches only ever seem to pray for themselves, and for their own enjoyment in worship?’ he said with frustration in his voice. He continued, ‘if the prayers don’t get beyond the pews, what’s the point in going back?’.
Little did he realise that just 15 minutes earlier, Karen Smith and I had been hatching the idea of publishing a book of prayers to mark the occasion of John’s retirement.
John’s passion for public prayer has run through his ministry; whether as the pastor of a church, as a College Tutor and Principal, as the President of the Baptist Union, as an environmental advocate, or as a practical theologian, John’s ministry has revolved around leading the people of God in prayer for the world. His gift has been lifting the eyes of the congregation above the horizon of the church to encompass the world beyond.
When I innocently asked what it was that he thought ought to be included in the leading of public prayer, he replied, ‘Oh, I’m just an old traditionalist really: Prayers should include Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Petition and Intercession.’
And so Prayers of the People was born.
This volume includes prayers from nearly a hundred contributors, who between them encompass the depth and breadth of British Baptist life. What they have in common is a sense of gratitude to God for the ministry of John Weaver. Included are prayers of gathering, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, sending out, as well as prayers for special seasons and services. This volume will be useful in public worship as well as private devotion. The prayers are offered to the glory of God, for the enrichment of the church and in thanksgiving to God for John.
Having managed to keep the volume a secret from John, it was a delight to surprise him with it at the College Valedictory Service on Thursday night last week. Many of those who had contributed were able to be there, and were invited to stand as the book was presented to John. For the first time in my memory, John was temporarily lost for words...
However, he recovered sufficiently a few minutes later to preach: In a sermon punctuated with sparkling anecdotes drawn from his life and ministry, John preached an inspiring sermon in which he challenged those present to undergo three conversions: firstly a conversion to Christ, putting Christ at the centre of our lives and not confining our faith to Sunday worship; secondly a conversion to the Church of Christ, expressing commitment to one another as we become a kingdom people; and thirdly a conversion to the world for which Christ died, caring for god's creation and those who live in it. John encouraged the congregation from Romans 12.1-21 to above all live in love: love of Christ, love of one another, and love of the world. He called for a culture shift to challenge the sacred/secular divide, leading to whole-life Christians, in a whole-life church, living as whole-life disciples, engaged in whole-life mission.
It has been a privilege to share ministry with John for the last seven years, and on a personal note I will miss his wisdom, friendship, and the early morning coffee.