The naked civil servant… and a rapid-response prayer

They’re all mad, except for me and thee – and I’m not too sure about thee.

I was fascinated to hear on the radio recently about Sir William Armstrong, who was head of the civil service during the Heath government.

In February 1974, the country was on the verge of collapse. The miners were on strike, house and share prices had plummeted (sound familiar?), the country was on a three-day week to conserve fuel and the prime minister, Ted Heath, was about to call an election to decide “who governs Britain?” (to which the electorate’s response was, “Not you, sunshine”).

At the height of the crisis, the governor of the Bank of England arrived at a meeting with Sir William only to find him lying naked in the middle of his office, babbling about the end of the world being at hand.

Sir William took early retirement shortly afterwards – and became chairman of Midland Bank (now HSBC)!

To be honest, I can understand how he felt at the moment. The financial system in crisis, a recession undoubtedly under way, John McCain flaking out – and now reports that ancient deposits of methane gas are bubbling into the Arctic Ocean as permafrost melts due to global warming. (Edit: and since writing this, exchanges of fire between US and Pakistani military forces.) I’m this close to ripping all my clothes off and waiting for the last trumpet to sound.

But before doing that, perhaps I should instead make use of this prayer which the Church of England’s “rapid-response prayer unit” – I know, I know – has issued in response to the current economic turmoil:

Lord God, we live in disturbing days:
across the world,
prices rise,
debts increase,
banks collapse,
jobs are taken away,
and fragile security is under threat.
Loving God, meet us in our fear
and hear our prayer:
be a tower of strength amidst the
shifting sands,
and a light in the darkness;
help us receive your gift of peace,
and fix our hearts where true joys
are to be found,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now, I don’t think that one will be collected in anthologies of “classic prayers” in centuries to come, but it covers the key points, avoids succumbing to the temptation to tell God how the economy should be run, and plugs the liturgical gap I mentioned in a previous post. So “bravo!” to the spiritual SWAT team of the Church of England’s rapid-response prayer unit.

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