Church allows worshippers to get closer to God, by text messaging a prayer

Patrick Sawer
The Rev Harvey Gibbons of St Augustine of Canterbury, in Rodbourne, Swindon - Dave Cox/Swindon Advertiser

Whether in supplication to God or as a confession of sins past, prayer has played a central role in the life of the church since its inception.

After all, what more traditionally religious sight is there than someone on their knees, deep in quiet communion with their God?

But a church in southern England is propelling the act of praying into the digital age by setting up a text-a-prayer service.

The parish church of St Augustine of Canterbury, in Rodbourne, Swindon, has launched a dedicated mobile telephone number to which members of the congregation can send their prayers.

The texts are then read out at the following mass as part of the prayers at the church’s weekly services.

“It’s a lovely way to give those who can’t make it to church a way to contact us directly and still be part of the service,” said the Reverend Harvey Gibbons.

Since its launch earlier this week texts sent to St Augustine’s include prayers for sick loved ones and for peace in the world's trouble spots, such as Syria.

“They are similar in subject matter to the sort of prayers we get at a normal Sunday service,” said Rev Gibbons. “But it’s a very innovative way of praying.“I think it is something other churches will start to think about as it’s another avenue that ought to be explored.”

The text-a-prayer initiative was the brainchild of St Augustine’s lay minister, Neil Fisher, who was trying to think of a way of catering for members of the congregation who could not attend services in person, whether because of busy schedules or infirmity.

“People appreciate having a prayer said for them and most people have a mobile phone these days,” said Mr Fisher. “It’s very simple. People can text the prayers they want people to pray for them and they will be read out during the mass. It’s a brilliant way to connect people with prayer in the modern age.”

Naturally, given that the church’s mobile number is published on its website for all to see, the texts are checked before they are read out, to exclude any prank or malicious messages.

“All requests are screened to ensure they are suitable for use during Sunday worship and anyone beyond Rodbourne is welcome to use the service.”

The new scheme comes as Anglican church continues its ‘Digital Evangelism’ initiative, designed attract new worshippers though its doors by using social media and the internet to broaden its appeal.

Last year it emerged that the Church of Scotland was exploring the introduction of online baptism and many churches around Britain now stream their services online to allow housebound parishioners to be present in spirit if not in body.

One streaming service, churchservice.tv, broadcasts services from more than 80 churches, from city cathedrals such as St John’s Catholic Church in Portsmouth, to more isolated parishes.

The Pentacostal Hillsong church, which has six branches in the UK, has more than one million followers on Instagram, including Justin Bieber and the Chelsea player David Luiz.

Additional reporting by Archie Osmond

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