In this week’s prayer email:

  • 2016 Year Planner
  • Plough Sunday
  • North Korea
  • Short Note: Anglican Primates Meeting

Many churches will use Revised Common Lectionary texts this Sunday that speak of Christ’s baptism and reflect on baptism more generally. If you get the chance, why not spend some time this week reflecting: what does baptism mean to you? Pray that all Christians will be given grace to live out their baptism in their daily lives, and that many more will know the joy of being baptised.

2016 Year Planner

Attached to this email is the 2016 version of the CCOW Year Planner for Churches. We’re aware that people use this in different ways:

  • to help action/mission grous plan engagement with global issues during the year
  • to help editors plan prayer points for church bulletins and newsletters
  • to find service materials for special Sundays
  • to circulate to prayer leaders as an aid for use throughout the year

However you use it, we hope that it will be useful to you and that God will guide your prayers and actions throughout this year.

Please let us have any comments by email: they’re always helpful and have improved the resource over the years.

Plough Sunday

Plough Sunday reflects an ancient tradition of asking for God’s blessing on the plough ahead of the new farming year. It is traditionally held on the first Sunday of Epiphany, the day before work resumed in the fields after the twelve days of Christmas.

This year, Plough Sunday comes as many farmers in the UK are facing weather-related difficulties, which scientists are saying may be a sign of a “new normal” in our changing climate. A number of farmers have lost crops or livestock in floods. In other parts of the world, El Niño is contributing to droughts, which are particularly severe in Central America and eastern and southern Africa. Ethiopia has a food security emergency; and Hope Africa has launched an emergency appeal for the countries of southern Africa. Small producers are being particularly severely affected – while producing most of the world’s food and caring for the land they farm, they often lack the capacity to deal with severe weather-related shocks.

In a world where we have outsourced much of the growing of food, the actual work of ploughing and the struggles farmers face have become quite distant to many of us. The Arthur Rank Centre (a Christian charity serving rural communities and churches) has a beautiful liturgy for Plough Sunday, which reminds us of the fundamental importance to all of us of ploughing in the production of staple food crops and provides helpful material for personal reflection on our relationship with the land. The liturgy also contains the following widely applicable prayer of confession:

When we are ungrateful for the rain, sun and frost and forget they are God’s gifts to us: O God, forgive us.
When we are blind to the mystery of germination and forget it is God’s handiwork: O God, forgive us.
When we are careless with our beasts and forget they are God’s creatures: O God, forgive us.
When we are unkind to those who work with us and forget they are God’s children:
 O God, forgive us.
When we are careless about our work and forget we are God’s co-workers: O God, forgive us.
When we ill-treat the land and forget we are God’s stewards: O God, forgive us.

Arthur Rank Centre, reproduced with permission.

Please pray this Plough Sunday:

  • For all who plough, sow and reap and produce the food we depend on.
  • For farmers facing unpredictable weather patterns, price volatility and an uncertain future, both in the UK and throughout the world.
  • For the Arthur Rank Centre and the rural officers of the different denominations in the UK as they serve rural communities.
  • For Farming Community Network (formerly Farm Crisis Network) in their support work of farmers, often in very difficult situations.

North Korea

On Wednesday North Korea claimed to have successfully tested their first hydrogen bomb. This test follows a series of nuclear tests in recent years. Whilst reports show seismic activity in the area, experts believe there is no evidence of an explosion of a full scale hydrogen bomb.

But whatever the actual make-up of the bomb, the dangers of a state like North Korea continuing to pursue a nuclear programme shouldn’t be underestimated. Chatham House reports after a nuclear test last year suggest that North Korea’s increasing isolation is making their ownership of such weapons even more concerning. Kim Jong Un has cemented his leadership through eliminating those closest to him (such as his uncle) and has also paid less attention to China, previously his only ally. Experts suggest that the lack of any collaboration or outside influences leave the safety of North Korea’s neighbours essentially in the hands of one man.

North Korea hopes that this latest nuclear event will encourage the US to negotiate on a peace treaty between North and South Korea and lift some of the existing economic sanctions, but their actions have had the opposite effect, with the US continuing on its current course of economic sanctions and cooperation with South Korea. This week the United Nations Security Council also met to discuss a course of action, including options to increase economic sanctions against Pyongyang and government officials.

China has strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear development, suggesting that instead of developing weapons, North Korea should look to foster more positive international relations in order to improve their economy. But China remains reluctant to clamp down too severely on North Korea, fearing an influx of refugees from North Korea should the country’s situation deteriorate. China’s inability to stop the nuclear programme also suggests it has a weakening influence on North Korea – which is worrying.

During 2015 Russia spent some time increasing ties with North Korea and has spoken of a reluctance to increase economic sanctions after this week’s events. Whilst such an alliance is difficult to understand, it may be that such links may be able to prevent North Korea from tipping into dangerous isolation.

Overall, response to North Korea have been vocal but cautious. This is because of the clear need to maintain some form of stability in the country in order to avoid a conflict which may draw China and the US into confrontation and would clearly involve nuclear capabilities. But as North Korea continues to test weapons and progress in its nuclear abilities the options for dealing with the country are reducing. So far economic sanctions have had little effect and deteriorating relationships make it hard to know what Kim Jong Un might do. It is hard to see how the US, China or the UN can stop the nuclear programme or offer any response which might alleviate the intense and unprecedented suffering of North Korea’s citizens.

Beyond climate change, as Pope Francis recently noted, 2016 brings a number of challenges that require nations and individuals “to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.” Bethan and Elizabeth have outlined some. Other particularly contentious areas include efforts to bring peace to Syria and counter the Islamic State in its various global manifestations, moves towards tax reform, and work on international trade negotiations: one worrying trend of recent years is the quiet collapse of WTO negotiations amidst the proliferation of secretively negotiated regional and plurilateral deals, which inherently favour stronger negotiating powers and can be more easily influenced by vested interests.

A commitment to relationship building, transparency, and positive, open engagement with a broad range of constituencies could greatly enhance the possibility of just agreements in many of these areas. And there is quite a lot of scope for wider, deeper, cooperative Christian engagement, both in theology and praxis, with the issues involved … engagement that could help us learn to listen to God together more generally.

Pray for North Korea:

  • Pray for Kim Jong Un, that his heart might be changed and that God will turn him away from the pursuit of death and destruction.
  • For North Korea’s political relationships, praying especially that the country will not slide into complete isolation, that doors will remain open and that North Korea will begin to see the benefits of cooperation and communion with other countries.
  • That those who continue to live under this regime will soon see freedom from oppression and, even now, that they will know they are not forgotten by the outside world.
  • For the international community. Pray that renewed efforts will be made in tackling the suffering of those living in North Korea, that diplomatic efforts will go beyond self-preservation and will seek the good of all parties and that efforts to curtail North Korea’s nuclear programme will be successful.

Short Note: Anglican Primates Meeting

There has been much press coverage of the Primates Meeting this coming week in Canterbury, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has convened so that the Anglican primates (leaders of churches around the world) can reflect and pray on the future of the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a call to prayer, and there are prayers, reflections, stories and news items going up regularly on the Primates Meeting website.

Please pray, as the Archbishop requests, for wisdom and love for these church leaders as they gather to consider the Communion’s future.