Our Tony, who art in Number 10

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair may have felt in need of a prayer by the end of last week, arguably his toughest since taking office. That is what he got - on a grand scale.

Thousands of charismatic Christians gathered at the London Arena in Docklands on Friday night for The Festival of Life, nine-and-a-half hours of singing, dancing and, most importantly, praying that God would guide the Government in its care of Britain. Mr Blair was singled out, for the congregation believed that their prayers were answered on 1 May with the election of the new government and that their task was to call upon God to help the Prime Minister to fulfil his election promises.

While others condemned the Government last week for its treatment of single mothers, those at the Arena still believed in Mr Blair's values. David Akande, who helped to organise theevent, said that when he heard Mr Blair's speech at the Labour Party conference about the kind of country he wanted, he had found himself saying "Amen". "I was almost in some way praying ... As Christians, one of the things that motivates us is a person that at last starts to talk about compassion. Then we can, and do, say: 'Well, he's talking about it. Let's pray he does it.'"

By 11pm more than 3,000 Christians had settled in for the night and a steady stream were still arriving. The meeting was divided into slots of prayer, praise, singing and addresses.

Pastor Tony Rapu led the prayers between 9.45 and 10pm. "Let us pray for the government of this nation. If there is any focus on prayer in the Bible it is prayer for the government. Let us pray for kings and authority. Let us lift up the Royal Family before the Lord and pray for their well- being. Let us pray for Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Cabinet, that they be just and fair. Let us pray for them to have wisdom. Let us pray for them to have insight into the plans and purposes of God for his nation."

Some of the congregation listened intently: others were lost in private prayer and incantations. Adavani Makinde, 36, was swaying in her seat, baby under one arm and Bible under the other. "Every time we pray for the Government I feel good about it because I feel part of the Government and part of this nation," she enthused.

But would she last until 5.30am? "We're in the presence of God, we don't get tired," she answered, smiling at the stupidity of the question.

The Festival of Life was imported from Lagos, Nigeria, two years ago. It is an adaptation of the Holy Ghost Festival which has become the biggest regular event in Nigerian national life, attracting crowds of up to 300,000.

The festivals in Britain are organised by the Nigerian-based Redeemed Christian Church of God. This was founded in 1952 and came to Britain 12 years ago. Membership is between one and two million and the Pentecostal church recently ordained 2,000 new pastors in Nigeria, 30 in Britain and eight in the United States.

The revivalist meetings in London have until now been one of the best- kept secrets in the religious world, only publicised in the specialist Christian Pentecostalist media. The concept of praying for the Government is a literal interpretation of a part of Paul's first letter to Timothy in the New Testament which says that prayers should be made to "kings, and all who are in authority".

The Rev Colin Urquhart, director of Kingdom Faith Ministries, an organisation which promotes revival in the church, was one of Friday night's guest speakers. He has travelled to more than 40 countries and believes passionately in the power of prayer to influence political outcome.

"Look at all the prayer meetings in South Africa before majority rule," Mr Urquhart said. "You could argue that that was a factor in there not being a civil war."

Mr Blair is, he believes, going about God's work. "I think the Prime Minister probably wants to make certain decisions but Parliament is more than one man and, even though he wields a lot of influence, there are a lot of other powers and a lot of other philosophies at work which aren't in line with Christian beliefs ... If I were in his shoes, I would want a lot of prayer."