For many years I’ve felt 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 a 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 once you’ve defined the scope of the city, and its 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 which 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 which 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 housing 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 this eventually became the de facto capital of the nation. Westminster remains the political centre of our national life today.
• Law: In the 14th century, lawyers started to move into the area between London and Westminster. 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 Worde set up his business on Fleet Street, so as to be in the middle of the business, political and legal communities, each of which both provided and consumed news. Fleet Street was London’s newspaper hub for centuries up 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.
• Entertainment: The area south of the City of London was the first entertainment and red light district in 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 to the 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 Southbank 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 University of London headquarters.
To me, these six areas constitute the core purpose of London. It began as a place of business and then became a place of politics. As a result of these two initial communities, the lawyers and journalists moved in, followed by the artists and the universities. These industries are the reason for London, past and present. They 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 those traditionally found in central London. Kensington to the west (entertainment, shopping and academia) and Docklands to the east (business and finance) are both very important. But the industries found here remain the same as those found in central London.
I want to pray for the business, political, legal, media, academic and arts communities in central London, and for their interaction with the church and Christian community. If we pray for, and see God move powerfully in, these industries, we can see a city, and even a nation, transformed.