Last updated: 11am, 21st October, 2021
Sydney, Australia

The Holy Spirit has been moving churches and congregations to pray during the COVID-19 pandemic, but ministers are reluctant to label it a revival just yet.

Australia Marrickville Anglican Church

The Marrickville Road Anglican Church in Sydney. PICTURE: Supplied. 

 

“I thought ‘Wow!’ It was me who thought ‘I don’t know if we can do this - I mean, 12 hours, yeah we could do that, but people aren’t going to get up at three o’clock in the morning are they?’ But we said, ‘let’s throw it out there’ and it got booked up really quick."

- Ross Ciano, senior minister of Marrickville’s Anglican Church.

More than a decade after a small church was planted in Sydney’s inner south west, when a handful of people met for the first time to worship in a cafe, the diverse congregation of around 150 is preparing for their fourth 24-hour prayer vigil.

Times have been challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic sent communities around the nation into lockdown, but at Marrickville’s Anglican Church, it has also led to a renewal and desire to pray.

Senior minister Ross Ciano says they held their first prayer meeting prior to July, when Sydney entered its second extended COVID-19 lockdown. Another was held in August, followed by a third in September. Preparations are currently underway for their fourth, likely to be held on 23rd October.

Twenty-four hour prayer events are not new.

Ciano had previously been involved in similar prayer meetings in the UK where he worked as a youth minister and elsewhere. When it was suggested Marrickville might do something similar, it came as a surprise.

“I thought ‘Wow!’ It was me who thought ‘I don’t know if we can do this - I mean, 12 hours, yeah we could do that, but people aren’t going to get up at three o’clock in the morning are they?’ But we said, ‘let’s throw it out there’ and it got booked up really quick,” Ciano said.

All the half-hour prayer slots were soon filled - by young nursing mothers in the early hours of the morning, by senior members of the congregation Ciano refers to as ‘saints’, and by regular congregants as well as new Christians, including a father who prayed with his young son.

“Surprisingly, some people woke themselves up at three o’clock in the morning, or 3.30, to pray; so the hardest ones I would have thought was that 1am-5am [time slot], and they were the ones that usually get filled the quickest,” he said.

In the first prayer event, he prepared a list of categories for the congregation to follow “and it went so well” they decided to do it again when lockdown happened.

Australia Sydney Marrickville Angelican Church prayer

 Congregants praying at Marrickville’s Anglican Church. PICTURE: Courtesy of Marrickville Anglican Church.

Marrickville isn’t the only church in Sydney being led to a greater engagement with prayer, after the greater Sydney area and surrounding locales of the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong were forced to return to online church.

Churches are reaching out to other churches, such as in Castle Hill district in the city’s north-west, and in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south.

Senior minister Eric Cheung from St Phil’s in Caringbah, in the heart of ‘The Shire’ as it’s parochially known, recently organised an online prayer meeting which attracted 1,500 faithful from churches across Sydney and including some who dialled in from overseas.

“Prayer-wise, during the second lockdown particularly, we as a church just thought, ‘What do you think God is teaching us?’,” Cheung said. “Ultimately, we said, ‘obviously we are not relying on God the way we should; we are not coming to Him the way we should - let’s start by praying’.”



As a result, different prayer groups started “popping up” in church, without Cheung’s involvement.

“They started with a Zoom 6.30am Bible study and prayer time. They would come bleary-eyed, turn on their computers and just start praying together!” he said.

Others went for a walk together in twos and prayed. “It was really encouraging for that to happen, and from that I thought, if this was happening in individual churches, wouldn’t it be great if we all gathered together virtually and did the same thing.”

He felt if they weren’t praying as a people of God in response to the pandemic, “what should we be doing?”, saying it was the best thing they could have done, with the direct result of bringing the church closer.

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Rev Sharon Hollis, President of the Uniting Church in Australia says as a denomination they have joined other Christians in a number of ecumenical prayer gatherings, both nationally and internationally, since the pandemic began.

“At a time when so many have experienced loss, anxiety, fear and uncertainty, coming together in prayer has reminded us that God walks with us,” she said. “Coming together in shared prayer reminds us that despite our physical distance we are all held in God’s love and [it] is a source of comfort and connection for many.”

Australia Melbourne Canterbury Uniting Church

Canterbury Balwyn Road Uniting Church in Melbourne. PICTURE: Google Maps. 

Meanwhile, prayer is on the agenda at Melbourne’s Canterbury Uniting Church which offers traditional Tongan services as well as English. Rev Salesi Faupula says they held two National prayer events in 2020 and continue to hold their annual prayer and worship time to dedicate themselves and their ministry to God at the beginning of the year.

As well, they gather online as a Tongan community nationally and internationally to mourn and worship during funerals, which is also a time of more general prayer when the church found itself being the resource when families started to hold prayer vigils.

“That sense of incorporating hymns, having that prayer space, and being able to join together with families from around the world and to participate when a funeral is overseas - they became the places of these special prayers,” Faupula said.

“That sense of incorporating hymns, having that prayer space, and being able to join together with families from around the world and to participate when a funeral is overseas - they became the places of these special prayers."

- Rev Salesi Faupula, of Canterbury Uniting Church in Melbourne.

“There’s always going to be interest from the community to be able to provide that; I don’t think anyone else in our community has on a national scale.

“There is that growing sense of need of that spiritual sustenance that can come.”

When Ciano spoke to other ministers about what they were doing on Facebook, other churches made their own commitment to join in the 24 hour session to pray for their denomination, community, city and the wider world.

“Initially it was just us, then I put a word out to a Facebook page and some ministers, saying ‘we’re going to do it on this date, does anyone want to join us?’ And we got some buy-in by a couple of churches.” Ciano expects even more churches to be involved in the coming vigil and sounds both amazed and humbled as he speaks about how God has used and grown the prayer vision.

Both Ciano and Cheung are reluctant to put the label of ‘Revival’ to what is happening in their ministry, but Cheung does acknowledge that past revivals have always begun with Christians praying.

Cheung particularly would prefer to see smaller groups established in churches who meet every day or every week to pray.

“People keep asking me if I have got an amazing vision for it, and I said it’s really just bringing people together to pray...and when people keep asking why can’t we do more and more of these events, I say, [well] my preference would be that 10 groups in each church did that every day or each week...but if that’s what God wants, we’ll do it.

“We are certainly more aware [that] there’s more to this world than a pandemic, let alone the things that we see day-to-day; we are actually more aware that God is doing something and we have to turn to Him and rely on Him and fix our eyes on Jesus.”