One of the most exciting and moving stories to emerge in recent years, concerns Ffald-y-Brenin, a remarkable House of Prayer and Christian Retreat Centre set in the hills near the sea in West Wales. You can read the amazing story of God’s work at Ffald-y-Brenin in Roy Godwin and Dave Robert’s very readable book The Grace Outpouring. The particular thing I want to single out in this blog, however (which I believe is particularly relevant for us at Knaphill at this time), is summed up in the strap line of the book – Blessing Others Through Prayer. There are several different Biblical words for ‘blessing’ but essentially the word means ‘the good will, the favour, of God, and the happiness that we enjoy as a result’. In effect, the story of Ffald-y-Brenin, is the story of how a local community prospered under the blessing of God as a result of the prayers of God’s people.
Ffald-y-Brenin has a long history of being a place of prayer but when Roy and Daphne Godwin became Directors of this beautiful Welsh Christian Retreat Centre a few years ago they began to seek God for his direction for the Centre. Several patterns began to emerge over the months that followed including a strong conviction that God wanted them to pray God’s blessing on the surrounding community which was going through hard times. The story is too long, and complicated, to fully tell here, but essentially it gradually became clear that God was calling Ffald-y-Brenin to become ‘a house of prayer’ (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13), with a particular remit to specifically pray God’s blessing into the lives of those who visited the Centre seeking help but also into the surrounding community.
Writing about the ‘pattern’ of prayer that emerged at Ffald-y-Brenin, Roy Godwin says: ‘We turned our sights outwards and began speaking blessings into the local community … we pray for people and we pray for households. We speak into every household, blessing it in the name of Jesus … we bless every household, we bless every marriage, we bless the relationship between family members of different generations and we bless their health and we bless their wealth. We bless the work of their hands. We bless every wholesome enterprise they’re involved with, that they may prosper. Because we are an agricultural community, we bless the flocks and the herds, and we bless the grass so that it will be nutritious in winter – which it would not normally be – and will not need to be supplemented in order to strengthen the animals. We bless supportive networks of friendship that run through the community, because they’re a sign of the kingdom. We bless the pupils of our rural school and ask God to aid their learning. We bless the teachers and pray that the school may be a safe and wholesome place, where simple childlike trust and belief in God and in Jesus can be comfortably maintained. We pray for both places of worship in the valley, that the Word of God and the Spirit of God may flow out from both. Then we speak to the hearts of all the people who are in the community. We bless them to be safe and to be softened, so they become more and more responsive to the voice of God. We bless them with the overspill of the kingdom of heaven being made manifest here in Ffald-y-Brenin.’
Over time, the fruit of these prayers has been quite marked. For example, a man who rented a small stable and did agricultural repairs, who had been finding things difficult, suddenly found that his business began to take off … to such an extent that he was able to take on larger premises and employ more staff. A farmer was absolutely stunned by the number of quads and triplets born to his ewes when previously the best he had hoped for was at least some twin births. Yet another farmer (who had struggled in the past) was blessed by the birth of a calf which clearly would develop in time into a bull of exceptional quality. A lady who ran a farmhouse bed and breakfast was suddenly awarded ‘AA Landlady of the Year for Great Britain’ which led to unexpected publicity in the media and a welcome increase in business. Not only did the community experience material blessing however, but also spiritual blessing. One chapel, which had not had a baptism for a good few years, suddenly experienced a breakthrough resulting in a number of professions of faith and baptisms. In addition to this there is a continuous stream of ‘arrivals’ at Ffald-y-Brenin – from all walks of life – of people sensing their need of God being drawn to the place for some unaccountable reason.
‘Great story!’ you say, ‘But what has this to do with Knaphill?’ Well, I would suggest that it has a lot to do with Knaphill. Julia and I love living in Knaphill. Although a suburb of Woking these days, Knaphill has somehow managed to avoid being absorbed into the urban sprawl of its much larger neighbour and retain its identity as an ‘urban village’. Knaphill may not be as ‘pretty’ as some of the ‘chocolate box’ villages scattered elsewhere throughout Surrey, but it has a great atmosphere. It has a fascinating history of its own, and quite a number of its residents have lived in Knaphill all their lives. Knaphill commands a certain ‘loyalty’ from those of us who live here and we love the place. There is a certain ‘civic pride’ and a determination to ensure that Knaphill survives the constant pressures from big business and greedy entrepreneurs to overwhelm it and sell it off bit by bit for profit. Julia and I have encountered a really warm and friendly welcome from just about everyone we have met, not only from ‘church people’ but from ordinary members of the community, the shopkeepers, neighbours, members of the Residents Association, and so on. We feel like we have lived here for ages, and just love being here.
Knaphill has its problems, however, not least the threat to local businesses and shops etc. The site of the Old Library remains an eyesore that blights the centre of the village with the building growing more and more dilapidated as the days go by. At a recent meeting of the Residents’ Association Committee (of which I am a member) we were told that assurance had been given (yet again) that work would be starting on the site in a few weeks. When I repeated this to someone a few days later my comment was greeted with derision. ‘We have heard it all before!’ they said (obviously feeling that as a comparative newcomer to Knaphill) I had fallen for the same old deception that continually does the rounds? Several of the shops in Knaphill are in the process of closing down as well. The reason given is that the rents they are now being asked to pay have risen considerably despite the fact that business is falling off for these shops. One wonders what will happen to these shops? Will each of them become yet another ‘fast food’ outlet? I love food (as my friends know), and there are some great ‘eateries’ in Knaphill, but the last thing Knaphill needs is yet more ‘fast food’ outlets! The largest pub in Knaphill is also about to close and the rumours are that it is going to be turned into flats and/or shops? Most of the shops and businesses are already suffering because of the impact of the nearby giant Sainsbury Supermarket. As things stand at the moment we still have a couple of banks, Boots the Chemist, a library, and a Post Office … but there is still an imbalance of the types of shops we need in Knaphill. We could do with a better balance … maybe a hardware store, a proper toy shop, a butchers and so on would be welcome additions. The reality is, however, that without an up rise in business we are likely to see more shop closures in the future.
What then, is the solution? Well, one thing we could do is to use our local shops and businesses more than we do. I quite understand why people shop at the big supermarkets, and I am not suggesting for one moment that we cease to do so, but we could also make a deliberate point of using our local shops and businesses. Julia and I make a point of regularly shopping at our local grocery stores, newsagents, chemist, electrical shop, and so on. We buy flowers from the florist each week. We make use of the library, and the Post Office. We eat breakfast one day each week in our local café. We buy clothes from our local outfitters. Few of us who live in Knaphill (judging by the number of Mercedes cars around) are so poor that we really cannot afford to buy some stuff from our local shops. If Knaphill Village is to survive, however, I suspect we need to do more than this!
This is where I think we can learn something from the Ffald-y-Brenin situation. Roy Godwin’s vision is not just that Ffald-y-Brenin should to be ‘a house of prayer’ praying God’s blessing into the local community, but that God would raise up other ‘Prayer Houses’ throughout the UK (and around the world) praying for God’s blessing to be upon the people, shops, businesses, families, schools, churches, etc. of their local communities. Those of us who have a heart for Knaphill – especially those of us who profess to be Christians – need to really take our community to heart and start to pray for God’s blessing to fall on our community. Can I suggest that you re-read the quotation in italics given above concerning the ‘pattern’ of prayer employed by the good folk at Ffald-y-Brenin and use it as a basis for your own prayer for Knaphill (or your own community). As Christians we are not here primarily to condemn our communities and the people who live there. There will always be stuff going on that we ‘struggle’ with as Christians, but primarily we believe that the Christian Gospel is ‘good news’ and that God ‘desires everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). So we need to start to pray positively for our village, its shops, businesses, schools, institutions, churches and people. Praying that God, in his love and mercy, will be pleased to pour out his blessing on our community … not just that our community might prosper materially, but that it might turn afresh to the Living God and experience spiritual blessing as well!
God bless you and keep you,
God smile on you and gift you,
God look you full in the face
and make you prosper.
~ Numbers 6:24-26 (The Message)