For many years I feel like I’ve been on a journey of learning how to pray for London. And what starts as something seemingly quite simple actually becomes quite complicated.
For starters, how do you define London? Quite literally, where does it end? Depending on how you measure it, London can be pretty big. Does it include all the people who have a London postcode? Or an 020 phone number? Or who live in Greater London? Or inside the M25? Or even those within commuter distance? All these can be valid ways of measuring the scope of the city, and result in a population of anything from 7 to 14 million. Which can be pretty overwhelming.
And then once you’ve defined the scope of the city/ conurbation, how do you begin to pray for all the needs of all the people who live there? All the diverse communities, places, peoples and races that make up the capital?
I’ve found that to pray in a meaningful, on-going way for London, I need to pray a bit more specifically. I’m always helped in this when I go back to considering the purpose of the city. Why does London exist? If I can pray for the key industries or spheres that make up the personality of London, then I feel like my prayers can impact the whole. So I now see London as an agglomeration of the following different key spheres:
- Business: This is the first and oldest sphere. London originally began as a trading town on the banks of the River Thames, built by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago. The City of London, the financial centre containing the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England, on the east side of modern central London, continues to be a business centre for the city, the nation, and the world.
- Politics: A thousand years later, the royal family decided to build a palace a couple of miles up the river at Westminster, and eventually this became the de facto capital of the nation. Westminster remains the political centre of our national life.
- Law: In the 14th century the lawyers started to move into the area between London and Westminster, and the area between Temple Bar and Ludgate Hill is still the hub of our legal system, filled with barristers’ chambers, Inns of Court, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Old Bailey.
- Media: When the printing press took off in the 16th century, Wynken de Word set up his business on Fleet St, so as to be in the middle of the business community, the political community and the legal community (each of whom both provided and consumed news). Fleet St became the newspaper hub of London for centuries, until the 1980s, when much of the trade moved up-river to Wapping. The broadcasting media outlets (BBC, ITN and SKY) came much later, and are dispersed across central and western London.
- Entertainments: The area south of the City of London was the first entertainments and red light district of London (home to Shakespeare’s Globe, amongst many other venues). In the 19th century, the modern West End area to the north of Westminster and west of the City of London became the place to go for theatre lovers, shoppers, and those wanting a good night out. Post World War II the modern south bank has also been revitalised as an arts hub for theatre and classical music.
- Academia: In 1826 University College London was founded in Bloomsbury, quickly followed by King’s College in 1829. A thin slice of land in central London between the West End and Legal London is now also home to the LSE and various smaller colleges, and the headquarters of the University of London.
To me, these six areas constitute the core purpose of London. It began as a place of business, and then a place of politics. As a result of these two initial communities, the lawyers and journalists also moved in, and were then followed by the artists and the universities. These industries are the reason for London, past and present. These industries take up recognisable areas on the map of central London, and they help me in navigating how I can pray for the city.
There are other centres of influence outside traditional central London. Kensington to the west (home to further entertainments, shopping and academia) and Docklands to the east (home to more business and finance) are both very important. But the industries/ spheres they contain remain the same.
I want to pray for the business, political, legal, media, academic and arts communities in central London, and for their interaction with the church/ Christian community. If we pray for and see God move powerfully in these spheres, we can see a city, and even a nation transformed.
Mark Williamson is a founding director of One Rock International, a training organisation resourcing missionary leaders across the globe. He’s also passionate about praying for London, getting into deep conversations, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.