Prayer Book Revision and Identity

I’ve been trying to pull my thoughts together towards what I’d like to see out of the prayer book revision plan, but have had a hard time doing so. Yesterday, it finally clicked. A number of different things aligned in my head, and I caught a glimpse of the situation in a way that I hadn’t understood it before.

A key piece of the puzzle here is “identity” and the ways in which our liturgies are understood as a public enactment of who we are as a church, both as an ecclesial body that spans the United States and several other countries and as local embodied communities that make up the church in our neighborhoods.

Here are some of the things that I see connecting…:

  • The current argument around Communion without Baptism. In my latest sizeable piece on CWOB, I clarified further that I believe identity and anxiety are key drivers of this particular movement. The real question that we are wrestling with here is not the obvious one (what is the shape and nature of our sacramental theology?) but an identity-driven one (does the church affirm [at least verbally] that it—and I—am welcoming and inclusive?).
  • The bulletin for Sunday’s installation of Bishop Curry as Presiding Bishop.
  • The notion of “liturgical evangelism.” This can paraphrased loosely like this: If Sunday morning is the church’s cultural moment in the spotlight, then we need to have a service that is going to draw people in rather than turn them away. We need a service where visitors are going to feel comfortable and included, and maybe they’ll actually come back. There’s usually more than a hint of anxiety built into this one because the fear is, if a visitor doesn’t feel welcomed and included, they won’t come back and our church will continue to lose numbers and die…
  • And that fear connects to the sobering reality of how the numbers overall are looking for the Episcopal Church. Here is the latest research on the 5 year trends from 2009-2013 for the Episcopal Church as compiled by our Office of Research under Dr. C. Kirk Hadaway.  Here is his latest snapshot of the demographics of the church based on the 2014 data in both the short form and the long form.
  • Last but definitely not least, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last week or so considering the second resolve of the prayer book revision plan resolution: “Resolved, That such a plan for revision utilize the riches of our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship;”

So—what’s going on here? How do these things connect together?

One of my axioms is that liturgy is the kinetic expression of the gathered community’s theology. (Or, at least, it should be. I’ll touch on how and why that can break down a little further on…) As such, there is a direct relationship between the identity of the worshipping community and the liturgy through which it expresses who it is and what it believes. However, identity can be a very vague and slippery thing due to a whole bunch of overlapping scopes and aspects. Furthermore, identity is neither static nor something that can be easily nailed down. Certainly there are some aspects of identity that can be quantified by sets of numbers, but identity as a whole is more of a mental or ideological construct. When we start “acting out of our identity,” then, the questions must be asked: who is the “us/our” and which version of constructed identity are we working with? Furthermore, because identity isn’t static, I think a lot of effort around identity in the Episcopal Church is invested in what I call “aspirational identity”—who we wish we are, who we believe that we can eventually be, rather than who we may actually be now.

Let me break this down in a couple of different ways.

  • There is the actual identity of the local worshipping community. This refers to an identity based on the people are who are physically present in the nave during worship at your local congregation.  Notice that this is a little more precise than “local community.” That’s deliberate. For instance, at the church we recently left, the “local community” included children but the “actual local worshipping community” didn’t as the kids were hustled out of worship.
  • Then there is the aspirational identity of the local worshipping community. This would include all of the people who you really think ought to be in your local congregation and who certainly would be if they just realized how awesome you are. For instance, I know a church in an urban area whose congregants are mostly  older folks who commute in from the suburb they went to when White Flight transitioned the neighborhood from ethnic European immigrant to Black. The urban area has since gentrified and is now filled with young professionals and families with children.  The hope, the aspirational identity of this congregation, is well-stocked with these young folks even though very few (if any) actually darken a pew on Sunday morning. Typically, it is this aspect of identity that gets factored in when liturgical evangelism is on the table. What is it that we imagine “those people” might like? How should we change ourselves so that “those people” will want to come and join us so we won’t die and the bishop won’t close us down?
  • Identity doesn’t just manifest on a local level, though. Indeed, one of the key things that I think we are now and will continue to argue about and fight over is the aspirational identity of the whole church. What could/should the church look like? This is the point where I think the second resolve in the prayer book revision plan resolution is very telling. In the aspirational whole church the seven different aspects of diversity outlined there would be richly and thoroughly represented. As a result, when we think liturgical evangelism and prayer book revision, I see us working around the question of whether a given liturgy will attract and keep the wide diversity (and great numbers!) that will surely follow when we finally “get it right” with our liturgies, all kinds of people do flood in, and our aspirational vision is fulfilled.
  • But, there’s also an actual identity of the whole church to be reckoned with as well. That’s where the statistics come in. They show an actual church that is largely white, aging, and shrinking. And, despite our vaunted liberality—even after the departures of the last decade—only 29% of surveyed congregations identified themselves as “somewhat liberal or progressive” and only 8% as “very liberal or progressive.”


Who is the church that we are revising the prayer book for?


That’s not a rhetorical question or a “gotcha” but an honest question that we need to have clarity on. This is where all that CPE and therapy come in handy—so that we can assess what our true motives are so that we are not working out of our fears and anxieties but actually know what we’re dealing with, what situations we’re envisioning, and why.

It’s this confluence of aspirational and actual identities that I find interesting when I consider the liturgy for the installation of the Presiding Bishop.

Again: liturgy is a public expression of community identity. This event is a Big Deal for the Episcopal Church. It isn’t quite on the scope of a royal wedding, but it is a key point where a certain amount of attention will be focused on us and our church. In this moment we have an opportunity to introduce ourselves liturgically to people who may not know much about us and who we are. What kind of identity does this liturgy enact?

Here’s the thing—this liturgy is an embodiment of the actual worshipping community who will be gathered in the National Cathedral on Sunday. That is, we have Spanish-speaking people, clergy from Native American backgrounds who speak Lakota, gospel choirs from African-American congregations, and the like. We have progressive liturgies like Enriching Our Worship, Prayer 2 which will be the Eucharistic prayer for the service. In a real sense this liturgy will be an authentic expression of that gathered group.

But there is also a significant disconnect between what will occur in that liturgy and the average Episcopal Sunday services in the parts where there is overlap.

I said that liturgy is “the kinetic expression of the gathered community’s theology.” That’s what liturgy ought to be. In reality, liturgy is the kinetic expression of what the people with the control print on the papers that get handed out and what gets enacted in the chancel. Sometimes these two things are exactly the same—that’s what it ought to be. But I’ve certainly been in places where the clergy and/or worship leaders have different notions about theology and its liturgical expression than the majority of the congregation. There’s a paternalistic sense that the leadership knows better, and that they understand their role to lead the congregation up to their more enlightened level. Hence, I always get a little worried when I hear clergy tell me that they’re leading their congregations into a new kind of worship or liturgy; it seems to me their congregations ought to be leading them rather than the other way around… (I’ve ranted before about clergy inflicting their personal spiritual journeys on the congregation, I won’t go into it now…)

Clearly this installation liturgy is intended to be a celebration of the multicultural diversity of the Episcopal Church upon the installation of its first African-American Presiding Bishop. I completely understand that. Not only is the installation of a Presiding Bishop an occasional liturgy (occurring only once every three to nine years) but this particular installation is a unique one—you can only do “the first” once by definition…

But how do we “read” this event, or how will it be read by others?

This is our main public moment for years to come; this liturgy is portraying the Episcopal Church and its liturgy in a way that is dissimilar from what visitors would find in the majority of Episcopal churches they might visit. Do we read this as a unique liturgy celebrated once to mark an important event coupled with a significant milestone, or do we see it as a template for what the leadership thinks our liturgies ought to look like—setting the tone for the desires of the “incoming administration” as we look towards prayer book revision?

To what degree is criticism of the installation liturgy—and I have heard some—related to a gap between the theology of the planners of the liturgy and the theology held by the local communities from which the critics come? (And please note that I am making observations here, not criticisms. Trust me, I’ll make those clear if I decide to do so…)

The participants in the installation liturgy are, I believe, a microcosm of the aspirational identity of the whole church as constructed by those who wield power in the church currently. And why not? This is a vision of the church as diverse, welcoming, and inclusive. But does it necessarily follow that in order to make this aspiration the actual identity of the whole church that an installation-style liturgy must become the norm? We should resist the temptation to draw an easy line between the installation liturgy and the character of a future prayer book; that move is not self-evident. However, I’m sure that there are plenty on both sides who will quickly do so, either fearing that to be the case, or hoping that it will come to pass.

Let’s not forget, too, that this vision only represents one version of the aspirational identity of the whole church. Part of our conflict within the church is about who we are and who we wish to be going forward. Are we the church of the upper-crust, the church for those who have arrived in society? Or are we the church of the liturgical(ish) social justice warriors? Or are we whatever we were when we were back in the ’50s? Or the 70s?

The reality of our situation is that there is a disconnect between the (several competing) aspirational identities of the whole church and the actual identity of our local worshipping congregations.


Who is the church that we are revising the prayer book for?


Until we have some clarity around the answer to that question, we will be working in the dark.


56 thoughts on “Prayer Book Revision and Identity

  1. Lizette Larson-Miller

    Thanks Derek – I think you raise a crucially important question about the ‘audience’ of the prayer book. Aspirational identity is right – with very little dose of reality, and absolutely no patience for the multiple motivations of why so many people have left the Episcopal church. My particular fears are many, including my suspicion that we have not yet lived into the 1979 prayer book, that identity and liturgy – as you rightly put it – are completely woven together and we may need to be careful what we wish for (new liturgy and new identity that is a post-Unitarian melange), and that the desperation for more bodies in pews will change us from knowing ourselves to be the body of Christ and having something to offer, to offering whatever we think people will want to hear this week. The introduction to my presidential address at societas liturgica this past August used a real and personal example of this – at least the ecumenical audience laughed as they understood how insane the situation was. I’m afraid many advocating for these changes have lost the ability of perspective insight.

  2. Dick Mitchell

    Preach it, Brother! I too have surveyed the service leaflet for tomorrow’s liturgy, and had a similar reaction. My wife and I travel, and in the past 60 days have attended Episcopal Sunday Eucharists at parishes in Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina — besides our home parish here in Maryland. In NONE of the services we attended did we encounter any liturgy that looks like the one slated for tomorrow at Bishop Curry’s installation.

  3. Jon Forbes

    As a new priest in a rural Ontario parish I struggle with this tension of creativity in worship and in all descisions being motivated by what we think “others” might want. This type of thinking is rampant in my Parish. I enjoy creativity, and the rubrics allow for a fair bit of it. Creativity motivated by fear and anxiety will never transpire into healthy change or for that matter bums in seats. A clear vision of who we are is essential in living out our prayer life together. Thank you for these insights.

  4. Ann

    As I have said elsewhere- revision is already happening from the congregation up — it will never again come from the top down. Once EOW was released — liturgical creativity has flourished. I personally like this trend but many fret.

  5. Barbara S.

    Just for some perspective on the Installation: I’m singing the Durufle Requiem on All Saints’ Day with a couple of local choirs: a mixed group of Methodists and Presbyterians.

    I mentioned the Installation at rehearsal last night – and nobody was aware of it. Nobody knew anything about it, or about Michael Curry, or really about anything Episcopalian. These were Protestant Choirpeople – active members of their churches. We all live in the liberal Northeast, deep in the heart of Episcopalian Country.

    We’re just not that big a deal, I’m afraid; nobody’s paying the remotest attention to us – not even other Mainline Protestants, our natural allies and compatriots.

    It’s complete fantasy that we think so, as far as I can tell.

  6. Susan Brown Snook

    Derek, I appreciate your notion of “liturgical evangelism.” I think that many of our disagreements – over communion without baptism, whether the Nicene Creed is a “stumbling block,” how we should change our liturgy or music to appeal to the identity we aspire to – all come back to this notion that our liturgy should do our evangelizing for us. The church is seen as a big box store that people come to in order to acquire the products that fit their needs. It’s up to the church to stock the shelves appropriately. I think the problem comes down to the fact that we have really forgotten how to do evangelism outside the liturgy (which, of course, can indeed be evangelistic). If we (all of us, not just the professionals who are paid to preach) can learn how to tell our faith stories outside of the safe confines of the church, and provide a catechetical process that introduces people to the depth of life-changing meaning, practice, and fellowship that Christian faith brings, our liturgical disagreements will become much less central.

  7. John H.

    To me, there’s nothing more condescending that those little ‘call-outs’ to the poor and downtrodden–and all Spanish speakers, who are assumed to be both. To me, there is nothing quite as sickening as trotting out whitey versions of cultures that have no use for the people putting on the parade.

    I always think of Arthur Duncan and Anacani on the Lawrence Welk Show, and how they were so beloved as symbols of white America’s love for the non-WASPs. The two of them were performers showcasing their talent, and I understand that part. But their appearances on the ‘The Whitest Show on Earth’ are difficult to watch.

    Unfortunately, that’s exactly how I felt when I read that service booklet.

  8. Barbara S.

    Susan Snook makes an excellent point above, I believe. I hope we pay some attention there.

  9. T.W.

    In a way, this bulletin is brutal honesty. No, not on the literal reading–we are not the church of Latinos and Native Americans (combined 4.5%). But we are the church that can’t get out from under the generation of ’68. Doesn’t matter how many in the pews are there to speak the language of the Book of Common Prayer together; our ruling class is terminally embarrassed by the whole thing. A political fantasy of the kind represented in the installation bulletin is very honest about who they are (nothing could really broadcast more loudly how white they largely are), where their heads are, and where they want to take the church. They don’t care how many of us younger folk are driven away if they can enact their dreams of a New Christianity before they age out. In their neatly partisan worldview, those of us who want a gay-accepting church that nonetheless observes and celebrates the ancient and historic faith are some kind of impossible contradiction. They would rather compete with the Shambhala bookstore and the white privilege conference for a slice of our weekends…

    How painful to muse on where we’ll go if the new Prayer Book is as bad as they want it to be. A non-Chalcedonian ethnic Orthodox church recently moved into a dead ECLA building in my neighborhood–as more mainline churches we’re in communion with die I suppose there will be more novel choices, but in the BCP1979 church, unloved of its prelates, I thought I had found the church I wanted…

  10. Ann

    The members who speak Spanish as their first language or are from families whose first language is Spanish are a growing demographic in The Episcopal Church. Why shouldn’t our liturgies reflect this reality.

  11. Paul Goings

    T.W. says everything that I wanted to say. Those who are committed to this model of the church are of an age, and appear to want to desperately cling to an illusion that was unrealistic even in the glorious 1960s, and now just seems sad to most people.

    I am the most dissipated sort of Anglo-Catholic imaginable, liturgically, but you know what I expect at diocesan and national church events? The Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1982, with material from the Book of Occasional Services as a appropriate. Not this multi-culti liturgical pornography that some people seem to be addicted to.

  12. Derek Olsen Post author

    Funny you mention that, Ann… At clergy conference earlier this week, our Hispanic missioner sought out my wife to have a conversation with her. Our missioner is a native Dominicana and she said she needed M’s help because the thing they needed most right now was an English language service and she didn’t feel her English skills were up to it. Too, she needs help with the youth group–all English-speakers.

    The local communities around you may be different, but that’s what’s going on here. I suppose that reinforces the notion that no minority community needs white people of privilege informing them what they need…

  13. Scott Knitter

    The most powerful congregational participation I’ve witnessed in a diocesan convention liturgy was when the convention was held in a 1928 BCP parish as part of a reconciliation between the diocese and that parish. The main Eucharist of the convention was 1979 Rite I and the Mass setting was Willan’s Missa Maria Magdalena, well known by many. The roof nearly blew off during the Sanctus. Nothing like doing something strong and well-known. What made the event special was the largeness of the gathering…it didn’t need a stunningly creative and hard-to-follow musical setting to dampen the enthusiasm.

  14. Derek Olsen Post author

    Well, Susan just described that as the perception of a lot of people—a perception that needs to change.

  15. Susan Brown Snook

    Umm, yes, thanks, Derek. I don’t think the church SHOULD be Wal-Mart. I think that’s a misperception that takes our focus off our mission. That’s what I meant to say. Derek, I appreciate the fact that you understood!

  16. Barbara S.

    I agree that was a good service. I’m looking forward to the music tomorrow; there’s going to be a Gospel choir – including “Wade in the Water” for the asperges! – which is almost always a great thing.

    I’ll be very happy to watch tomorrow; I’m curious about what it will be like. I’m basically over the moon about Michael Curry, so I don’t really care much what the service is like, to be honest – and in any case, these kinds of services are one-offs. You just have to accept that.

    A chanted ordination service is a one-off, too, after all. I mean, I love those kinds of services, too – but there are other kinds of perfectly valid worship also. All I really care about is that there’s some actual religion in it; this one had it.

    Notice that this service started off with some quotes from Augustine! I thought that was really interesting….

  17. Derek Olsen Post author

    Really, Ann, “love of Euro-centric liturgy”? As I would ask my exegesis students: “Show me where you see that in the text. Are you finding it that thought there or are you assuming it and bringing it there?”

  18. John H.

    I’m puzzled about this concept of “Euro-centric” worship. The vespers service linked above is about as European as a liturgy can get, with its odd mix of Reformation and Baroque innovations like numerous musical performances and lengthy addresses and sermons. There is a good bit of American music, which is maybe what is meant by “non-European”. There is some Spanish thrown in, but that of course is a European language.

    Musical performances, chit-chat, and the sermon make up about 80% of that service, I would estimate; the liturgy, such as it is, provides a framework for the service, but little else—and that arrangement is a distinctive heritage of the very European Reformation. The “make-it-up-as-you-go” text of the liturgy are about as American as you can get, so that’s a break from Europe.

    I’ve attended a number of African-American services that were completely untouched by anything European, in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Their tradition actually predates the whole concept of “Europe”, though there is an ancient connection to Hellenistic Greece. My regular parish for a long time was an Arab parish of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in the US. If you don’t like the European tradition, those two, along with the “Thomas Christians” in India, are nice choices.

  19. Christopher

    Derek, I think that you have outlined some important areas that if we don’t attend to will only increase conflict. The amount of conflict alone in TEC is enough for me to say we need to make space and time rather than rush ahead.

    About a year ago, there was ongoing conversation as changes were occurring that potentially could have pitted people against one another in my congregation. Facilitating conversations using guidelines was helpful in deepening appreciation for one another across real liturgical language and theological differences in a way that begin to re-situate persons from different viewpoints within the broader tradition stream without moving to suggest one or another party was orthodox or not. What I see is a tendency for us to do that, myself included. And language like Unitarian and MTD are loaded as much as orthodox can be. I after all, would not want to suggest the St Helena community was less than orthodox and they have proceeded with care in offered a different worship language and patterns within the broader BCP tradition. Rather, one of the guidelines was assuming faithfulness on the part of one another. We did not come out agreeing with one another on everything, and we did come out loving one another more and appreciating one another. So, if I were asked, I would say conversations of this kind at the local worshipping community level and extending in network fashion through dioceses and then nationally is a wisdom-data model that seems wise to me prior to any further moves toward revision.

    I do see on the edges a Christological broadening related to creation and I think that this is vital, not for getting people in the pews–I don’t care about that and think it’s a Christendom worry and model as much as trying to change liturgy to appeal to the passerby and CWOB are often about unconscious want to remain at the center of the public sphere–it is about recognizing in Maurice’s words that we are related to God in Christ, with the we not just being human beings, but the entire cosmos. There is a vision of interconnectedness in Christ that Cranmer hints at in 1549 that is more than the Sursum Corda or be lifted up into heaven spirituality that Stephen Sykes attributes to Cranmer:
    “WE do not presume to come to this thy table (o mercifull lord) trusting in our owne righteousnes, but in thy manifold and great mercies: we be not woorthie so much as to gather up the cromes under thy table: but thou art the same lorde whose propertie is alwayes to have mercie: Graunt us therefore (gracious lorde) so to eate the fleshe of thy dere sonne Jesus Christ, and to drynke his bloud in these holy Misteries, that we may continuallye dwell in hym, and he in us, that our synfull bodyes may bee made cleane by his body, and our soules washed through hys most precious bloud. Amen.”
    This abiding spirituality is a vital Christological liturgical opening of our eyes and ears at a time when responding in Christ lends itself ecologically.

    I oversee several large production-type liturgies each year different from that of the PB installation, and similar in terms that they are unique, particular, occasional. They are a lot of work to pull off, and the usual parish would not be able to do such.

  20. Barbara S.

    Well, so far – with the exception of the “Ecumenical Blessings – this is a straight-ahead Prayer Book service, as far as I can tell. (It’s apparently going to go on till about 4 p.m. or so!)

    One interesting thing: the Gospel Reading was, I believe, the historical one for All Saints: Matthew’s Beatitudes. That was the BCP reading, anyway, and it’s what Catholics get today.

  21. Darren Miner

    You mention the one-off service of the new PB’s installation. What struck me is that they did not use the readings for All Saints’ Day, Year B. I thought that the prayer book was pretty explicit that Principal Feasts “take precedence of any other day or observance.”

  22. Craig Bustrin

    Regarding the possibility of Prayer Book revision, here’s a principle that should be seriously considered:

    The Boomers Don’t Get To Do It Twice.

    As a Boomer myself, I’m well aware of the fact that we have a deeply-rooted tendency to shove our ideas and ideals down other people’s throats. We will be mostly dead by the time a revised Prayer Book really starts to be the lived and prayed and internalized experience of the Church. It’s not fair for us to haunt our spiritual children and grandchildren.

    How shall we remove such a delicious temptation? Here’s one option: let’s make it a rule of thumb that no one in a decision-making position on any Prayer Book or Hymnal revision committee can be over the age of 40. They can request the insight, wisdom, and scholarly acumen of their elders, of course, but any Prayer Book revision should be shepherded and shaped by the people who will actually be ‘lex orand-ing and credend-ing’.

    Let me repeat the meme once again: The Boomers Don’t Get To Do It Twice.

  23. Ann

    The Installation service was in addition to the regular observances of the Cathedral. They did All Saints at the morning services. What amazed me was how in line it was with my experiences of worship as it is developing around the church. EOW Eucharistic prayer for one. The shape of the liturgy remains — but the contents evolve.

  24. Barbara S.

    I absolutely love Craig Bustrin’s post – and his suggestion! What a great idea. It’s really time for other voices to be heard (and I’m a Boomer, too).

    Well said, and let’s move on now….

  25. Paul Goings

    I think it needs to be standard practice for ‘blogs, etc., where liturgy is discussed that the commenter’s age should appear next to their name. I strongly suspect that some very predictable correlations would emerge.

    As to the installation service, I may not have the latest copies of the Book of Occasional Services, but has aspersion officially been added to an ECUSA rite?

    Also, I think that the Cathedral cancelled its usual services for the Sunday, except for the eight o’clock. So surely this would have been the principal service?

  26. Derek Olsen Post author

    Recall, though, Paul that an aspersion is a ceremonial action, usually not a text. Yes, there are standard anthems/antiphons sung during the aspersion, but it primarily an act and the Books of Common Prayer historically have been less specific about defining liturgical actions rather than language. (And the text of the Vidi Aquam does appear in the Book of Occasional Services albeit as part of the Epiphany house blessing…)

  27. Paul Goings

    Derek, fair enough. You could asperse people (or incense them, etc.) at any point during any service, as those are ceremonial actions, and not a rite per se. However, the service leaflet says “anthem at the asperges,” which I do not believe is provided for in the Prayerbook for the Easter Vigil or the baptismal service, nor in the Book of Occasional Services for the rite for installing a bishop. Taking all of those texts and comparing/contrasting them, it appears that this service is largely sui generis, drawing on a number of resources, and combining them in innovative ways. That isn’t illicit, assuming that Dr Budde gave her permission, but it isn’t by-the-numbers Episcopalianism either.

    But all of that probably just concerns me because of my Euro-centric disposition…

  28. Christopher

    I think the generational generalizations that show up regularly in conversations of this sort are themselves unconstructive

  29. Christopher

    And those responsible for the scholarship and moving forward of those revisions were not Boomers. Boomers were in their early 30s to 20s when the 79 BCP was adopted.

  30. Christopher

    This is not completely the case re actions. I think of the Black Rubric or standing to the right of the altar which even 19th Century Anglo-Catholics kept to. Similary our own Ritualists and the actions fought over. Both BCP’s and theologies that go with their rubrics have been prescribed and fought over and ignored and changed.

  31. Barbara S.

    You may be technically right, Christopher. But Boomers – my generation – have added many things to the mix: EOW, the additional hymnals, HMHW, and other additions to the liturgical panoply. Boomers have been in control of the Church via GC for thirty years now. That’s really enough input for any one generation.

    And many if not most of us really will be dead by the time the new Prayer Book is written and finally put into use. Right now we are top-heavy with one particular generation (if you’d rather avoid the use of the word Boomer); the point is that the people who will actually be using the new book should not be ignored, or overwhelmed by the majority. That, to me, is a perfectly valid observation.

    I do take your point about the use of words like “orthodox,” which I agree may not be the best words to use in these kinds of discussions; we should try to be clearer about what we’re saying when using some “loaded” words. But the suggestion that any one generation – it happens to be Boomers – should not have so much influence over the future of our church sounds exactly right, to me. Stepping aside gracefully is actually just the right thing to do in this situation.

  32. Ann

    Really white people have been in charge. If you want to narrow it down. (I’m from the silents)

  33. Barbara S.

    (OTOH, there are something like 40 million Anglicans in Africa, and I believe that some of the largest of the national churches – Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa – use the 1662 book, or else rites more akin to Rite I than Rite II.

    So it’s really kind of hard to credit the argument that Rite I is “Euro-Centric.”)

  34. Ann

    In Tanzania they have their own Prayer Book in Swahili — it follows the shape but the words reflect local culture. I don’t understand what you mean as even tho Rite 1 is used in other countries– it still comes from England. Colonialism continues. Many churches in Africa were taught that anything from their own culture was evil and a door for Satan. On the question of how large those national churches are — read here: Remarks by Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Most Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon

  35. Barbara S.

    So the whole of your argument is that “Euro-Centric” applies to anything that originated somewhere in Europe? I don’t find that convincing, sorry. For one thing, the Book of Common Prayer is taken in huge part directly from the Bible – which is not “Euro-Centric” at all; quite the opposite. Europe hadn’t come close to being invented yet.

    So I think you’ll have be a little more specific; what, exactly, in Rite I applies to (or speaks to) Europeans but not to anybody else? In any case, why only “Rite I”? Following the logic, wouldn’t “Rite II” and “EOW” also be “Euro-Centric”?

    Furthermore: many African Anglicans have recently specifically called Western Anglicans “colonialists” who are imposing our views on them. So I don’t buy your “colonialism continues” argument either.

    Your link said nothing at all about how large the national churches are, BTW.

  36. C. Wingate

    While it is true that boomers were too young to have had much input into the 1979 book, their professors were not; and the zeitgeist of EOW and its ilk is precisely that of the academia of the early 1970s out of which women’s studies and the like arose. To take a signal moment: Beyond God the Father was published in 1973. I don’t know how much more “Euro” an intellectual movement can get without being strictly European, particularly when you look at Tillich’s influence on the theological end of it. And as Derek says, it comes across as extremely paternalistic.

  37. John H.

    As I’ve already posted above, plenty of churches have spent the last 2000 totally unaffected by Europe. If that’s what you want, it’s already out there. I fear, however, that you will be gravely disappointed. As different as their liturgies are, they are significantly closer to Old Europe than they are to the most Euro-Centric of all liturgies I know, the EOW. That is the Lawrence Welk of Worship right there—all kinds of whiteys whining about how guilty they feel that they weren’t very nice to their gardener.

  38. John H.

    I find it almost laughable to use the term “scholarship” in reference to the ’79 Prayer Book. The translations are so bad, a first-year Latin student could do better. The odd selection of elements from Eastern liturgies brought into the services are used in bizarre ways that betray a complete lack of understanding of the source. The psalms are a bad paraphrase. The disarrangement of the services is based on—nothing, I guess, since there are no historical precedents. Of course, what came after it was even worse.
    Agendas are not scholarship, and I for one am not fooled. Of course, if agenda-driven liturgy is what the people in the church want, I wouldn’t stop them for a minute. But I refuse to call it something it is not.

  39. Barbara S.

    So I was trying to find out if anybody had written a book enumerating the Scriptural sources for the text of the BCP. I didn’t find that, but I did find “Welcome to the Bible” at Google Books. Here’s an interesting quote from that page ( ):


    A great many of the words in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer were taken from the earlier prayer books of the Reformation, which in turn were either taken from or shaped by the words and prayers of the Latin Mass of the medieval church. The early prayer books of the church are likewise replete with the words of Scripture, as the biblical scholar Jaroslav Pelikan observes:

    ‘The Vulgate was the Bible of Europe for over a thousand years, and it was the mother lode of the Latin Mass. Those who, from the perspective of the Protestant Reformation with its doctrine of “the Bible only,” criticize the Middle Ages for having neglected the study of the Bible should examine the text of the Latin Mass with a concordance to the Vulgate in hand. Phrase by phrase, sometimes word by single word, it is a daisy chain of biblical quotations.’

  40. Ann

    Find a copy of Marion Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book to see the sources and rational for choices. Earlier sources than KJV or Cramner. For psalms you might want to read Robert Alter’s book on the Psalms and looking at the variety of interpretations of the Hebrew text.

  41. Adam

    I am no expert on liturgy nor on Church history but I have come to understand that for much of the early and medieval church there was a strong emphasis on sacred tradition and catholicity and on maintaining it. The Reformation broke with that, well, “tradition” in the (to me) ironic attempt to return to the source. So too did the 20th Century Liturgical Movement of which the ’79 BCP is a product. This whole understanding (which I’m sure can be contested – again, I’m no pro) is what makes me very sympathetic to Anglo-Catholicism and towards the Rite I crowd. A more dramatic move towards EOW-style liturgy is a move away from Tradition which strikes me as un-catholic and, frankly (following Hooker), un-Anglican.

  42. Paul Goings

    Hatchett does a reasonable job explicating the development of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, but his Commentary is ultimately an apologetic, and does not seriously engage the various controversial developments in any significant way, especially the “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism” condemned by Pius XII that the ’79 book evinces in spades.

  43. John H.

    Barbara S., my reply is too long, but here it is.

    I would suggest that there are two interrelated but separate matters to consider when analyzing the liturgy: the structure and the components.

    It seems that the arguments claiming ‘continuity’ of the liturgical tradition of the last 5o years with the previous 1500 have been based almost entirely on preserving the structure of the hours and mass. Under this conceptual framework, one could say that a Tridentine mass or a guitar mass at an RC church, or a ’28 Prayer Book communion or a ’79 communion, all are the “same service” because they include 1) readings from Scripture, and 2) the words of institution over some bread and wine.

    The problem with this approach—and this is where I apparently part ways with everyone on earth, and should therefore never even discuss this topic—is that it ignores entirely the components of the service. The proper and common, canticles, preces, prayers, the canon—on and on it goes, a very long list of the actual elements of the service, many of which were unchanged for well over 1000 years, in some cases as long as 1600 years—all of which have been discarded within my lifetime in favor of more “relevant” material.

    Only if we are content to ignore the components completely and focus only on the structure would we see continuity among all these services. This isn’t to say that they are somehow “invalid” or some nonsense like that. But as liturgy, they are very much not related. This is a significant consideration when preparing new liturgies or a new Prayer Book; if all you need is the structure, people will always see continuity no matter what they do, and they will always have a ready defense for anything they come up with.

    Superficially, this would seem to apply also to the Reformers’ work in creating the BCP in the first place. But their changes were based on serious consideration of the components as they knew them, not on a wholesale disregard for them. Discussions today treat the components as irrelevant, and we end up with the Magnificat and Nunc at *morning* prayer, a call-and-response Kyrie at mass, out-of-place imports from Eastern liturgies like the Trisagion, office-style preces at mass, and so on. And most appallingly, we get this line from ‘Rite III’: “If the Sanctus is to be included…” If it is to be included!?!? If you don’t even want the Sanctus, is there really anything left at all?

    Barbara S., back to your question, by “disarrangement”, I was not referring so much to the structure, but to the components—the whole package of bad translations (especially the psalms), the “isn’t-this-neat” additions from Eastern liturgies, and a few odd liturgical choices that shouldn’t annoy me as much as they do. But even with this explanation, I think most people would object to that word, since their only concern is with the structure, and they would argue that the components have nothing to do with the “arrangement” of the service—they are entirely a secondary consideration. I couldn’t disagree more.

  44. Barbara S.

    OK, thanks, John H. I do think that things like (for instance) the chant propers (with or without the music) add a lot to the mass. And they are used in places; they used in places where hymns or anthems are used in other environments. The changes in lectionary readings have sort of disconnected them at this point, though, from their former coherence as a whole. That’s true in the Catholic Church, too.

    I guess a lot of the stripping away of elements makes sense, in light of Anglican history. I suppose the Orthodox approach makes a lot of sense, in a way; in the West we are freer to make many mistakes.

    It’s quite a lot, really, to think about….

  45. C. Wingate

    John, you are definitely not the only one. I’ve been wont to say that the one solid and undisputed achievement of the 1979 book is the ordering of the parts in the Eucharist. No subsequent trial/experiment/whatever has altered this except to introduce more “may”s (not counting Rite III). It’s the words we keep arguing over — well, and the larger issue of inclusion/membership/doctrine.

  46. Michelle Jackson

    I have read The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, and found it a fascinating read. Good history and good commentary

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