Cathedral Prayer Boards

In England, a number of cathedrals have public prayer boards. Paper and pens are provided for visitors to the cathedral to write their prayers which are then pinned to a board or placed in a box. In many cases, people write prayer requests rather than prayers in themselves, and it is expected that cathedral staff will pray on their behalf. A recent study has analysed the prayers and prayer requests at Bangor Anglican Cathedral in North Wales and the results were presented in a paper presented at the International Society for the Sociology of Religion in Turku, Finland (ap Siôn 2013b) and the chapter of a book (ap Siôn 2013a).

In the Lady Chapel in Bangor Anglican Cathedral, the opportunity is offered for prayer and reflection. There is a prayer desk there and also a prayer board on which people can attach their prayers or requests for prayer. Tania ap Siôn, a researcher with the University of Warwick, analysed a random selection of 1,000 prayers or prayer requests that were left on the prayer board between 2005 and 2009. They tell us quite a lot about how people see God and how they see God as working in the lives of people.

The large majority (92%) of the 1,000 prayer requests were intercessory. Just 51 were thanksgiving, 5 were for confession or repentance and 3 were prayers of adoration. Prayer is seen by many people primarily as a way of seeking some form of assistance from God. As has been noted in other research with young people (Smith and Denton 2005, Hughes 2007), those people who believe in God often see God primarily as a resource on which they can call for help. Another 16 per cent of prayers sought God’s protection, mostly for family and friends. The prayers often used terms such as ‘look after’, ‘keep safe’, or ‘take care of’. Many prayers cited a specific context in which the protection was requested: such
as ill health, soldiers in war zones, the safe birth of a baby and safe travel.

There are many implications of this research. It is evident that prayer boards are providing a meaningful way for some people to relate to the church and to God. In some cases, these would be people who would not come to services of worship, or be active participants in churches. Nevertheless, the prayer board is opening up communication with these people and giving an opportunity for the expression of faith.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 1, Pages 13-15

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