For such a time as this… an electronic prayer book?

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Continuing our conversation about the possibility of a new prayer book, longtime contributor George Clifford argues that we should ditch the “book” part of the BCP and go all digital

 

by George Clifford

 

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer badly needs revision:

  • It is sexist, e.g., in its presumption that clergy and God are male;
  • It is exclusionary, e.g., the marriage rite is only for heterosexual couples;
  • It is limited, as evidenced by the proliferation and popularity of authorized alternative liturgies.

Others may add additional theological and liturgical reasons to that list.

 

Printing a revised Book of Common Prayer is inadvisable:

  • Many small congregations already struggle financially. Their having to replace the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with a revised book will only compound pre-existing financial problems.
  • Determining the contents of a new prayer book might prove impossible or even a catalyst for schism as individuals and groups fight over what to include in a volume that by its various nature is both limited (e.g., a 2000 page book would be unmanageable) and static.
  • The pace of social change is accelerating. Creating another static volume would probably result in a volume that was dated and in need of revision before it was fully implemented across the denomination.
  • One unmistakable direction of change is away from print toward electronic media. Some congregations have already effected this change. Instead of (or in addition to) a printed bulletin, they publish their bulletin electronically for access by people using smartphones and tablets.
  • Juggling the prayer book, one or more of our authorized hymnals, a bulletin, and perhaps a bulletin insert with the scripture readings, can leave a visitor to our worship services feeling bewildered and out of place. Consequently, numerous congregations now print their entire liturgy in the bulletin. This tactic welcomes visitors – a critical tactic for a denomination both suffering from numerical decline and one in which a majority of our current growth comes from adults moving to the Episcopal Church from another denomination.

Moving from a printed Book of Common Prayer to only an electronic version clearly represents the best alternative to a printed prayer book:

  • An electronic Book of Common Prayer can be user friendly, enabling easy preparation of electronic or printed bulletins as well as conveniently accessible daily offices in which the readings appear in situ after the user has selected her/his preferred version of the Bible. Furthermore, all of our authorized hymnals can be seamlessly integrated into an electronic prayer book, thus eliminating the need for printed hymnals in the pews because bulletins, whether printed or electronic, can include hymn texts with music. This shift would also facilitate updating music resources for our liturgies.
  • An electronic prayer book is a “living” document. Establishment of a permanent process for authoritatively updating would help to ensure comprehensiveness and currency.
  • Scattered congregations presently create their own liturgies, diverging from the basic precept that our common prayer unites us. Consistent use of authorized liturgies depends upon the priest-in-charge and not upon the medium used to publish our prayer book.
  • An electronic prayer book avoids costly replacement of printed prayer books.
  • An electronic prayer book with proper indexing and internal links can be easily accessible and expansively inclusive with no practical upper limit on its size.
  • An electronic prayer book embraces technology and the indisputable direction of social change toward greater reliance upon electronic media.

Perhaps the two biggest obstacles to shifting to a revised, electronic prayer book are the institutional inertia common to most large, venerable institutions and our proclivity to cling to tradition regardless of its merit. Parishioners, even most of those who initially opposed printing the full liturgy in the bulletin, soon tell me that they enjoy the liturgy’s accessibility. However, they do not want to let go of having a printed prayer book. When I politely remark about the contradictory nature of these feelings, the most common response I receive is a shrug indicating the genuineness of their feelings, their awareness of the contradiction, and their reluctance to either stop printing the entire liturgy in the bulletin or to let go of the printer prayer book.

 

I predict that within five years of promulgating a revised, electronic version of the prayer book opposition to the idea will have largely given way to people asking “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

 

 

 

George Clifford, a priest in the Diocese of Hawai’i, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, has taught ethics and the philosophy of religion, and now blogs at Ethical Musings.

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25 Responses to "For such a time as this… an electronic prayer book?"
  1. Not everyone has access to smartphones and tablets.
    Not everyone with a smartphone or tablet has access to unlimited data or free WiFi for streaming.
    (Ever been on a mission trip? The BCP is not only for well-to-do Americans in urban/suburban areas.)
    Not every church has enough outlets to recharge smartphones and tablets in the middle of the liturgy.
    Not everyone wants to sit through a service with everyone staring at their smartphone or tablet.
    Not everyone has their electronic device surgically attached to their hand, unable to put it down for an hour. Some people look forward to one small block of time that's electronic device-free

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  2. The solution is to update and reorder the Prayer Book so that it works with both dead trees and electrons. (I once tried to pull this off for just the daily office. But there is so much jumping around that I had to abandon the project.) And we could update the horrible typography. (All instructions should be in Italic and everything said by the congregation should be in bold. So the heading should not be in bold unless they are in bold Italic.)

    Congregations can just have a few hard copies around, but print, project or otherwise make available the order of service.

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  3. I love the printed prayer book and always use one when possible (I pray or sing the Psalm from the BCP rather than the printed lectionary leaflet). I wouldn't mind using my phone to access an electronic BCP during services, but it's true, not everyone has smart devices. We'd have to have printed versions for those who don't.

    I greatly object to printing the entire liturgy each week on environmental grounds.

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  4. I am assuming that the prayer book would be downloaded onto my tablet and would not require access to streaming data or WiFi. What I would really like about it is the ability to change the font to one I can easily read without grabbing my glasses. Juggling all the papers and books is bad enough without also juggling glasses. As far as outlets for charging, tablets last for days on one charge when they are just used for reading. I am 100% in favor!

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  5. I disagree with just about every reason given. In addition to issues cited by Ms. Gordon, the rationale with respect to social change reverses and destroys the correct dynamic between church and society, although that horse left TEC's barn long ago. That said, I do greatly appreciate the ability to say the Daily Office on my train commute. I use St. Bede's Breviary and find it to be fantastically useful.

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  6. One problem is that electronic devices become obsolete very rapidly. All-of-a-sudden a certain program or a certain device won't work.

    There's always a need for hard copy!

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  7. It is the Book of Common Prayer that holds this church together -- it is our touch stone, our theological guide, and our common identity. An electronic BCP that allows anyone to do anything they might like in the way of liturgy invites schism.

    Although it's something that bothers me, I agree that local congregations modify the liturgy for perceived needs. But at least they start from an agreed beginning and I have yet to see a local adaptation that strays far from the authorized book. Providing on-line liturgies simply invites further tinkering and liturgies that stray far from our common heritage.

    We may need a new BCP to fix many of the issues raised by this essay, but at least let's get to a place where we are working from an agreed printed format.

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  8. With regard to putting the hymnal in an e-book. This would greatly complicate the copyright issue. Especially if you want people to use their own devices, the licensing for contemporary music would be almost impossible to obtain. I know a lot of people are calling for more music written after 1982, but all this music comes with licensing restrictions which will not allow it to be downloaded to personal devises.

    Now if you are like me and think that all the best sacred music is now out of copyright then it is not a problem, but I am very much in the minority when it comes to that opinion.

    (P.S. I still would like any new service music commissioned by TEC to go with any new liturgy to be done on a work-for-hire bases and release without restriction to the church, under perhaps a Creative Commons license.)

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  9. May I commend the Church of England's Common Worship project with its wealth of resources? Not only are all the texts available in printed form, but online and in various formats, which makes it simple to create and print, for local use, seasonal or special service booklets for the pew. No more thumbing through hundreds of pages; and the cost is far less than that of providing a hardback book for every worshipper.

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  10. Lost in the discussion of liturgical and theological minutia has been any appreciation of the importance of font. The BCP has historically used Sabon (1979), a Garamond variant, and Gill Sans (2000), the BBC font, while the Hymnbook has used Bulmer (1940) and Baskerville (1982). Will an e-book convert everything to a default style of Times New Roman? Is the church prepared to engage in an intelligent discussion of serifs, carefully noting the ecumenical implications, or will such matters be decided by committee--or worse yet, by the anonymous techies who may gravitate towards emoticons?!! If we would spare a thought for our salvation, and the continuing relevance of the Church to our emerging global culture, it behooves us to ask which font best reflects the glory of God.

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  11. I print the bulletin every week and use the electronic BCP to find readings and am able to follow along with my smart phone, I still like holding a prayer book and hymnal. If I had more resources since we are a small congregation we couldn't afford all new books and most don't have smartphones. It would be nice to print out service in the future. It is a major task just for holidays and put packets together. Can't wait for a revision but not looking forward to the logistics.

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  12. Perhaps both/and. I suspect older Episcopalians, perhaps the majority by now, prefer a book to the electronic gadgets the "kids" love. But even children still like books as well as tablets. I also doubt the clergy could resist easily made changes so that we ended up with a Book of Babble rather than Common Prayer.
    No doubt some smarty pants hacker would find a way to change a congregation's liturgy from saintly to raunchy. Amusing the first time. Maybe not so much later on. Remember the sinner's Bible? The commandment, "Thou shalt commit adultery"? and that was print. Just think of the pixel possibilities.

    I do object to services being printed out in full in bulletins. I agree with Ms Butler. It's environmentally unsound. In addition, it discourages folks from discovering and exploring the BCP riches for personal prayer as well as communal worship. I have a premonition electronic Prayer would do the same.

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    • I have a friend who, while waiting her turn to go up for communion, would amuse herself by reviewing the 39 Articles.

      I suspect that her favorite is Article XXII.

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  13. It already is available on line. Just use it. If you want hard copy, make it. The BCP is not copy written.

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  14. Blessed be Mary, the Holy Apostles and all the Saints that the 39 Articles are printed as a quaint bit of Calvinist history, but not binding on The Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society.

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    • Ahhh, but more than once I have used Article XXIV, plus the preface to the Baptism service, to defend my congregations--which use American Sign Language--against the bean-counter mentality.

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  15. Mr. Quimby: serif typefaces, also known as "Roman", are completely unsuitable for a Protestant church. On the other hand, a grotesque design such as Helvetica would focus undue attention on Anglicanism's postwar demographic and moral decline. At least any decision should only be made after careful dialogue involving mixed committees of clergy and laypeople, in every region of the Anglican Communion. Only when consensus is reached on this vital point, can we begin to talk about a new Book of Common Prayer.

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  16. The ELCA Lutherans did this well. Their Evangelical Lutheran Worship (a combination service book and hymnal) is available either on print or electronically. They secured rights to most hymns, so that copyright issues for printed service folders are rare--allowing the person in the pew to have everything in one document without having to swap books and flip around. For those who want the printed version of ELW, advancements in paper technology (!) allow the book to have 743 hymns, all 150 psalms, 10 musical settings for Holy Eucharist, etc. All in a book the size of the green Lutheran Book of Worship and for only $22.50.

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  17. The Hymnal 1982 is available as an ebook for tablets (phone is too small to read). I run it on a Nook, but the Kindle also has a version. Its main downside comes with hymns or service music that spans more than one page. (What first appears for each hymn is a thumbnail of the page, on which you press to get the full page.... not sure why they went with this, but it makes multi page hymns with more than one verse virtually unusable.)

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  18. We need both. We both like a book to hold and turn pages. Obviously we are older. I use a tablet, my husband doesn't. I run out of charge, then what? I want hard copy so I can get my references fast. I know where to look. Paper please.

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  19. I am not sure the format is the critical issue. Certainly, the texts and as much music as possible should be available in digital format for obvious reasons. Should that be the "Only" version is less clear. Costs of printing service leaflets with "everything" can be substantial and not very e-friendly. At the same time, imagine an Easter Vigil where everyone has the liturgy on a glowing iPad. As a solitary religious, I say the offices and have had "problems" with "e" formats of the liturgies. There is a lot of "back and forth" for what is needed (e.g. go from the office, click the link for lessons, takes me to the pericopes for the day, click the Lesson, read the lesson, back click multiple times to get back to the office, then click on the link to table of suggested canticles, go to table, click on canticle, read canticle, more back clicks). I have found "E" publications much more easy to use when they are "straight through." Bibles, prayerbooks, hymnals, much more problematic. The current "e-book" formats are just not "up to it." in my opinion.

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  20. A book is a technical medium. It is a type of media, groundbreaking in the 16th century and still viable today. It's stable, easy to read, quick to navigate. But that said, we really shouldn't have any one authorized or privileged type of media/technology. We should have authorized liturgies. How they are mediated (i.e. transmitted) should be not a matter of authorization but of ease and convenience for congregations and communities. When the first BCP was made, it was a part of a technological revolution. We should continue to use new technology. Why would we even debate this? What the author is pointing out is that we need new authorized rites and liturgies. And I agree with the author that '79 liturgies need to be addressed for many reasons. But let's talk about liturgy not dig our heels in on ink and paper. Following that rationale, we never should have left off with velum, or scrolls for that matter.

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  21. The light grey text on the white background is very difficult to read, bullet points notwithstanding. Why so user unfriendly? This is one of the worst trends in current web design!

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  22. I am 65 years young Old Catholic Priest, highly computer literate. I would find using an electronic device in public worship quite challenging as the need to deal with its technical proclivities would interrupt my thought process relating to worship. That said, we do in fact print the entire service (all words and all music) in a booklet for every service. Each person is given a looseleaf binder with the entire service. We have no prayer books, bibles, or hymnals for anyone. All our resources are electronic, from which we cut and paste as needed into our booklets This enables us to use a wide variety of sources for both the text of the liturgy and the music.As to environmental concerns, we practice recycling both as to the recycled paper we use and its disposal. After every service, we empty the looseleaf binders into the recycling bin picked up by our local solid waste collector who recycles everything that is recyclable. Some people may enjoy juggling books and papers but visitors don't. Our parish is in a resort area with many people from different backgrounds who are here just for one service. For us, the complete booklet is an absolute necessity to get participation.

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