Single Prayer Book No Panacea

Article excerpt

Stephen Andrews rejects calls for an omni-prayer book.

ONE CHURCH, One Faith, ... One Book? Dr Reginald Stackhouse echoes a refrain which has been sung by other voices within our church when he writes, "It is time for us to be one church with one book again." This melody is perhaps evident already in the Book of Alternative Services in the inclusion of a BCP-like liturgy, and has been taken up in earnest recently by a chorus of bishops in the Province of Canada. The strain has been heard in the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee, which has been given the task by General Synod of orchestrating the liturgical direction of the church in the year 2001. Finally, some people have suggested a book of Common Prayer would be a fitting duet with our new hymn book of Common Praise.

This is a sweet refrain, concordant as it is with Jesus' prayer for the church "that they be one," and the potential political benefits of producing an omni-book merit reflection. But I want to sound a note which may clash with the voices of those calling for liturgical consolidation. The production of a single book of liturgy is not a panacea for the church's woes for the following three reasons.

In the first place, we are passing through a season of liturgical experimentation. It may be short- sighted to attempt to fix the liturgy at a time when many parishes are trying out new liturgies, and, indeed, the community of liturgical scholars worldwide seem to be rethinking the whole shape of liturgy. The Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee has become aware of many liturgical resources now available in electronic form, and we know that many parishes have their own liturgies. Moreover, the approval given by General Synod in 1998 to five new pieces in the alternative services repertoire is an indication that as a church we are still hoping to find a collection of prayers which will give satisfying expression to who we are as Canadian Anglicans. It is probable, therefore, that any single book produced in the near future would be obsolete by the time it reached the pew.

In the second place, the attempt to produce a single book may actually exacerbate, not ease tensions in the church. Acting on recommendations from the BAS evaluation commission, the 1995 General Synod directed the General Synod of 2001 to establish a revision commission to undertake a full revision of the BAS. …