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Should common prayer be..well, common?

Should common prayer be..well, common?

by Kay Stoltz


What is wrong with the old ways? Why does everything have to be “modernized?” OK, I am old by most anyone’s standard, but new is not always improved.  This is my beef, the up-dated language of the Church. The Episcopal Church in particular. For years, the 1928 Prayer Book in beautiful Olde English prevailed. The language may be archaic, but it is beautiful.

It is meet and right so to do.


“It is right to give our thanks and praise” is better? You can’t figure out what “meet” means?


We worship in the Sanctuary, a sacred place. Shouldn’t the words we use be different from everyday and not the same vernacular as common speech? Common speech is common, for Heaven’s sake. Get it?


Yes, for Heaven’s sake we should be reciting words of beauty, words set apart.

It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty,

that we should at all times,

and in all places, give thanks unto thee,

O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Everlasting God.


Don’t you agree there is majesty, beauty in that phrasing?

It set the stage for the service.


At all times and in all places, we give thanks.


That is powerful. No matter where one is at the moment, in good times or bad, one gives thanks for God’s love and mercy.

Listen to the poetry in the old language.

The Lord is in his holy temple:

let all the earth keep silence before him.


. . . We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things we ought to have done; And we have done those things we ought not to have done;

And there is no health in us . . .


Compare that to: . . . forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone . . .

We’ve lost beautiful language!


I am reminded of a story I heard concerning the decision of  the Anglican Church  to revise the King James Version of the Bible. Many were opposed and spoke out against it. A dowager, active in the church, complained vociferously, “don’t change my bible!” and uttered these words,

“If this bible was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

Don’t think of me as befuddled as that dowager, but I suspect some of you will.  In any case, I long to find others who appreciate the beauty of the old language, and want it back.


Then I will start a revolution . . .

That is, as soon as I get my knees fixed.


My battle cry:

Bring back Poetry!



Kay Stoltz lives on the Oregon Coast. She grew up in the church and then came back after many changes had been made.


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Ann Fontaine

RE: humor — “Then I will start a revolution . . .

That is, as soon as I get my knees fixed.’

Paul Woodrum

Should Common Prayer be common? Of course it should. Common Prayer in common language for common people united in a community of faith.

Ellen Campbell

The author prefers the 1928 BCP. Nothing wrong with this preference but it is not written in “Olde English” and the headline is misleading. Common prayer refers to corporate prayer, (in community), through out the entire church.

Ellen Campbell

I get that Jon. Failed to see the humor. I am sure others appreciated it but I see I am not the only one making the comment.

Robin Bugbee

Mr. McLean:
I think you are being unnecessarily harsh here (although that may not have been your intention). There is no right answer to this question and I am not arguing for a return to the 1928 format. I am simply suggesting that there is merit in using the whole BCP not just a small section of it (be that small section Rite One or Rite Two). The form used frequently depends on clergy prejudice and I think that is both wrong headed and ineffective. Just as I object to the arbitrary addition of words and phrases to either form I also object to the rote recitation of prayers, collects and creeds. That frequently happens when the same format is used week after week after week. Changing the words we say either seasonally or simply by choice helps us to continually focus on the meaning of what we are saying and we can hear it all again in a new way. So a modern version of the Lord’s Prayer and and the older version can both have their place and we should find them. The Prayer of Humble Access can be a revelation to one who has never heard it but saying it 365 days a year it can lose it’s power. Singing the Triagion during the 40 days of Lent can help us focus on the penitential tone of our worship in a new and inspirational way. Yes I am past 50…but this is not an ageist issue. I am absolutely not saying we should return to the way it was when I was a child…there is no point to that. (Or as an example I heard a woman once say that she didn’t understand why the church moved away from the King James edition of the Bible because it it was “good enough for Jesus it should be good enough for us”. We all have our reasons for using (or not using) sections of the BCP we are comfortable with. I am simply saying that comfort may lessen the effectiveness of our worship together and we should really use the BCP. The ENTIRE BCP.

Robert McLean

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I think that dismissing a rector’s decision to use the modern rite exclusively as ‘prejudice[d], … wrong headed and ineffective’ is equally harsh. There may well be sound theological, liturgical, pastoral, and other reasons for the decision.

Whether there is merit in using the old rite is up for debate, I think (and I say that as someone brought up in a cathedral choir that sang at least one 1928 Eucharist and five 1928 Evensongs a week and 1928 Mattins twice a month).

That I truly love the language of 1928 and the Authorized Version doesn’t mean that it is likely to resonate with any young person not brought up on such a diet (and let’s face it, there must be precious few worldwide who have been brought up on 1928 nowadays). It also doesn’t mean that it resonates with congregation members from non-English speaking backgrounds – of which, thank God, there are many in some parishes these days. Even among those brought up on Cramner, I’d wager that more than half would not understand the difference between, say, his use of the word, ‘prevent’, and ours.

I presume that in the USA, as is the case in other parts of the Communion, the rector of a parish is the one who has the authority to decide (within certain constraints) the liturgical format of public worship. Assuming that’s the case, most of this discussion is moot. As has been said above, one can use Cranmer (or anything else – even Old Church Slavonic or Ge’ez) for one’s own devotions. Or one can go to a modern rite Eucharist and to a 1928 Evensong.

Thank God we have such options – more than ever if we include services broadcast over the internet such as the BBC’s excellent weekly Choral Evensong.

Robert McLean

I think Erin’s point above needs to be emphasized. The liturgy belongs to the Church, not to any individual. Any sense of ‘My liturgy, my way!’ is to be avoided, I think, as it smacks of a ‘me, me, me’ theology that really ought to be much more God-centered.

What doesn’t seem to have been mentioned yet is that many parishes have a modern-rite Eucharist on a Sunday morning followed later by a 1928 Evensong which some people find a satisfactory balance.

This discussion reminds me of two things: First, the book title, ‘Your God is too small’ which would be my answer to anyone having a fit of the vapors over “Mother, Lover and Friend”. Second, I think it’s strange that we’re having this conversation almost four decades after the publication of the 1979 BCP. It reminds me of an elderly cathedral lay canon who once wrote that he always followed what his grandmother had said about the Bible and the BCP. ‘Strange,’ quipped the dean, ‘that he wants us all to know he’s been spiritually dead for the past sixty years’.

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