The story behind The Leprosy Mission Prayer
by Janet Walmsley
The Leprosy Mission Prayer is well-known to staff, personnel and supporters alike — in both implementing and supporting countries. But where does it come from? And who wrote it? Was it Wellesley Bailey (the founder) himself?
The original The Leprosy Mission Prayer was actually written by the Most Reverend Foss Westcott, Metropolitan of India and Bishop of Calcutta — sometime during the period when Mr Donald Miller was serving the Mission in India (1922-1942).
The circumstances surrounding the prayer are told by Mr Donald Miller, General Secretary of The Leprosy Mission, in May 1970 at a Conference held at Hildenborough Hall in the United Kingdom, immediately following the formal opening of the new Headquarters of The Leprosy Mission at 50 Portland Place, London. [See explanatory notes below for more detail].
Donald Miller relates a fascinating story — of a time in The Mission nearly 100 years ago, and of a humble, godly man whose heartfelt prayer for people affected by leprosy, is still as relevant today as it was when first prayed in Calcutta Cathedral, India. This is his account:
“I was privileged to know, over a course of 20 years, that quiet saint of a man, the Most Reverend Foss Westcott, Metropolitan of India and Bishop of Calcutta. In him the grace of simplicity abounded. It was that which enabled him to give himself for others and bear much fruit. Here is an illustration. After we had begun making the 14th Sunday after Trinity Leprosy Hospitals’ Sunday, I asked one year if it would be possible for the Bishop himself to preach the sermon at Calcutta Cathedral. He readily consented but said he would need to ensure that he had a fresh contact with the work to get his impressions and facts right; and might he come and stay with my wife and myself at Purulia? [A Leprosy Mission Hospital]
That involved a full night’s journey in a rackety train, then a day tramping around the great Home [Purulia] and preaching by interpretation in the afternoon to “the brethren” — as we always called the patients — then a night in our home and the next day largely spent in preparing the manuscript for his sermon, before again taking the jolting night train back to Calcutta. All done so simply, and so thoroughly — a constant consequence of simplicity — for a fifteen minutes’ sermon! And this by a man loaded with large responsibilities. His refreshment and freedom for fruitful work came from his rest in God.
It was the Bishop’s duty, because of his high office, to live in a house of large dimensions — Bishop’s House, across the road from the Cathedral. There he dispensed a wide hospitality. Guests who came to stay were taken up the wide staircase, past the great reception room, and library-cum-committee room on the first floor and on to the spacious bedrooms on the second floor.
Over their doors were the names of past bishops. “You are sleeping in Heber” you would be told.
After I had stayed there several times, I once said to the chaplain, “Where does the Bishop sleep?” “Come, and I’ll show you”, he said. And he led me up beyond the second and third floors to the roof. On it was a small, thatch-roofed structure, with roll-up blinds at the sides instead of walls.
Under the roof was a very plain bed and a small table with devotional books and writing material. There the accoutrements of office were totally laid aside. He returned to the simplicity of the people among whom he had worked as a missionary in Chota Nagpur. His rest was not in pomp and circumstance, but in the retreat to the simplicities of private worship, and in the rest and refreshment of quiet trust in God.
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”
I like to think that it must have been up there that the Bishop prepared the special prayer for Leprosy Hospitals’ Sunday now used in many lands.
Donald Miller’s account (as seen in the article above) has been transcribed from the published booklet, “Every Disciple Has Two Homes” – Eight Devotional Talks given by A. Donald Miller*
The theme of Donald Miller’s eight devotional talks, on the occasion of the formal opening of The Leprosy Mission’s new Headquarters and official ‘home’, was that of “spiritual home-making”.
Each chapter focused on a particular aspect of a “home”: eg. The roof, the door, the bed, table and stool, etc. as an image of ministry and fruitfulness in the Lord’s service; and on men and women Donald Miller had known whose lives and fruitfulness had touched the Mission. The story of the Bishop and his Prayer is told in Chapter 5: “The Bed” — with the theme ‘Simplicity’ [hence the reference to the Bishop’s sleeping arrangements!]
Jesus said to His disciples: “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you” John 15.4 [Jerusalem Bible]
Janet Walmsley is on The Leprosy Mission Australia National Council, NSW State Council, and former overseas staff member.
Thank you, Janet!
* [Pp 16-17] [Booklet Printed by Wm.Carling & Co., London & Hitchin.]
The Leprosy Mission Prayer
“Almighty Father, Giver of life and health: look mercifully upon those sore stricken with leprosy: Stretch forth Thy hand to cleanse and heal them as did Thy blessed Son of old: Grant wisdom and insight to those who are seeking the cause and cure of this disease: Give tenderness and sympathy to those who minister to the sufferers: Restore again to the fellowship of their relatives and friends those who have been separated from them: Quicken in the minds of all men a lively sympathy with the work of The Leprosy Mission, that it may never lack either the men or the means to carry on its succour of the afflicted, in accordance with Thy Holy Will. We ask all for the sake of Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord. Amen.”
Note: This is the original version of The Leprosy Mission Prayer.