Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Doing it by the book

This year I have set a new record. In 18 years of being a priest in the good ol' C of E, I officiated at 3 services of Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion (or 1662 for short): Long Itchington, Preston Bagot and Longridge if my memory is still functioning. I had attended a few over the years, but it's different when you're up front. By Christmas 2009 I had had already quadrupled that total, as we have it every week here at MPC at 8am. It wasn't a result of a conscious effort to avoid it, I just didn't serve in churches that used it; nor did they have 8am communion services.

Now anyone that knows me will be aware that I'm not my sparkling best first thing in the morning, so 8am communion every Sunday has proved a challenge, especially when conducting a service in language from Shakespeare's era. However, I have managed to remain coherent every Sunday, pronounced everything correctly, and put the correct length pauses in for all the subclauses in the very long sentence structure.

Having a year's worth behind me to reflect upon, I do find it intriguing that people get up to attend church that early in the morning. When I had a parish in Coventry, a neighbouring mainly middle-class parish had quite a thriving 8am communion service (modern language service, talk and 2 hymns) with about 40-50 there. They were people who wanted to do church early, so they had the rest of the day for their leisure activities, such as sport, hiking, boating, etc.

I don't know if that's true for any of our 8 o'clockers. Some come because they find the business and length of the 10am too much; others come at that time of day as it's their opportunity to share in communion using the old wording - in a language very different from what they would use in everyday life. Although we call it 1662, the service is a revised version of one originally compiled in 1552, yet it remains part of the official prayer book of the Church of England. Over the years I have come across many different reasons for people choosing these services. Some see modern language liturgy as vulgar or dumbing down, some want to preserve our historical heritage, and other have a theological agenda, seeing the Book of Common Prayer as a reformed Protestant foothold in a church infected with other theological tendencies. I suspect most people go because it is what they are used to or what they grew up with.

I have come across a few BCP enthusiasts who extol its virtues and like it done 'by the book', which is ironic, because we never do it by the book. For a start, a large section of the communion service is left out (the Exhortation) and the congregation usually joins in with prayers that the book says should only be said by the priest, such as the Lord's Prayer at the opening, the opening collect and what we usually refer to as the Prayer of Humble Access (don't worry if you've no idea what these are). Most congregations also give a response when the gospel is read, although the BCP contains no such words. I did once hear of a vicar who was pressured into resuming BCP communion by his congregation, so he decided to do it completely by the book - reading everything out and then refusing to give anyone communion because they hadn't given him a week's notice, which is what the book requires! I guess he didn't have a great relationship with his people...

Meanwhile, we'll stick to doing it not by the book, just like we always don't.


Revsimmy said...

I heard that story too (maybe it was from you). Moral - be careful what you wish for.
Two of my churches have regular BCP services and each does them slightly differently, and both different from where I did my curacy. Trying to remember exactly which congregation does what keeps you on your toes, but rpovides an excuse for all be the most critical when you do trip up.

Revsimmy said...

"provides" and "all but" in the last sentence.

Emma said...

We have BCP on a 5th sunday. I can't remember whether it's a communion service or morning prayer but I do like to chuckle at some of the alien language! I'm not a fan, but I can cope a couple of times a year.

Matthew McMurray said...

I enjoyed this post.

LSM--where I go here in Cambridge, not that you are surprised--is a parish known--at least historically--as 'prayer-book Catholic' which these days means that they use CW Order One in Traditional language, thus sidestepping the rampant Protestantism exhibited in the BCP liturgy.

It always makes me chuckle that what most people think of as 'by the book' is actually the 1922/1928 usage. I officiated at Sung BCP Evensong here in College once and got told off--or at least questioned--for praying for the Queen. How bizarre!

A friend of mine has just sent me the liturgy for BCP Evening Prayer in Latin--for use Universities and places where English is not the known language.

That all said, I am extremely impressed with your apparent ability to get all the pauses in the right places! Only those familiar with the utter agony of reading German and waiting for what seems like ages for a verb in a subordinate clause can relate to the struggle of reading BCP liturgy correctly. I still get confused when I try to read--or chant--the second collect at Evensong!

Matthew McMurray said...

*for use in Universities... (but I am sure you knew what I meant)!