Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Book of Common Prayer - A dinosaur?

That's how it was described to me recently. In fact I was told that it was a 'relic of the past' and my companion went to great lengths to tell me how BCP and evening services ought to be a thing of the past (along with robes, choirs and all 'that old -fashioned' stuff)!

Last Sunday I was privileged to engaged in a BCP sandwich, beginning with an early-morning communion services and ending with evensong (a Common Worship communion as the filling) and I found it to be an extremely uplifting and rewarding experience. The communion, a 'said' service, appealing to the mind and challenging us as we heard the ten commandments (outside of this service, when was the last time we encountered them I wonder?) and such wonderful words as:

'Here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee'

There is no doubt that this service brings us to a place of penitential encounter with the risen Christ in a stunningly simple manner using words and stillness that are rarely found within our fast paced, music-ridden, services. It appeals to head and heart and provides a space that so many of us, with its accompanying silence, appear to almost fear these days.

The evensong with Psalm and canticles - and let's be fair, pointing and singing them have always been a challenge for many of us - is a very different kettle of fish indeed. After all there are hymns (which I've swapped for some of the modern offerings with great success) and space for an Anthem (the choir's showpiece spot and a chance for us to be touched by something splendid) too. Combine this with a gentle, steady and measured progress through the words and what you have is something that marries reflective and contemplative and offers insights and opportunities for true encounter.

But of course my colleague didn't agree, claiming BCP services were, 'So samey and repetitive'! My response to this being, 'Of course the worship band offering is different every time isn't it?'

Well of course it isn't, although my colleague did accentuate the importance of changing the services to make them attractive ('if you don't they get bored and stop coming!'), something that raises the question: Are our services engagement or entertainment ? Are we concerned with quality and efficacy of the worship we offer or merely looking to the numbers of people turning on and tuning in? Ratings or relationship? What a cruel thought (which I kept to myself of course)!

Another person popped in to the conversation and dismissed it all with simple side-swipe that dismissed BCP as 'too cerebral' and reiterated how evening services 'just weren't popular anymore' - just goes to show that you can't win. But perhaps we need to look at the popularity of evening services and their decline (I favour blaming weak and ineffective clergy and television bringing such offerings as the Forsythe Saga, Upstairs Downstairs and the Onedin Line to show that you could be entertained, moved and engaged on a Sunday evening at home rather than bored to death in a church building.

The glove was laid down then - I wonder when the Church will think about picking it up and engaging in the battle for ratings - not with entertainment but with a contagious, compelling and appealing faith?

ps. I think there is a place for all forms of worship style and wonder whether we are guilty of not trying to introduce BCP, TaizĂ© and other forms of worship to our members because we fear they might not 'like' it. I think there is merit and value and potential for encounter in every form (even the Rupert Bear Prayer Book [Blast!]) if we bring it to a people who we have prepared correctly. A people who are willing to seek God outside of their own comfort zones (which of course means those who lead need to be outside their own first, doesn't it?)


Robert Savage said...

I love both the ancient and the modern. I for one hope that BCP never dies!!

Vic Van Den Bergh said...


But for those what writes in KJV - 'What thinketh they of their acts? :-)

UKViewer said...

I agree with Robert. While not quite a member of the Prayer Book Society, I value the BCP for it's continuing relevance and links to the tradtion of the Church.

Matins, Evensong and BCP HC are three jewels in the crown. I have a 1928 Version (Unauthorised) which contains both 1662 and 1928 proposed revisions or alternatives as they are decribed in the version I have. Love both and the language is great.

Another bonus is the Sunday readings and collects and seasonal prefaces all in one place along with the whole spread of liturgy from Baptism, Marriage, funeral, Confirmation etc.

If also possess a copy of the KJV and regularly use it alongside the NRSV and English Standard and Anglicsed versions. The language is eternal and once you get used to it, very helpful.

I'm afraid that those who dislike it, shouldn't denigrate it - there are thousands of lovers of the BCP, who are loyal Anglicans and give great service in many roles in the church, why alienate them for a personal preference?

Soup D said...

The question raised is why do we come to church services? Is it for ourselves or for God? It's an old chestnut, and - I think - one that will never truly go away because human beings will always seek after that which pleases themselves first.

My own attitude is this: if it blessed God's heart 500 years ago, then it blesses his heart today; and that is what our worship should be all about.