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

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

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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Joel T Keys

Come, thou Font, of every Blessing….

Rev. David Justin Lynch

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.

Gwendolyn Chambrun

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!

Stephen Carlsen

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.

Jeffrey Shy, CoS

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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