At last night's Vestry meeting, I used the devotion time to mark and celebrate the lesser feast of The First Book of Common Prayer. This feast is traditionally kept on the first weekday after the Feast of Pentecost, and as our meeting happened to fall on this auspicious feast, well...what ho!
And so to open, I asked the group to turn to the first page of the BCP (1979). Simple stuff, but still-when was the last time you took your prayer book and, instead of letting it flop open to either page 323 (Rite I Holy Eucharist) or 355 (Rite II) where the dog-eared pages are worn and sticking out, you instead went for a ramble-a walkabout-to places less frequented. When was the last time you took the road less-traveled in a book that has stood as a pillar of our Anglican identity for hundreds of years?
This little treasure has been a companion for me in my walk with God for the entirety of my life. Sometimes it is a road map for my path to Christ. Other times it is the ready voice that offers words I struggle to find in myself. Always, it is a link and tie to something bigger and greater than my own thoughts, ego, sense of self when it comes to recognizing my place in the wider Church and in the world.
If the BCP were a classic car, it would be an old, well-loved 1957 Chevy that my grandfather gave to my dad who then gave it to me...teaching all of us along the way how to care for it, tune it and find parts for it to keep it running. I can feel that, even though I am not (nor is my Dad) a "car guy."
It is that song on the radio that triggers memories of your youth. You know the words and your heart fills with remembrances of emotions and experiences that only serve to accentuate the current moment. It is something that makes the past real while at the same time working to transform the present into a hint, a foretaste, of what may come to be in the days and years ahead.
As a priest, I have only served under one version of the BCP. The previous iteration (1928) was the one I was baptized into the Body of Christ with as an infant...and I have brief memories of the studies and probationary liturgies in the early seventies that would eventually coalesce into the current prayer book. Still, I have been pastor to several people who call even the 1928 revision the "new" prayer book.
This tradition is old, and yet it is always renewing itself, and the Church, as each new generation claims it and the works to reform it into its own gift for those who will follow....
In the church I serve now, the original prayer book given to us around the time of the award of our charter (1774) by the society that supported our application to King George III still rests in our nave beneath glass. It was a singular gift to a small country church, surviving the passage over the Atlantic from England to the colonies, then on horseback and by cart to Spotswood...and now 280 some years later after it was bound in a book bindery in London by some forgotten publisher, it continues to serve as a signpost on our journey to, and with, God. Our prayers have echoed for generation in a common tongue, giving light and consolation to countless throngs of people seeking a way to worship and serve Christ in a tradition that is deeply rooted in a catholic faith that is always being reformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Here's to Common Prayer, and to the host of human souls that have preserved it as a relevant tool to express the grace of Christ to the Church and to the world for generations!