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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 Episcopalians.

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 ever. Amen.

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 blog.

— Lionel Deimel, 2/8/2017

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