by Dr Keith J. White
Posted on December 1 2014
In the run up to Christmas this year I visited two members of the Mill Grove family: both of whom are in their late seventies. One was terminally ill and in a hospice, the other had suffered a series of strokes that had left him partly paralysed down the right side of his body. They were contemporaries at Mill Grove, arriving at about the time I was born. So I see them as older brothers who have always been part of my life and extended family.
It was on a Sunday evening and we were alone in the hospice when the first confided in me that he was not religious, but that he would like me to pray for him. A few days later the second broke into tears as he asked me if I would take his funeral. I agreed, with the proviso that no one knew which of us would die first. And then we too prayed. Neither was religious in any conventional sense.
So as Christmas nears, how do we make sense of this apparent contradiction between secularity (the non-religious), and praying? One way is to see the request for prayer as part of “folk religion”, but that doesn’t really fit in these cases because they were asking me, a Christian minister to pray for them, and knew that I would pray within a Christian framework.
Perhaps we could come at this another way. There is a real problem with the term “religious” in that it is associated with buildings, forms of worship, professional clergy, and a whole cluster of assumptions. And for this reason I am keen to point out that I do not see myself as religious either. What’s more the founder of the Christian faith could hardly be …