Stephanie Neville, a member of the Pray24Brum organising group, reflects on Birmingham's annual ecumenical prayer relay.

Pray24Brum, 24 hours of prayer in and for our city during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is now an established feature of the church year in Birmingham. The event began back in 2015 making this our eighth edition.

Coming in January, it is a beautiful way to begin the year. We are reminded that we’re a gloriously diverse collection of individuals and communities but that we are united in our common commitment to prayer. In 2022, as Birmingham prepares to welcome the world as host city of the Commonwealth Games, it felt if anything more important than ever to come together across our many traditions and expressions of faith and to turn together towards the God who loves us.

The structure of the event has changed little year on year. Each year is hosted by a different city centre church, and this year we gathered at the church I attend, The Church at Carrs Lane. Churches, charities, schools and Christian groups from across the city, and at times beyond, are invited to lead an hour of prayer according to their own tradition. Every year we welcome back groups for whom this is an important part of their year, but there are also always churches or communities participating for the first time.

This creates huge variety in style and subject of prayer, and yet, without it being planned as such, strands and recurring themes often emerge throughout the 24 hours. For example, this year one group focused on praying for children and young people, little knowing that the hour after them would be led by a group of school children. It was totally unplanned, but seamless (apart from the technical hitches) and beautiful!

Last year pandemic restrictions meant Pray24Brum was an online-only event. Having thought we might have to cancel completely, it still felt precious and meaningful to be connected through cyberspace. However for those of us who met again in person this year, there was something particularly beautiful and poignant. Previously we certainly took for granted this possibility of gathering together to pray and it has certainly taught us all gratitude for these simple things. Some hours attracted more people than others but often it was only small numbers who gathered in person to pray. We live by the promise of the gospels “Wherever two or three are gathered, I am there with them” and those of us who were present recognised something powerful about the simple constancy of being together in prayer.

It was also our first foray into a hybrid model, with everything being streamed online as well as open in person. We were fortunate that the technological aspects all went remarkably, and perhaps surprisingly, well! It was heartening to see how many people engaged online but Facebook statistics not withstanding we have no idea, really what the reach of the event is. We never really know who the event touches and in what ways. But then again, it is not our job to know either. We trust that it plants seeds. We trust that God will make them grow and flower.

If you would like to know more about organising a prayer relay, contact Stephanie Neville or the Ecumenical Development Enabler for Birmingham Churches Together, Robert Mountford.