An Appropriate Observance

IMG_1618“The First Book of Common Prayer, 1549, is appropriately observed on a weekday following the Day of Pentecost.”
Book of Common Prayer, page 23

For the Prayerbook observance this year, the Blogmistress was invited by her rector to give the homily at the mid-week services on May 22nd. The homily is today’s blog post. It is a little short for a sermon and a little long for a blog post, but I hope you enjoy it. As a side note – the Church of the Ascension was undergoing some repairs in the nave and we were worshipping in the Memorial Room.

While I was in high school I became a devotee of folk music. Well, not all folk music because I didn’t really know how to get hold of anything very interesting, but I did have a couple of Peter, Paul and Mary albums and a Kingston Trio or two. My prize album was Four Strong Winds by Ian and Sylvia. Not only did I love the music, but since I lived in Alabama I thought my choice made me quite sophisticated because they were from Canada.

The first song on the album is Jesus Met the Woman at the Well. We all know the story. Jesus meets a woman and asks her where her husband is and she says she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus tells her she has had five husbands and the man she is with now she isn’t even married to. The song ends with the woman running into the city to tell everyone that Jesus told her everything that she’d done.

For years this is all that I knew about Jesus and the woman at the well. It’s odd because the song doesn’t talk about anything theological and the lyrics make it sound like the whole point is that Jesus is a mind reader or a lucky guesser. That there could be more to it didn’t occur to me when I was listening to Ian and Sylvia in high school, but in today’s Gospel we are reading Page Two – the rest of the story.

Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. Okay – that right there is wrong. Jesus should not be talking to a Samaritan. He is talking to a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation – second mistake – and he is talking to her at a well. Some of you may have noticed that in the Bible a lot happens at wells. Isaac’s servant meets Rebecca at a well. Jacob finds Rachael at a well. Moses meets Mrs. Moses at a well. A well is kind of like a Hebrew singles bar.
When first century Jews read this story they must have gasped in shock. Well, the writer of the John’s Gospel had to get their attention somehow because this next part, the part of the story that we are reading today, is important.

The woman engages Jesus in a theological discussion,
The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’

This is an important conversation. In first century Palestine, twenty-five years after the destruction of the Temple when John’s Gospel was written, Jews were asking themselves where they were going to worship. Christians who were separating from the Jews were asking themselves where they were going to worship. Heck, yesterday, when I came in and saw the scaffolding and the drop cloths in the nave, I wondered where we were going to worship!

And four hundred and sixty-four years ago the people in England wondered where and how they were going to worship. As Henry VIII separated the church in England from the Church in Rome, his brilliant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer began work on a book for the people that would make worship understandable to all by having the services in English and accessible to all by including more opportunities for lay people to participate. Henry wanted to retain the Latin Mass and was reluctant to allow changes so Cranmer worked secretly, biding his time until Henry’s son Edward VI became king.

By the spring of 1549 Parliament had approved the new Prayerbook and it went on sale. The book included services for Morning Prayer or Matins, Evening Prayer or Evensong, Holy Communion, Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Visitation of the Sick and Ministration for the Dead. All services that we are familiar with in our Prayerbook today. The services were printed in black and the instructions in red which is where we get the name “rubric” – from the Latin word “ruber” for red.

Because the book was smaller and cheaper than a Bible it became a bestseller. There was even a paperback version. Some of the services could be performed by lay people and most importantly, the Prayerbook was in English. All of the various Prayerbooks in the history of the Anglican Communion descend from this Prayerbook which was first used on Pentecost, June 9, 1549.

That we are united in worship by a Prayerbook does not mean that we are united in thought. In some ways we aren’t that different from the Jews and the Samaritans. We could stop here and have a discussion about what went into the Prayerbook and what should have been left out, whether it is more Protestant or Catholic, whether the 1789 Prayerbook is treason or the 1928 is more genuine, but let’s not have that discussion. Instead I would like to read something from Sam Portaro’s book, Brightest and Best about how we Anglicans are in a communion of life and worship:
We have never known “good old days.” We have burned and beheaded one another over theology and politics in our English origins. We have shot one another over prayers for monarchy in the midst of a revolutionary bid for democracy in America. We have depleted our resources to build churches that will burn incense across the street from ones that will not. We have marched for civil rights while supporting segregated churches. We have celebrated the Eucharist on the steps of the Pentagon in protest of a war while consecrating a bishop to serve the armed combatants of the same. We are thoroughly inconsistent because our worship is the way we work at living with and loving God, neighbor and self.

When the woman asks Jesus about worship Jesus tells her:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

It may be that spirit and truth is found in the tension of the very different ways we live together. God has not told us that we have to meet in a temple in Jerusalem, on a mountain in Samaria or in a church in Twin Falls. As much as we love all of our accoutrements, we don’t need altars or vestments, candles or crosses or, dare I say it, a Prayerbook? We are called to worship the Father in spirit and truth, with our whole hearts wherever we are.

The Practice of Praying the Daily Offices

The blogmistress kisses up to this week's guest blogger!

The blogmistress kisses up to this week’s guest blogger!

The Rev. A. Thomas Kennedy was ordained in 1971 and served several churches in the San Francisco Bay Area before being called to St. Paul’s Church in Blackfoot, Idaho in 1980. Though supposedly retired, Fr. Tom serves Idaho’s Central Deanery as a “circuit rider” priest in four congregations four Sundays a month. He is also a fount of knowledge about art and church history, the classics and all things “high” church. We are delighted that Fr. Tom has agreed to try this new format for learning by submitting a post for our blog!

The word “office” in this context merely means a deliberate act in the broadest sense. It may only mean a deliberate pause – purposeful inaction. The five daily offices are:

Morning Prayer or Lauds
Noonday Prayer
Worship at Dusk or the Blessing of the Lights
Vespers or Evening Prayer

None of these offices was ever intended to become a performance by experts before a relatively passive congregation in (low) church. There is no audience, but God. No one is performing, not even before God. The offices were never meant as opportunities for extroverts to exhibit themselves. If anything, the offices are an opportunity for extroverts to be introverts for a little while, an opportunity for even very outward, focused, mechanical people to practice inwardness, self-awareness, self-examination. Just don’t be too subjective.

Each office is meant to sung or said daily so as to interrupt or be fitted into whatever else we have to do, . . . in order that the offices may become sub-consciously the structure of each active day, and so that the offices come, in time, to shine a critical light on all else we have to do throughout the day. A habit of daily offices becomes a habit of ethical self-awareness. The healthy, happy effect of such a daily discipline can not be described; it much be experienced to be believed. Needless to say, active people will need to keep their offices brief. Do not, for piety, add more and more words or actions to your customary worship. That may cause you to feel tedium and neglect the custom altogether.

Each of our offices has a two thousand year history. Parts of each office are twice that old. Parts of each office have several times been added, omitted, then included again through the centuries. Each office was, primitively, nothing but the “praying” of all the psalms in an annual rota. Nearly every phrase in every office is quoted or paraphrased from the Old or New Testament. To recite an office is to recite the very word of God. The Church, world-wide, has said these offices for millennia and still says them. Consequently, whenever you say or enact an office, you are never alone because you are joining in worship, intimately, with your fellow Christians in every place on Earth, and with the saints who have gone before us into the Light.

Each office is formal, traditional. This tradition precludes anyone creating his or her own self-expressive choreography. In each office, we join the Church. We worship with the rest of the Christians throughout the world. The very conventionality of our worship is a way of affirming our union with the one, indivisible body which is of Christ, which is timeless.

When we say or sing an office, what do we intend to be doing to, for, with, or about God? With both our minds and our bodies, we are worshiping God? Worship consists of at least the following: Offering and Prayer.

We may actually make a physical offering of money or some other gift. Any offering must be offered voluntarily, not as the discharge of some obligation, nor as a purchase of God’s favor. Above all, any offering is an offering of one’s whole self, the unreserved, frank, naked, perhaps embarrassing opening up of one’s self to God. Of course, God already knows all of that. What he wants from you is your honesty, frankness. He doesn’t need information or advice. And yet, even when you do offer what you think is information and advice, he may well love you the more for it.

Likewise prayer: God accepts almost any prayer, no matter how self-deceptive, sycophantic, and hypocritical; nevertheless, every prayer ought to come from within and should be unreserved, not self-deceptive. In prayer, we have to come in close to God, with mind exposed, naked, perhaps embarrassed. Doesn’t God already know all we show him? Of course, and far more. But, do we? God demands that we face the whole truth. Here is where humility fits in. Jesus tells us to expose before God our greed, deepest desires, passions, fears, and shame. What God demands is our own self-knowledge, our frankness.

And why?

Because all prayer – indeed any worship – is the practice of the presence of God. In the prayers of the offices, as in any worship, I deliberately place my total self in God’s presence, immediately (not through any intermediary) and intimately, daringly – nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball – at least five times a day.

As we say each word or perform each gesture, of any of the offices, we must keep this openness and intimacy in the very front of our recollection.

A Genuine Prayerbook

In my zeal for all things Prayerbook and being something of a joiner, I mentioned to a friend that there should be a Prayerbook organization or society or some such thing that I could belong to.
“There is,” he replied.
“Really? There’s a Prayerbook Society?” I said enthusiastically.
“Well,” he said with a slight tilt of the head and a rolling of the eye, “it’s the wrong Prayerbook.”

Again I wondered, really? There’s a society for the 1928 Prayerbook? Sure enough, only a little Googling revealed that there is indeed a Prayerbook Society dedicated to keeping alive the use of “the last genuine Book of Common Prayer in America: the 1928 BCP.”

What does it mean to be genuine? According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the first definition of genuine is “of the original stock; purebred” and second is “really what it is said to be; actually coming from the alleged source or origin.” The Latin root of the word is genuinus – to be born, inborn, native.

Even a quick look at Dr. Hatchett’s introduction to the Commentary and one can see that the Prayerbook and the liturgies we use are born of many sources. There appear to have been endless liturgies, breviaries and missals, not to mention a whole lot of versions and revisions of the Prayerbook before we even got to 1928 or 1979.

Two early rites that we hear a lot about were the Roman used in Rome and North Africa and the Gallican used in Milan and the area of Europe north of the Alps. Other rites (Bobbio missal and Cetlic Stowe, for example) contained parts of both the Roman and the Gallican and bits of others. In the ninth century, Charlemagne wanted to unite the Holy Roman Empire under one rite and the Roman version prevailed. Does that make the Roman rite genuine?

Even after Charlemagne, those pesky English Christians went about their own way using several rites – Sarum, York and Heresford, to mention a few. After the many reforms of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary, Queen Elizabeth I finally settled things uniting the Anglican Church under the Act of Uniformity. The act, passed in 1559, required that folks go to church at least once a week and also reinforced the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

The American Colonies used the English Prayerbook until after the Revolution when the first American Prayerbook was published. (We had to eliminate those prayers for the king!) A revision was published in 1892 and then again in 1928. The current Standard Book that so many of us are familiar with was approved in 1979.

The liturgy and prayers of the 1979 Prayerbook are drawn from Holy Scripture, ancient texts and old Prayerbooks. It even has some new prayers. Are not all of these sources “of the original stock; purebred; really what it is said to be; actually coming from the alleged source or origin?” Are they not, in their own way, genuine?

In her guest post on December 13th, Debi Kraal wrote about how meaningful the Birthday Prayer is for her. The prayer is a great example of the ways that the 1979 Prayerbook draws on so much history and yet means something to us today. These few words that all of us know by heart are part of a prep school prayer that was added new to the 1928 BCP. They also remind us of Philippians 4:7 and are part of the Great Litany.

Yet, I imagine what really makes the Birthday Prayer (and the Prayerbook) genuine is not how old or new the words are; not where they came from or who wrote them, but that those words speak to us in worship and in our daily lives.

Back to the Future?

Yesterday on Facebook, people were posting gratitudes and hopes for the New Year, asking for inspiration, for assurance that the future would be better (not just better, but the best year ever!). There was a quote from C.S. Lewis – “There are far, far better things ahead than we ever leave behind.” There was a prayer – “O God of new beginnings and wonderful surprises, thank you for the gift of a new year.” One person even suggested “good riddance” to 2012.

Remarkably, no one said that 2012 was the best year ever. No one talked about the blessings or inspiration of the past. None of the posts proposed a meditation for all we learned last year or recommended that we set aside time on the 31st to think on our successes or misdeeds. What is with this need to cast off the past? I can’t help but think it is because we live in this United States of Amnesia (as Bill Maher calls it) that most of us have skipped the memories of 2012 and have run head long into 2013. Before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, 2012 was ancient history.

It may be because of this phenomenon that the forward to the Commentary on the American Prayerbook is an especially appropriate place to start a new year.
The forward was written by The Rt. Rev. Chilton Powell, second bishop of Oklahoma. Bishop Powell chaired the Standing Liturgical Commission during the years that the work on the 1979 revision was completed. To learn more about Bishop Powell click here.

In his forward Bishop Powell recommends the Commentary not only as an outline for understanding the Prayerbook, but also as a framework for more serious study. He uses Marion Hatchett’s words to remind us of the connection between how we pray and who we are:
“Anamnesis is the antithesis of amnesia. A person with amnesia
has lost identity and purpose. To know who you are, to whom you
belong, and where you are headed, you must remember. . . ”
(Commentary, page 366)

The Anamnesis is that part of the Holy Eucharist when we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.

If you are using the A Year with the BCP guide as daily study, you will explore the Anamnesis in depth in August. In January though it does seem perfect that, as we begin a new year and a new journey through the BCP, Hatchett reminds us that the rites and responsibilities we find in the Prayerbook keep us connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and to Christians past, present and future. We also may find a way to keep ourselves connected to 2012 or even 2011 learning more about the good, bad or indifferent events in our own lives.

Our Prayers and Thanksgivings

margaretWe are delighted to welcome our final guest blogger of 2012!  The Rev. Margaret Babcock, DMin , is the director of Companion Way, a consulting and coaching service for the Church, and  author of “New Growth in God’s Garden: Transforming Congregations through Mutual Ministry”, published this year  by LeaderResources. An ordained Episcopal priest,  Margaret worked for 20 years in congregational ministry and 10 years  at the judicatory level as Canon for Ministry and Congregational Development in the Dioceses of Idaho and Wyoming.

When I was young, we always had an Advent calendar in December. Unlike the kind that I’ve seen nowadays, in which the daily door opens to reveal a new chocolate treat (to stave off starvation before the Christmas feast, I guess), ours revealed only a tissue paper picture and a short Bible verse. Those tidbits of scripture were kind of like spiritual “tweets” that eventually added up to the Christmas story. Even though we knew the story by heart, we eagerly anticipated opening each morning’s window throughout Advent. It was kind of like discovering, all over again, a treasure we knew and loved.
There is, in our Book of Common Prayer, a similar treasure which many of us know and love: Prayers and Thanksgivings (BCP pp. 809-841). These are short, beautiful prayers which address a vast swath of our common human experience from national life to natural order, from church concerns to society’s struggles. As members of Episcopal congregations, we may often flip open to this section of the Prayer Book on Sunday mornings when we acknowledge members’ birthdays, using either Prayer #50 or #51 on page 830. But so much more is hidden in these pages, so much wisdom about the human condition and the care God holds for us in all aspects of our lives, that I want to suggest Advent may be a good time to dip into this treasure trove and discover again the pictures of our relationship with God which these prayers reveal.
There are, in fact, two ways I have approached opening these prayer doors. The easiest is to go to the index on pp. 810-813 and find a subject that corresponds to a need or interest of the moment. If I am in a quandary about some aspect of my life, I might go to prayers for guidance (#57 and 58). Here, I release myself from the futility of chasing my own thoughts around through the words of others who wisely remembered to ask God’s will, and gave glory even in the midst of confusion. If I am sick at heart by helpless observation of a loved one gripped by addiction, I can turn to prayer #56 which not only gives voice to my fear but reminds me that God has not abandoned us. This way of opening specific doors in times of personal concern or need connects us not only with God, but with countless numbers men and women who have used these words before and been strengthened as God’s beloved people.
The other way I use the prayers of this section of the BCP is to choose one, memorize it, and then pray it on a daily basis for a period of time. Memorization, not a popular discipline right now, is perhaps under-rated. When I commit words to memory, it changes the way I pray them. At first I have to pay close attention to getting not only specific words, but their order, right. Then, as I remember them more easily, I move to mulling over the meaning of the prayer as it rests in my soul. It seems to engrave itself, not in my mind, but on my heart. What I have found is that, when I make the prayer mine through memorizing it, I open its door on a daily basis to find much more there than a two dimensional tissue paper picture. At the moment, I am praying “A Prayer of Self-Dedication” (#63) in this way. It’s been over two years now and I feel I’m still learning about my relationship with God as I repeat the words. It’s like gazing on the painting of a master artist, which continues to reveal more and deeper levels of meaning as I stand and gaze on it.
If chocolate treats, and scriptural “tweets” are less nourishment than you need for your Advent journey, I commend to you the Prayers and Thanksgiving section of the BCP. May the wise and beautiful words of other committed Christians who have gone before us help us all make this time of waiting, a time of spiritual growth as well.

Short and Meaningful

Deb KraalDebi Kraal is a long-time member of the Church of the Ascension in Twin Falls, Idaho.  She has been active in youth work, including a mission trip to the Gulf after Katrina and serves on the Green Team.  Debi is also a nurse, working with a local school district and the Early Head Start program.  Please join with me in welcoming Debi as an A Year with the BCP blogger.



When asked by Stephanie Crumrine what I enjoyed about the Episcopal Service, the Birthday Prayer came to mind as one of my favorites.
I was raised Lutheran(ELCA). Church attendance was not an option at my house. Every Sunday without fail we attended church, even while we traveled. What do I remember most about my church experience as a child? Every passage, every hymn, every sermon and every prayer were so, so long.
I did grow up, stopped attending church for a number of years and came back to a new appreciation for all the words that are said and sung during the service. OK, honestly I don’t believe them all. Who cares, I believe a lot of what is said.
The Birthday Prayer has words that are so well chosen. It says so much in just a few short lines. In case you’ve forgotten, here it is.
”Watch over thy child, O Lord as her days increase; bless and guide her wherever she may be. Strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise her up if she falls; and in her heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen”
Short and meaningful, right? I so appreciate short.
This prayer sums up the service for me. Provide me with blessings, guidance, strength, comfort and the peace which passes all understanding. The peace is the best part.
We’re all in search of peace. When you feel it, even for a flitting moment, you realize how close God is.

Much To Be Thankful For!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Rev. Marilyn Butler has served as the priest at Holy Trinity in Buhl, Idaho since 1994.  She has also taught math at the College of Southern Idaho and worked for the Idaho Department of Agriculture.  She was recently elected to the Standing Committee – possibly the only committee she hasn’t served on in the Diocese.


The “Prayers of Thanksgiving” section of the BCP, starting on p. 814, have been especially important to me.  Every day brings sad news about some conflict in the world.   I find comfort in the words of  the prayers “For All Sorts of Conditions of Men” and “For the Human Family”.  How do we as southern Idaho Christians influence the world around us?  How can we have an input on events half way around the globe?  What do we do in response to nightly news nation, the government probably responsible for their deaths?  We can donate to worthy causes of course and we can encourage action on the part of our congressional delegation, but quite frankly our biggest potential impact is most

I also use the Prayers of Thanksgivings for local events.  Once a year, the West likely through prayer and we can use the Prayers of Thanksgiving to help us.End Ministerial Association sponsors a prayer breakfast in Buhl on the National Day of Prayer.  The community is invited.  There is usually a featured speaker, someone prominent in southern Idaho.  We, the ministers photos of starving children and pictures of dozens of dead bodies lined up in some oppressive in Buhl, offer prayers for the nation, the state, the community, etc.  There are usually four or five of us offering these prayers and we need to be finished by 8:00 am so people can go to work.  The scenario is usually as follows:  Pastor A from one of the very conservative local churches prays for five minutes for the nation (I’m thinking I could have used a combination of Prayers 18 – 22 and been done in two minutes).  Pastor B from an equally conservative local church prays for four minutes for the state of Idaho.  We are left with about 8 minutes until we hit the 8 am witching hour.  Pastor C prays for another four minutes about the local schools.  Pastor D will pray for local businesses and I am left as the last pray-er – praying for the community in general.  You guessed is – I have about one minute left.  So of course I turn to Prayer 34, “For Towns and Rural Areas”.  I can ad lib a little in addition to the written prayer but I can say as much in a minute or two as the others did in five minutes.  Bravo for the Book of Common Prayer!

What is it about these prayers that touch our souls?  They are complete and comprehensive.  They fill our needs in just a few words.  They don’t repeat themselves but they cover everything that needs to be addressed.  I wonder who wrote these prayers.  Was it an individual or a committee?  How did he or they have the ability to put the words together in such a way to touch us and lift our spirits?  Once again, the work of the Holy Spirit is seen in our BCP, benefiting and comforting us.