The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor for Evangelism & Witness, Rev Canon Chris Russell, reflects on the origins of the ecumenical prayer movement, Thy Kingdom Come.
11 May 2023
It is a brilliant thing that we are regularly invited to join with a local, national or international initiative as we gather together as church. Awareness, advocacy and association with themes such as Prisoners’ Sunday offer an essential opportunity for us all to reflect, pray and act.
Eight years ago a small group of people sat together, trying to discern how we might put into practice a commitment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had recently launched his Evangelism Task Group which he charged with changing the culture on evangelism throughout the Church of England. He had made evangelism and witness a priority from the start of his ministry – not as a church growth strategy, nor because he was fearful about the future of the church, but because he was convinced that the decision to follow Jesus was the best decision that anyone could ever make. And it mattered that people had never heard the good news in a way they could understand and respond to.
However, first things first. Evangelism is primarily the work of God. For it is only by the Spirit that the word can be received, that eyes can see, that ears can hear, that hearts are open to the invitation to follow. And therefore the first task of evangelism is to pray. Archbishop Justin felt compelled to issue a call to prayer for the empowering and renewing of the Holy Spirit on us as individuals, with us as a church and in those we were witnessing to. But when might be the best time to do that?
I confess I can’t remember who suggested the ten days between Ascension Day and Pentecost (but it underlines a truism Archbishop Justin regularly quotes – that there is no telling what God can do if no one cares who gets the credit). But once we started exploring it, it seemed completely obvious. In these ten days following the Ascension the first disciples were told to go and wait for the promised Holy Spirit, the power from on high, which would enable them to fulfil the great commission and live their lives as faithful witness to Jesus Christ. On leaving the mount of ascension, Acts tells us they went to the Upper Room and ‘devoted themselves to prayer’.
It was the obvious time to do it. We learned that this was exactly what some traditions of the church had always done in these days – waiting in hope and praying in expectation for the empowering of the Holy Spirit. And when we shared the idea it resonated with everyone we talked to; across denominations, across traditions, across practices. Who wouldn’t want to join in with a worldwide movement of prayer for the renewing of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world?
It has been a wonderful eight years, the stats are mind-blowing. But we are in no way finished. In fact, we are even more committed to praying Thy Kingdom Come. This is because we are even more aware of how our friends and families would be transformed by knowing the love of God in Christ, we are even more committed to witnessing faithfully to Jesus, we are even more convinced of just how much we need the animating and empowering of God’s own Spirit in the ministry of evangelisation.
And so once again this year, for these 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost, we make our way to the Upper Room, get on our knees, and pray, ‘Come Holy Spirit,’ Confident in the promise that God gives the Spirit to all who ask.
Thy Kingdom Come runs from 18 to 28 May 2023. Resources include a prayer journal, a novena, videos and reflections and also specific resources for children and families. Contributions to these have come from a number of our Member Churches.