Collect for a Troubled Nation
Lionel E. Deimel
Episcopalians are used to praying for the President of the United
States. For example, the Form I Prayers of the People includes
For our President, for the leaders of the nation, and for
all in authority, let us pray to the Lord.
It is not uncommon to name the President (e.g., “our President, Donald”)
in prayers and to name bishops and other clergy as well.
For many Episcopalians, the election of Donald Trump as president was an
extraordinary event, and his being president is even more
extraordinary, and not in a good way. Not only is President Trump
proving to be an unusual president in every dimension imaginable, but
also he lacks both conventional qualifications for the job and, seemingly, every virtue
generally thought of as Christian. Mr. Trump has vowed to roll
back myriad progressive developments that have been widely applauded by
Aversion to President Trump has led some Episcopal churches, when
praying for the president, to omit his name. There has been a good deal
of discussion about this. Failing to mention the president’s name hardly
keeps his identity secret, though the practice may make some people feel
better. In any case, everyone knows who the president is, and therefore
who is being prayed for.
The dialogue about naming the president raised another issue. What do we
actually mean when we pray for the president? Are we praying for his health,
his success in his job, or something else? Personally, my prayer would
be for Mr. Trump to experience a complete personality transformation,
along with corresponding changes in his theological and political
outlook. Clearly, such a prayer would be unrealistic.
Praying for the president without any further explication, whether by
name or not, is very Anglican. Individual worshipers can understand
the prayer however it makes sense to them, with the “true” meaning left
up to God.
Many people, and certainly many Episcopalians, see the advent of the
Trump administration as a unique threat to our democracy and to the
principles underpinning it. It is natural to ask if Episcopalians have a prayer
tailored to present circumstances.
The Book of Common Prayer contains contains a
collection of prayers “for National Life.” None of these prayers, to me
at least, seems adequate to the moment. For example, prayer #18, “For
our Country,” reads
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer is fine for normal times, but, in this season of high
anxiety, it seems to ignore the elephant in the room. (Isn’t our
language wonderful?) Additionally, #18 is something of a laundry list.
Even if you consider it relevant to present circumstances, the prayer is
not particularly apropos.
Prayer #19, “For the President of the United States and all in Civil
Authority,” is more specific:
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided
by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governor of this
State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom
and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the
love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
(Note that archaic words in italics above may be replaced by their
modern equivalents, e.g., “your” for “thy.” Compilers of the prayer book
neglected this fine point in formatting Prayer #18.)
In s similar vein is Prayer #22, “For Sound Government.” It is a
litany containing these lines:
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we
may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to
other nations of the earth.
Then there is Prayer #28, listed under “Prayers for the Social
Order,” which acknowledges that all is not well. It
is titled “In Times of Conflict”:
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
None of these prayers plead for what might be called protection from
abuse. Perhaps it was hoped that such a prayer would never be needed. I am reminded,
however, of lines from Fiddler on the
Roof. Leibesh asks, “Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?” Rabbi
answers, “A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the
Tsar … far away from us!”
The BCP prayers do not address the deleterious effects government
actions may have on the people, the effects implicit in Rabbi’s reply to
Leibesh. The Trump administration, in its frantic, if incompetent, haste
to seem to fulfill campaign promises on one hand and its eagerness to
invest power in plutocrats eager to strip government of well-intentioned
functions, has dismayed some citizens and frightened others.
Not only do people have grave concerns about the Trump
administration, but they also are not sanguine about their prospects for
influencing the Republican juggernaut. The failure of tens of
thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of phone calls, letters, and
messages to stop the Senate from approving Betsy DeVos as Secretary of
Education, for example, is exceedingly discouraging. In these
circumstances, an appeal to God for protection seems a natural response
of the Christian.
With these considerations in mind, I wrote a prayer and requested
criticism of it from two Episcopalian groups on Facebook. The numerous
comments I received in response caused me to make many small changes to
the text. The latest version of my prayer is the following:
For a Troubled Nation
God of justice and mercy, who delivered your people from the
oppression of Pharaoh, protect us from greed, ignorance, and
malevolence in our political leaders, and help us make our nation
one of peace,
liberty, and justice, in harmony with your creation and exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
The Facebook comments mostly concerned (1) from whom or what was
protection being sought and (2) the degree to which the prayer might be
acceptable to most Episcopalians, regardless of political sympathies.
Some friends worried that my original text disparaged all politicians
or government generally. The revised text attempts to characterize
the “bad” political actors without casting aspersions on all politicians.
Admittedly, the tenor of the prayer suggests that all is not well
with our government, but the text still admits of some Anglican
ambiguity. (Cf. “Protect us from President Donald Trump and his evil
minions.”) Even people who approve of the recent sharp turn to the right
represented by the advent of the Trump administration do not, I hope,
condone greed, ignorance, and malice. Nor, I suspect, do they object to
peace, liberty, justice, and protection of the environment. (Well, the
environment thing might be controversial. Perhaps people can agree in
principle, if not always in specific instances.)
I believe my prayer would cheer many Episcopalians without driving
others from the church. The Church must, I think, stand for some things,
even if agreement falls short of 100%.
Finally, I note that my prayer is in the form of a collect, which is
a form within which I am comfortable writing. Its main virtues are
succinctness and a singular focus. (Cf. Prayer #18.) Of course, collects
are more appropriate in some contexts than others.
I hope that individuals may find this prayer useful in their private
devotions. Perhaps there are churches—brave ones, I suppose—that will
find a use for my collect as well.
I welcome comments and suggestions on this project. I hope people
will not find it mean-spirited, but I leave that to others to evaluate
You may send me e-mail here or leave a
comment on my
— Lionel Deimel, 2/8/2017