I heard a story of a priest who was asked to pray for a sick person. He declined to pray, because he did not have his prayer book with him.
It is sad that a pastor felt he could not pray without a book in his hand. Prayer does not have to be complicated. Yet to me, the opposite extreme is just as sad: A pastor who never prays with a prayer book.
The Anglican prayer book is intended to guide, support, and direct our prayers. It is a form – a mold. It was mixed from a recipe of Holy Scripture, historic prayers, and baked in an oven of reformational, evangelical, and catholic theology. It is not perfect, but it provides a nourishing meal. And a bonus: the prayer book has been praised for its beauty of language as well, so it has good taste as well.
Not being guided in our pastoral and public prayers by a form can unintentionally indicate to the people that we do not need any guidance or help. If our inspiration seems to come only from within our own souls, they can put us up on a pedestal. And if our planning and leadership of worship has always have been crafted from our own imagination, we will end up subjecting the whole church to our personal blind spots and areas of weak theology.
The prayer book does not solve all of those problems. But it does send us and our people a clear message: We all need to be guided by scripture, the mothers and fathers of our faith, and solid theology in our worship and prayers.
The name of the Book of Common Prayer says it all. First, it is a book. Like other books, it is held on our hands, taken home to our families, and becomes a part of our lives. Second, it is common. That is, it is shared by other Anglicans from now and the past, and even by many Christians of other traditions since it is such an eclectic work. And it is a book of prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer is the proper activity of a redeemed people. And the Book of Common Prayer is our heritage of worship that sits quietly as the framework of a simple, catholic and reformed worship tradition.
In prayer book ministry, we bring the prayers of the church with us to the hospital or in our counsel, or in a crisis. In prayer book daily services, we bring the monastic tradition of worship into our everyday lives. In prayer book services for life – weddings, funerals, and blessings – we bring the historic Christian understanding of those events with us. And all concisely fitted into a small book we hold in our hands. It is a weighty toolbox, and I am glad I have it.
In prayer book worship, the people and the worship leaders have a back-and-forth prayer conversation of call and response. Often the “regulars” have memorized much of the people’s response. Participation is part of the nature of contemporary Anglican worship – a component reality that was present in the early church, lost for a time, and now restored. The people worship God in full participation led by the clergy and lay leaders. Everyone baptized Christian has a part. When you use the prayer book, you are inviting people to pray and worship with you, rather than to watch you do the praying and worshipping.
Pastors and parishes need not all pray and conduct worship in exactly the same way. The prayer book is not intended to force a word-for-word uniformity. Contrary to some expectations, it is very flexible to the moment, to the season, to the local realities, and to the needs of real people. But the basic pattern and shape of Prayer Book worship brings together Christians not only from disparate parts of the world today, but from the time of the Reformation in England and even long before that through its use of pre-reformation prayers.
So pick up a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I recommend the 1979 book. Use it! You will find it a faithful, beautiful, and humbling guide to pastoral ministry and worship.
Seedbed published a handy, pocket-sized book called Field Guide to Daily Prayer by Winfield Bevins. It’s a collection of prayers inspired by the saints of the church, and at an affordable price, is appropriate for private and group use, and even corporate gatherings. Get your copy from our store here.