Skip to comments.Not Familiar to Everyone [Book of Common Prayer]
Posted on 01/18/2007 5:52:06 PM PST by sionnsar
Many pundits have offered solutions to counteract the declining membership of The Episcopal Church. I want to suggest that one of the solutions may be as simple as a page number.
When I arrived at the new clergy training in the Diocese of Virginia, I met a man who had been hand picked for the leadership position by Bishop Peter Lee because he possessed a great track record for accomplishing church growth. One of the cornerstones to church growth in his eyes was the officiant of the service announcing the page numbers in both the prayer book and hymnal.
His theology on this matter was quite clear. If we are to attract new members, we are going to have to make people feel welcome, not just by the ushers or the greeting committee, but also by the officiant. He reminded us that well before coffee hour a parish has had numerous chances to make a positive or negative impression on its newcomers or visitors. What better way to show your newcomers they are welcomed, our trainer told us, than by helping them through our complicated prayer book.
I started to imagine an even more complicated scenario. Imagine if you are using Eucharistic Prayer C with the Form Three Prayers of the People and you are reading from the King James Bible and singing out of both the 1982 Hymnal and Lift Every Voice and Sing, Vol. 2. Once the priest begins to say the proper preface, elsewhere in the prayer book, the newcomers ability to find her or his way is lost.
Our trainer went on to say that The Episcopal Church had a nationwide reputation of being somewhat club-ish and announcing page numbers was a great way to prove that we werent. The only way around announcing page numbers is to reproduce the prayer book and hymns in one big booklet each week and that can be labor intensive and expensive.
At my first rectorship there didnt seem to be much pushback from my policy that stated all page and hymn numbers would be announced. It was a fairly new parish and there werent a lot of liturgical traditions. However, my next call more than made up for it. I thought my first Sunday went well. I made a point of announcing all the pages in the prayer book and hymnal. No one said a word about it during coffee hour. On Monday morning, slipped under my door, there was an unsigned typed note that said Why do you violate the sanctity and solemnity of our service by announcing page numbers? We all know the page numbers! I was shocked, but for the next six years I plugged not only saying the page numbers when I officiated, but I insisted that my assistants do the same.
For me, the entire parish benefited from my announcements because even though people knew the page numbers, they could see that their clergy were showing hospitality to the stranger and modeling a form of openness and welcome that everyone found compelling. How many of us take our familiar service for granted? We have been balancing the prayer book, hymnals, Bibles, and bulletins for years and we surely have learned all the page numbers. But most of our newcomers havent. If we continue to have clergy who fail to recognize that our service can sometimes be hard to follow, we will surely continue to be in decline.
I have heard all the excuses for not saying page numbers, and I dont buy them. The first is we have a bulletin with all the page numbers in them and a hymnal rack on the wall. In order for that to be a good rebuttal, a church would have to have its ushers grab newcomers and show them how the bulletin numbers correspond to the different pages in the various books in the pew rack and then point to the hymn rack and walk them through the two hymnals we use. In reality, most of our ushers simply hand out bulletins.
The next excuse is we rely on our current parishioners to notice a newcomer struggling to make sense of the service, and they scoot over to help the poor soul. In my 15 years of ordained ministry I have only seen some attendees at the 8 a.m. service who have been so observant. Perhaps it is because those services are usually smaller. But how can you successfully spot every person struggling through the books and offer assistance?
This problem involves a few important questions that leaders of every church must ask. Are we a church or are we an exclusive club? Do we really want newcomers? What are we prepared to do to welcome them and make them feel wanted at our services? Have we put ourselves in the shoes of our newcomers? If we answer these questions by proclaiming that we are a church, we do want newcomers and we are prepared to do a lot to welcome them, then we must make our liturgies reflect hospitality to the stranger, for we never know when we will be entertaining angels in our midst.
But, I digress. Now my church prints the entire service into the bulletin, and that seems to help those new to Anglicanism. Though, even with that, there are still traditions that crop up and cause my wife to ask "where are we?" One can't anticipate everything, I guess.
Took us awhile to get used to flipping back and forth. Now I've got it committed to memory so it's not so bad.
When I lead services from the BCP, I generally only announce the page number when I have to skip or if we are turning to an entirely different section, such as to a Psalm. This is only for Morning or Evening Prayer however, as we publish a bulletin with the pages numbers for every prayer and reading printed in it, along with whatever citations are appropriate (hyman number and name, scriptural book, chapter and verse, etc.).
Announcing the page number for a Psalm (really unnecessary as you can simply turn to the Psalm number - the page is unimportant) or a special prayer, such as a birthday or other commemoration, is fine, but the annoying repetition of page numbers every Sunday really does take away from the beauty and continuity of the service. I learned every word of the Holy Communion, both the priest's and the congregation's, starting at the ripe old age of eight as an altar boy. It isn't that difficult.
Of course, this seemingly arrogant and bullheaded priest's problem would go away if he only used a REAL Book of Common Prayer instead of that 1979 Book of Gobbledegook. And why multiple hymnals? I have always found "The Hymnal 1940" to have a more than adequate selection of songs, many of which are hardly ever used.
More doesn't always mean better.
Strictly speaking, you are correct, but as that is just about the only page number citation and is only made at Morning Prayer, this is really not quite as intrusive a practice as I might have made it sound.
We also respect the concept of common prayer by using the 1928 BCP, a book that emphasizes commonality, unity and simplicity which we find to be extremely helpful in this regard.
I grew up in a '28 prayerbook church, but the closest church to where I've been living as an adult is a '79 parish. But now I'm back with a '28 parish (they use '79 for all Masses other than the 8:30), and I didn't remember the page numbers. Our parish is in Midtown Manhattan, and we get a lot of tourists (even at the 8:30!). I would guess that the number of '79 parishes is far greater than the number of '28 parishes, so announcing page numbers makes a lot of sense for us.
In Colorado, I put everything on overheads. Less trouble and visitors didn't have to do the "Anglican Shuffle" looking for pages and prayers.
I also put the Sunday Collect in the bulletin as we read it together.
Yup, all anybody needs is a 1590 BCP and a 1940 Hymnal and they're in busines.
BTW, the committee notes in the 1940 hymnal said something interesting. That their approach to the revision was "Question everything, preserve the best." I really liked that as a definition of MY conservatism.
Overheads would definitely not fit our style of service. But the page numbers are in the bulletin, printed 4-1/4x11, as are some readings/responses.
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