Steve Collins: Small Fire

June 2002
Giving prayer a spin on the London Eye
Previous Small Fires

Comment on this columnI'VE ALREADY WRITTEN (click here) about 148 and Russ Jones. London Eye Prayer grew out of Jones's concern at the growing sourness and incivility of inner London life, the creep of guns and drugs, the decay of community and safety. He wanted to arrange prayer for the city on the largest scale possible.

At the same time, he wanted to bring together a stratum of Christians not usually visible to the world at large – the culturally-aware 20s and 30s, who are too old for youth events and too cool for March for Jesus. As to where – his eye fell upon the London Eye, as well it might.

The London Eye is the world's largest ferris wheel, standing 450 feet high on the bank of the river Thames near the Houses of Parliament. It is the most successful and best-loved of Britain's millennium projects, already a symbol of London up there with Big Ben and Buckingham Palace – London's Eiffel Tower. Like the Eiffel Tower it commands a phenomenal view – down onto central London, outwards for 20 miles in all directions if the air is clear. If you want to pray over London, where better?

Once round on the Eye takes 20 minutes. Each capsule holds about 20 people. It's an interesting constraint for an act of worship. Get on, do your stuff, get off. It would be possible to do a kind of 24-7 prayer rota, always someone on the Eye praying, one arrives as another leaves.

Unfortunately, the regulations about what can and can't be taken on board preclude such things as candles or communion. Even prayer is a little constrained by the presence of non-Christians. One isn't allowed to do anything that might disturb other passengers. They might not appreciate singing in tongues! The only way to control who gets in your capsule is to hire one, as can be done for parties or business meetings.

JONES'S FIRST STEP towards his vision was to pull together a group of friends representing as many churches (and more significantly, church networks) as possible. Initial discussions centred on hiring the entire Eye for an evening. This is possible, but the sums of money required upfront were very large, and we would have to recoup the outlay by ticket sales. The risks and organisational burden were beyond us.

The alternative was to be minimal. Specify a date and time – Saturday 8 May, from 7.30pm until the Eye closes at 10pm. Tell people to buy their own tickets. The only central organisation and money needed is for publicity – flyers and a website. The rest is word of mouth, like an underground club event. We hoped.

There was no way of knowing who would turn up. No way of recognising or counting them, even if they were there. In the event, there were about 10 of us who knew one another at the Eye at 7.30pm. Just two from Grace, most of the rest from 148. We scanned the queueing crowds and wondering how many – if any – were also there to pray. We all got into one capsule and prayed silently as individuals, aided by a list of prayer topics. Naturally, we got distracted by the view. The Eye itself is in many ways the most astonishing object to be seen.

Maybe it was a huge success, and we never knew, and the other people that came never knew either. Maybe we were the only ones. My viewpoint tends to be drawn from Gideon (in Judges chapter 7), that God prefers a few committed people to thousands along for the ride. But it can be discouraging for the committed people to see that they are few. Especially after lots of publicity in large, active churches, and expressions of interest in so many conversations.

I suspect one of the problems was pedigree. A small bunch of people don't have the same prestige and pulling power as a big name church. They might be just a bunch of crazies, after all. Since the event didn't belong to any church, they didn't push it at their congregations – it was on no one's official agenda. And the 20s/30s demographic we were after is notorious for not committing to anything other than its own immediate purposes or pleasures.

BUT WE DID HOPE that prayer on the London Eye would appeal for its own sake. We wanted to get away from the branded event/celebrity preacher approach to rallying Christians. I wonder what it says about us, if we only make the effort for an officially endorsed spectacle.

Equally, I suspect on the alternative worship side a distrust of the charismatic spiritual-warfare overtones of the event. Knowing the people involved, I had no worries myself, but I can well imagine some in alt.worship being suspicious of the language and approach.

So dreams of a huge party-cum-pray-cum-witness evaporated. Jones is not particularly daunted. He is considering doing it again, perhaps in the autumn, now that people have begun to get the idea. Build up momentum for a second time around.

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