From manuals to handbooks – praying for Methodist mission

20 September 2023

Over the past ten years, more than 280,000 copies of the Methodist Prayer Handbook provided Methodists around the world with prayers to support God’s work. These are crucial for helping all Methodist people pray for what God is doing with, and through, fellow Methodists across the world and in Great Britain.

Every year, a new edition offers the Church prayers by and for Methodists in local churches, districts and partner churches in other countries. By submitting and praying these prayers, we, as Methodist people, are living out Our Calling.

Our Calling is responding to the gospel of God’s love in Christ. So, when we write a prayer for, or pray a prayer in, the Handbook, we are part of God’s big gospel plan. That’s why it is inspiring to use the Handbook – a global publication having at its heart God’s global purposes.

This is the story of the Handbook: how it developed, and how it continues to develop. As an annual publication it changes according to changes across the Church, because these require new prayers for new situations. Both local and global.

All the world

John Wesley wrote in 1739 that “I look on all the world as my parish”. And so as Methodists engaged in God’s mission we pray. But it was not until 1813 that members of Leeds Wesleyan Methodist Circuit gathered to consider “all the world”. The meeting resulted in The Methodist Missionary Society for the Leeds District.

Similar societies formed in Halifax, York, Sheffield, Cornwall and Newcastle. But Leeds was the foundation for the connexional Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, established in 1818.

Past prayers for Methodist mission

prayer-handbook-cover-1913Not everyone could go abroad as a Methodist missionary, but everyone could pray. During the nineteenth century, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society supported “intelligent” daily prayer requests for specific mission work or places where the Society was engaged. Around the 1890s, a “fellowship of missionary intercession”, the Wesleyan Helpers’ Union, used a guide called What to Pray For.

This offered “a compendium of missionary information in a cycle of a month”, organised not by geography, but by missionary fields: for example education, and medicine. What to Pray For was a product of its time with directive imperialist, language; neither inclusive nor ecumenical.

Later called a Manual, published by the Missionary Society and then the Methodist Church Overseas Division, it contained prayers from day 1 to 28 for the Methodist Church worldwide, while day 29 was for the Methodist Church in Ireland, day 30 for the Methodist Church in Britain, and finally day 31 for the World Council of Churches. When the Church’s structures changed in 1996, the Prayer Handbook’s scope broadened to add the Methodist Church in Britain’s districts opposite worldwide church partners.

Connected for modern mission

prayer-handbook-cover-2013Today, the Methodist Prayer Handbook is still arranged as a monthly cycle. Each day’s prayers continue to guide Methodists in praying for our church partners in other countries, alongside British districts and programmes for living out Our Calling.

The 2017 Conference report, Connexionalism in the 21st Century, confirmed that: “the Prayer Handbook helped Church members feel connected with the Methodist Church worldwide, and with each other.”

More recently, David Friswell (past leader of the World Church Relationships team, now the Global Relationships team) stated: “Really helpful. We use it at church and in team meetings. District and circuit meetings often use it for opening prayers – this keeps us connected locally and globally and reminds us we are all part of something much bigger.”

Features to help you pray

One user responded that “the layout is good for ‘dipping in’.” So each year you have a new Handbook, with a familiar, but refreshed design.

This 2023/2024 Handbook has:

  • Clearer headings, eg opening, general prayers; for Our Calling; for each day’s world region/district focus.
  • A unique daily lectionary, offering Bible readings, hymns and psalms themed across the year. The Faith and Order Committee praises this daily lectionary for following an ecumenical pattern including Catholicism: “it’s a great resource”. Similarly Conrad Hicks, former Director of Global Relationships and now, finds “the lectionary very, very helpful – I always use it.”
  • Cross-references within the lectionary to A Methodist Way of Life (MWOL) commitments for supporting personal discipleship.
  • A purposeful world map showing: countries where the Methodist Church in Britain has specific global links with partner churches and organisations; mission partners’ locations including families/partners so that you can prayerfully support an individual mission partner, and everyone posted with them. As one user commented: “It’s great to have the names of real people (on the page edges) to include in prayers.”
  • A variety of types of prayers: with a mixture of ‘poetry’ as well as ‘prose’ prayers, some with a striking photograph. These mark the end of each week; make the Handbook more attractive; and offer you a different way to pray – led visually by the image, or prompting you to pause and reflect on the words. Thus the Handbook reaches out to many who pray differently.
  • Content for the Methodist Church’s social media channel by supplying the Prayer of the Day.


Presidential purposes

prayer-handbook-cover-2023Since 2020, the Handbook has reflected the Presidential theme. So for the connexional year 2023/2024, you’ll find in the Handbook the Revd Gill Newton’s deep desire: “to find the treasures offered by the Creator of the world, the King of Kings.” Titled Hidden Treasures, from Isaiah 45:3, the Handbook supports Gill’s proclamation that “God is hiding treasures for us! … untold treasures awaiting us through a deepening relationship with God in Christ, and … undiscovered treasures in our churches and communities.”

As the Vice-President, Deacon Kerry Scarlett reminds us: “Sometimes we don’t recognise treasure when we see it. Isaiah’s prophetic words awaken a renewed hope towards what will be.”

You can find specific prayer requests and information for both the President and Vice-President on a useful tear-off page. As with everything in the Handbook, it’s there to help you to know what to pray for – and to support you in digging deeper in prayer to discover God’s treasures.

With up to 400 prayers in each Handbook, Methodists pray a lot of prayers! And the fact that thousands of Methodists across the world use the same Handbook lectionary passage, and pray the same prayers each day builds our fellowship. Developing its best features, and listening to feedback from people using recent editions, the Handbook continues to offer you relevant and user-friendly prayers. It remains the key worship resource for the Methodist Church to support Methodist people praying for the whole Connexion in all its wonderful diversity, and for all our worldwide partner churches and organisations.

This really is a Methodist publication by Methodists for Methodists – in response to the gospel of God’s love in Christ.

  • Buy your copy of Hidden Treasures for £4.50(£4.15 each for 10 or more) from methodistpublishing.org.uk
  • It’s your Handbook: Please help improve the Handbook by responding to a quick feedback questionnaire due out in November. Look out for that in Methodist News! To give an immediate response, please email prayerhandbook@methodistchurch.org.uk