Weeks of Guided Prayer

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Weeks of Guided Prayer (WGP) are now more fashionably known as Weeks of Accompanied Prayer. I have been involved in organizing and supervising these weeks for well over twenty years and have recently hosted one in our own benefice. On this occasion twenty-two people participated, helped by five prayer guides. In every case individuals made huge strides in their pilgrimage through life. The youngest participant was fifteen and the remainder represented every decade of age up to eighty.

Those involved in a WGP make a commitment to pray for half an hour alone at home each day as guided by their prayer guide. In addition they meet their prayer guide each day for around forty-five minutes to share their experience and receive guidance for the next prayer time. This commitment is proving more difficult for individuals to make at the present time as work patterns and other commitments ofteninhibit such regular daily commitments. It is, however, with some imagination and flexibility, aimed to be reasonably inclusive to those at work.

This pattern of prayer, reflection on the prayer experience with another person and further prayer in the light of the conversation was refined by St Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises. In the Eighties this ‘process’ was developed to make them more accessible to those unable to undertake the full exercises. The two most popular versions were ‘The Open Door Retreat’ which is a nine-week course for groups of no more than ten, and the WGP. The major benefits of these programmes are that they both encourage individuals to develop a pattern of daily prayer and also suggest straightforward ways to use Scripture in those prayer times.

The lead in time for a WGP is about six months and would include one or two open meetings for those interested and sometimes a visit to preach or talk at the main Sunday service. One of these preparation meetings would involve a practical demonstration of what a prayer time is like. This instruction in the use of the prayer time is repeated more fully at a meeting of all participants at the beginning of the week. This prescribed ‘spiritual exercise’ is one reason that WGPs work so well. The week ends with another gathering of the guides and guided for a time of thanksgiving. I have never known that any participant has not had a cause for thanks and I have also never known any who have started but not completed the week.

Some practical points: first, about half of the WGPs I have been involved in have a parochial setting, while the remainder have been ecumenical ventures organized by Churches Together. Secondly, WGPs can be quite expensive if the prayer guides have to travel or need accommodation; therefore participants are asked to make a donation to cover costs. Thirdly, it works best when the guides can be based on one site – this enables mutual support and a sense of community for all those involved.