Praying for Britain

The British have gathered together to beseech divine aid in times of crisis and to thank God for their deliverance in times of triumph since the reign of King Aethelred. Natalie Mears traces the history of national days of prayer...

The congregation in Westminster Cathedral, London, during National Prayer Day, 7 September 1941. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the April 2010 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Four days after he became prime minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill approved a national day of prayer. Roused by news of the German onslaught against the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium and France, people throughout Britain flocked to their local churches and chapels. Five days later, news reached the country of the successful evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. Many laymen, as well as clergy, quickly attributed this as a ‘deliverance’ or ‘miracle’ to divine providence and to the day of prayer. Churchill himself became an enthusiast, approving two national days of prayer in each of the next three years. Then, in 1943 and 1944, he agreed to brief halts in war production so that factory and office workers could join in the BBC’s broadcast services.

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