Communities of prayer
in Prayer, providence and empire
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Special worship amplified the communal role of churches and religion: in addition to encouraging and reinforcing denominational identities, fasts, thanksgivings and special prayers could, on occasion, strengthen attachments to alternative ‘we’ and ‘us’ groupings, based on regions and colonies. Special prayers and days nourished a sense of common purpose and shared responsibility among the inhabitants of disparate and diverse colonies and the wider empire. This chapter argues that special worship reflected the complex layers of regional, colonial and imperial denominational identification that developed among the inhabitants of empire. The focus is on how clerical elites articulated these community identifications in their sermons and how understandings of community varied depending on the occasion: though some fasts and thanksgivings orientated colonists towards the mother country and an imperial identity, most occasions were regional events that reminded colonists that their new homes were not Britain and that they, as a community, might be specially favoured and chosen by God. Days of prayer did not make communities; primarily, these occasions reminded individuals that they were social animals, that their lives were bound up with others and that communities shared a past and were recognised by God.

Prayer, providence and empire

Special worship in the British world, 1783–1919