Christian: We Don’t Need No Prayer Room

The decision by the Royal Adelaide Hospital to build a prayer room for Muslims, but no dedicated chapel for Christians, merely a multi-faith room instead, has drawn predictable ire from the likes of Australian Conservatives leader Senator Cory Bernardi.

The Australian newspaper today reported Bernardi  saying he is “sick and tired” of the constant accommodation to a minority group in Australia, to the detriment of Australia’s historical faith.

The report states:

Senator Bernardi said the new hospital’s arrangement was “everything that’s wrong” with the approach to integrate other cultural groups, and the prayer room was “clearly designed for Islam”.

Separate washing areas were “all the symbolism I need that this is tailor-made to accommodate to a tiny minority’’, he said yesterday. “We’re bending over to ­appease a minority for fear of causing offence while undermining our tradition and heritage.

is Bernardi right?  Is that what is happening?

Perhaps.  It’s not beyond the realms of possibility in our secular context, in which Anything But Christianity is viewed ironically, as sacrosanct, that that is the case.

But it’s not the only reason, perhaps not even the primary one.  Other faiths are less demarcated in our culture in the sense that Islam has strong parameters about what it can and cannot do; what it can and cannot abide in the public square.  Provisions need to be made.  Dedicated prayer rooms need to be available.

A multi-faith room for everyone else seems somehow reasonable because no one else seems to care too much about separatism in the way Islam still does.  And let’s face it, the anaemic version of Christianity in the public setting today has been at pains to show how much it is the same as everything else.  Islam, to its credit, is not making that mistake.

Perhaps too Bernardi, for all his railing against the secular system, misses the radical point of Christianity.  For if he understood it rightly he’d realise, we don’t need no prayer room at all!

Here we are in Easter Week; a week which will culminate in the remembrance of the death of our Saviour and his resurrection not three days later.  It’s the centre of our gospel and, it’s the crucial aspect of Christianity that Islam denies.  In Islam Jesus did not, could not, die a shameful death, because Allah would not allow such a terrible thing to happen to one of his prophets.  That’s what Islam teaches.

But no death of Jesus means no resurrection of Jesus.  And no resurrection of Jesus means no giving of the Holy Spirit without measure by the risen Jesus.  And no giving of the Holy Spirit without measure means that the old covenant strictures and structures remain in place.  It means that there are taboo areas; sacred places divided from secular places.  It means that nothing has changed.  The old world remains, with its old ways and old limitations.

No resurrection means that not all foods are clean.  It means that not all places can be redeemed by a Spirit more powerful than the spirit of this age.  It means that the temple curtain has not been torn in two, permitting full access to God.  It means that ritual washings and separations are still required; washing and separations, by the way, that can never truly cleanse and can never truly remove sin.

And a resurrectionless faith means that prayer rooms are still required – sacred spaces – to engage with the Holy One.  a resurrectionless faith means that a compass has to point to a Holy City; that as the distance grows between you and the city, so too the distance between you and your god.

And Christians just don’t believe that.  Christians don’t need that.  We have a resurrection.  We have the promised Holy Spirit, flowing out as fresh water from the temple, as Ezekiel described it, enlivening the brackish salt water of the old age.

So when I go to the hospital to visit a friend and I need to pray for strength and endurance and grace, I can pray in the cafeteria. I can pray in the hallway.  Among the smokers at the front entrance. I don’t need no prayer room!

And I can pray without washing myself, even though the woman handing me my change may be having her period.  I can pray without facing a Holy City, because as God’s new person I am being built into the living temple at the centre of the Holiest City of all.

I can pray and read Scripture sitting next to a wife-beating alcoholic, or a drug-addled person with mental illness.  Heck, I can even pray for them, with them and share a coffee with them. All without the need to separate myself and wash myself, because the Holy Spirit has done the sanctifying, purifying work within me that no external ritual can touch.

Just as when Jesus touched a leper and made him clean rather than becoming unclean; just as a woman with a flow of blood touched him and was made clean, so wherever we are – dirty and ritually unclean as it may be – is made clean by the power of the risen Jesus within us.  There is, as Abraham Kuyper famously said, no part of the creation over which the Lord does not say “Mine!”  And because we are in Him, all things are ours, as 1 Corinthians 3:22 reminds us.

That’s what we remember this Easter week.  And no other faith has that.  No other faith can touch that with a barge pole. No other faith is that radical despite its rituals and obvious differences. We don’t need no prayer room because, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence in time of need.

There may be no dedicated prayer room for Christians in Australian hospitals these days, but there is a throne room containing a throne of grace, and it’s accessible in the CEO’s office, the surgery, the palliative care unit and the mop room in the basement.

Bernardi thinks he’s being a radical conservative.  He’s not.  Whatever his motives, in the end he could just be aligning himself with the resurrectionless faiths that need sacred spaces and vantage points.  When you’ve got access to the very throne of grace you don’t need no prayer room!

7 Comments

  1. Your point is taken Stephen and theologically you are correct. I think Bernadi is expressing the erosion of our social foundations which had some semblance of the gospel in them, and in that he is correct. How much should we as Christians watch it happen and how much should we prophetically speak it out? Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, but it’s sad to see the erosion of Christian capital. I stand with you in declaring the radical power of the resurrection and that makes us unafraid. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

  2. Nice, but achapel offers other benefits. Try being a fair dinkum chaplai without a quiet place to comfort and counsel .

  3. As a hospital chaplain, I believe you have completely missed the point of having a prayer room. You might be happy when you VISIT a friend to pray anywhere. Of course that is true. But when you are in hospital and facing many different challenges or are the family of someone very ill or dying, then finding a quiet space away from their room to be alone with God and pour out your heart in privacy makes a huge difference to the ability to cope,
    I have lost count of the times people from the Mental Health Unit have told us that the prayer room is the only place they can find peace and how they love to come and spend some time there. At Easter and Christmas it is the perfect place to bring patients who want to have time out with God or attend a small service. It is the place where in quietness and with soft music playing in the background we hand over the ashes of the child they have lost before 20 weeks gestation and give them a small ritual ceremony allowing them to acknowledge the life of their little one and express tears and grief. Fathers especially seem very grateful for this sacred time in a quiet space.
    If you were to read the prayer book we make available in the prayer room, you would see the thoughts and deep heartfelt words people have expressed in writing that helps them to clarify their experiences and their reaching out to God. Often these people are typical Aussies who don’t know how to express verbally, but somehow are able to allow those deep feelings to be poured out on paper. What a privilege it is to read them and then as Chaplains, gather those prayers and pray for the people in that book. We may not always know them, but God does. We have bibles in there, candles also and some beautiful books and paintings expressing the beauty of creation. The whole atmosphere is to be a sacred and peaceful space in the midst of what often is a very difficult and vulnerable time. It is the power of the resurrection given a physical outlet.
    We have at times has to fight to keep this space available for varying reasons which I don’t want to go into here, so I know that it is at risk and can understand Senator Bernardi’s concern.
    And I personally can attest that when my 36 year old son died of cancer after a 2 year 3 month battle where he was hospitalised in 3 different hospitals, the prayer room became my ‘go to’ place to take the next breath to travel the journey ahead of us.
    It was the place I sat in after being with him in his hospital room and watching his spirit leave his body, where I poured out my tears to God and took the strength to ring his father, brother and sister and give them the news of his passing as his wife and nurse lovingly and gently washed his cancer wracked body.
    So I am sorry Stephen, but you don’t know what you are talking about here. Yes you are theologically correct, but you have completely lost the plot on this one I’m afraid. I just hope you never have to be in the position where you actually find out how meaningful and necessary this space can be.

  4. Thanks for your words on Jesus’ resurrection and our access to the throne through him. Very edifying thanks.
    It is a shame though that Cory Bernadi had to receive a swipe to make your point. I am glad of his calling out and making us think about these significant changes that are happening in our culture.

  5. Having also done my stint in hospital chaplaincy, I tended to see people on the wards or in my office. At Murdoch uni we established a multi faith worship space which was brilliant for uni use. My opinion of Bernardi is so low it doesn’t bear printing, his extremism should concern us all.

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