A single wish for a new Book of Common Prayer

BCPThe Episcopal Church is beginning to think about revising its 1979 Book of Common Prayer. This will spark all kinds of feelings in people and generate, one hopes, an immense amount of reflection on our liturgy. If Episcopalians really mean lex orandi, lex credendi, then we should approach this process prayerfully and hope-fully. (Whether it is a process that should be happening at all is a question for another post.)

Any final revision is many years away. But that won’t stop me—and I’m not the first—from expressing a wish for this new book. It’s a simple one.

I hope that the new Book of Common Prayer will be—wait for it—a book.

Actually, that’s two wishes in one. Let’s take them one at a time.

First, the “a”: whatever is produced from this liturgical revision, I hope it can be contained in a single volume. Common Worship, which is the Church of England’s ongoing liturgical revision, spans multiple volumes. Someone said to me recently that Common Worship was no longer a liturgical revision but a publishing industry. There are different books to celebrate the Eucharist, conduct daily prayer, baptize, marry, and bury people, and celebrate special holy days.

This has all sorts of negative effects, not least of which is that it means that every parish has to produce its own orders of service because there is no single book it can point its congregations to. This sounds nice—let people choose their own liturgical adventures—but it’s an epic administrative burden and for small parishes, it is one more thing to do when resources and people-hours are in short supply.

It makes me think of my own experience with the 1979 BCP. When I was confirmed, my congregation gave me my own copy of the prayer book. I still have it. In that book, I could—and did—read how to pray daily, participate in the Eucharist, celebrate special days, find answers to my questions about the faith, read the historical documents that undergird the church’s teachings, pray the psalms, and read how I was baptized, would be married, and will be buried, not to mention ordained, which my teenage self didn’t foresee at the time. There is this powerful pedagogical and catechetical effect to having all of this contained in a single volume. When someone gets confirmed in the Church of England these days, there’s no single gift that is like it.

Second: a book. For all the reasons I just outlined (and many others), books still matter. By 2021 or 2024 or whenever, no doubt books will have retreated even further. But there is something about the tangibility of a book—I’ve had my BCP on so many bookshelves over the years, connecting me to that congregation and my confirmation—that will continue to endure. Of course, our liturgies should be available electronically (as they currently are), but they should also continue to be printed on actual paper with actual ink and bound between actual covers to create an actual book.

So there it is—a new Book of Common Prayer that is, in fact, a book.

Easy, right?

7 thoughts on “A single wish for a new Book of Common Prayer

  1. I was raised in Episcopal churches that used the 1929 {?} BCP. When the ’79 revision came along it seemed a bit strange for awhile, but not for long. I’ll be gone by the time another revision appears, but it too will be more in line with the times.

  2. ginnygarrard

    I grew up with the magnificent 1928 (yes) Book of Common Prayer and I miss it still, even though I’m a Rite II’er now. One of the few things we Episcopalians still have that binds us together is our BOOK of COMMON Prayer (emphasis intentional), which holds us together despite the many divisions and conflicts that have ravaged our denomination over the past several years. It’s hard to imagine why our Church would want to emulate the dying Church of England by introducing power-point liturgy and new liturgical revisions designed to make us more “relevant”–an old-fashioned buzz words from the long-ago 1960s. BIG MISTAKE, and and utterly unnecessary one!

  3. Given that a new prayer book will ultimately be ratified by General Convention, I would anticipate Rite I will be in 4pt type, the Catechism and Creeds will be rewritten, marriage rites will contemplate the joining together of any two, or more, of anything created by the father-mother god and any evidence of historical documents will have long since been purged. But the good news is that our new Book of Common Prayer will not only be relevant to the culture but will anticipate cultural changes in the 40s and 50s. Unfortunately, I will only be in my 90s and will have to live through all of it unless by good fortune I will be executed beforehand for being a Christian.

    1. streever

      Sure, extending marriage to same-sex couples will only inevitably lead to polygamous marriages with animals. What a trash comment.

      1. Really? The basis for non-heterosexual marriage is two-fold: first, any scriptural proscription is erroneous; second, any relationship based on love is worthy of Christian union. How does one’s true love for an additional spouse not fall under the rubric of the above. If I were to truly love my dog, and the dignity of the way I were sexually wired is to be respected – that is the baptismal covenant, isn’t it – why can’t I attain to Christian marriage? Seems to me you are being rather narrow-minded within your biblical understanding.

      2. Jesse Zink

        Probably not the place to take this particular back-and-forth further, though noteworthy that a conversation about the prayer book so quickly came to this topic.

  4. Yes, indeed. I share your “two wishes in one.” Among the many things that concern me about the prospect of Prayer Book revision is the fear that some parishes may forego buying a stock of new, revised Prayer Books and simply download what they need as they need it, as a cost-saving measure. Ad hoc and disposable print-outs for various occasions do not a well-grounded Christian make! I hope this is an unjustified fear–I think on the whole we Anglicans are quite the bibliophiles, even in this day (and I hope it ever shall be, world without end!).

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