Reflect on the need for prayer in the Commons – Kenny MacAskill

Prayer time in the House of Commons can recall the Keystone Cops (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Prayer time in the House of Commons can recall the Keystone Cops (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Sitting days in the House of Commons Chamber begin with prayers. It’s not a quick Grace being said but what seems a long sermon from a High Anglican Bishop. The strange procedure of members at one stage turning to face the wall behind them put me in mind of attending a friend’s wedding in the west of Ireland.

Then, in something akin to a Keystone Cops caper, Presbyterian and Anglophone Scots stood whilst Irish-speaking Catholics knelt and vice versa throughout the service. But what transpires in Westminster is all very bizarre for a 21st-century democracy and most especially in a multi-faith and multi-racial country.

I recall a debate at the inception of Holyrood. Were there to be parliamentary prayers at all? If so, from what church or faith were they to be? It was a very interesting debate, with secular and faith arguments raging, and about the position of no established church. Holyrood ultimately agreed to establish a Time for Reflection that would be from all faiths and none, encompassing both secular and religious.

I agreed with that as I believed a spiritual, or just thoughtful, induction would be no bad thing, but it shouldn’t be for any one Church or faith, let alone religion. I think it worked well and there have been many powerful inputs from both faith and secular speakers. Westminster looks and sounds anachronistic in comparison.