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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Hannellthompson thompson
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Hannellthompson thompson

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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Tobias Haller
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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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Stuart Wright
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Stuart Wright

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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Dottie Vrees
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Dottie Vrees

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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Paul Woodrum
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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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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

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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