Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back to Church Sunday: The Prayer Book Society

I stumbled across a letter that was published in today's local paper and I felt a need to respond to it. It seems to have been sent as a press release across the country, so you are bound to have your own version of it. Before I comment on the letter, I must first quote it's contents in full:

THERE are of course many and various reasons why some people stop going to church, but for thousands of people across the West Midlands the problem is that they can no longer find familiar services at a convenient time on a Sunday.

Research shows that many people gave up attending church regularly when modern services started to replace the traditional.

Back to Church Sunday, on September 28, is the perfect chance to re-connect with the rich tradition of our church’s heritage.

At the Prayer Book Society we work to promote the Book of Common Prayer which dates from 1662 and is still the bedrock of our nation’s church.

I hear from many people who really miss the Prayer Book services they know and love. However, in fact there are a lot of cathedrals and churches still using them, and our website is a good place to find those in a particular area. The online directory is available at

Prudence M Dailey (Miss), Chairman, Prayer Book Society, The Studio, Copyhold Farm, Lady Grove, Goring Heath, Reading RG8 7RT

I agree with Miss Dailey's initial point, many church services do seem to have been put on at odd, inconvenient times; this does not reflect the needs of modern society.

However, that is where she and I will now part company.

She claims that churches go into decline when modern services replace traditional ones... she refers to research but doesn't quote her sources. In fact, there is probably some truth to what she says... but I hardly think the research to which she refers, backs up her argument. Older churches are in a period of decline... but people aren't just disappearing off the radar. Many people seek out churches that they find are more relevant to where they are. The relevance they seek can be in terms of worship style, times of services, the kind of fellowship offered by the churches in question and the kind of teaching and pastoral care that the churches offer.

Back to Church Sunday is next Sunday... but it is NOT merely a "perfect opportunity to re-connect with the rich tradition of our church’s heritage".

It SHOULD be the perfect opportunity for the People of God to go out and find out what they can do for their communities. How can they help the back-slidden, the lost or those in hardship. I strongly criticise anyone who intends to use the occasion as an attempt to assert their own ideas of what church should be about on others. This should not be political.

I also strongly question what Miss Dailey actually is claiming the rich heritage of the church is. She points to the Book of Common Prayer as the "bedrock" of our church. With respect I would make the counter claim that the bedrock is actually The Bible. Anything of worth within the Book of Common Prayer, finds its roots in God's Word.

I am not attacking the Book of Common Prayer and I don't deny that there is some beautiful language and theology inside it. I also understand that it is Miss Dailey's job as Chairman of a society that champions the book, to defend it. However the simple truth is, that if the Book of Common Prayer completely fell out of usage, it would not be the end of Christendom. The source of everything Christianity holds dear is found within the Bible. Every piece of litany, every word of liturgy, every song, every doctrine every poem every hymn that has any worth or value within our churches... finds it's roots in scripture.

That is not something that is restricted to a single 17th century book. We have 2,000 years of books and expressions in other media to explore... and most importantly we have the Bible.

Dailey claims that Book of Common Prayer services are generally marginalised to early morning services. This may be true, but it is my personal experience that the people who value these services most... are the only people actually capable of being up at the crack of dawn anyway.

It is extremely important for Christians to make their faith their own. They need to claim it for themselves and make it active. I love some traditional hymns and even some traditional services, there is a time for them. The reason I love some of those older traditions is precisely because I had the freedom to explore my faith with language styles and cultural references I held dear. If you force people to accept your own idea of how God should be worshipped and don't give them room to breathe... you choke them.

I totally accept that some people need structure and routine in order to get fed... but we need to maintain variety. If we build the church in our own image, we commit idolatry. We need to make sure people who don't respond to heavily formatted services that are full of litany; have THEIR opportunity to be fed. That doesn't mean banning Book of Prayer services, it means making sure we are diversified enough to reach out to everyone who is willing to come.

Again, I must stress that I am not attacking the Book of Common Prayer... I am attacking the idea that worship should be constrained to a particular format. Naturally, I am younger so my bias is towards more open worship... but in fairness it must be said that I would not wish to force my own brand of worship on everyone else. I recognise that my preferences are as limited as the next persons.

So what is my conclusion at the end of this?

I believe that if you are reading this and you are a Christian... have a good think about what you can do to make your own church community more responsive to the needs of the people around it. How can you make it more accessible for others? Can you hold informal services or "drop in days" during the week for people who aren't comfortable with a formal service? Can you invite someone who you wouldn't normally expect to find in church... someone who isn't in one of your usual cliques?

If you are reading this as someone who has lapsed in their faith, has no faith but is curious, or has a need that maybe should be taken before God in confidence, then seek out a church. If you find it's not to your taste, don't just give up and assume they are all the same... have a real good luck -find one that suits who you are. If you are really stuck, maybe you could try these websites:

I hope when next Sunday comes, it is a blessing to you... whoever and wherever you are.

1 comment:

  1. amen, brother! i like your perspective.

    slightly different difficulty in the US, though--i would say that in America attempts to be relevant have resulted in a significant crisis of identity for the church.

    everyone reads the Bible for his/herself, comes to different conclusions about how to live a Biblical faith, and forms a new, independent Christian body. having a "tradition" we can point to would be a highly orienting for the American church, and would help distinguish the truly catholic, apostolic faith from the rash of shallow self-help, health and wealth gospels that attract so many followers.

    blessings to you,


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