When I was new to the Episcopal Church, our children were swimming competitively around the state and we were gone many weekends during the season. A couple of times a month we would load up the car and travel to a town in Idaho, Nevada or Oregon and spend the weekend shuttling between the motel and the swimming pool.
Trying to understand more about our new church, on Sunday mornings I would send the rest of the family to the pool and head out to find a worship service. This was before GPS in cars and internet in hotel rooms, so I relied heavily on the Yellow Pages and answering machine messages for directions and service times. I was never really able to shake my nervousness about where I would park, how I would find the door (Don’t laugh – you might be surprised to know how many churches don’t use the front door.) and where I would sit. Once in the pew, though, all was well because there in front of me was the one thing I knew would be easy to find – the Book of Common Prayer.
Nothing illustrates the meaning of the word “common” more for me than the knowledge that in any town in Idaho, in the country or in the Anglican Communion on that Sunday morning we were saying the same words and hearing the same readings and sharing the same Eucharist as my home church in Twin Falls.
Some churches I visited had not brushed up on their welcoming or greeting skills, so I had plenty of time to meditate over the Title Page, the Certificate, the Table of Contents, the Ratification and the Preface. While those pages didn’t mean much to me until I read about them in Hatchett’s Commentary, I did realize that we take this book very seriously. We even have a custodian! The current Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer, The Rev. Canon Gregory M. Howe was nominated by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies at General Convention in 2000. For a little more about the custodian of the Prayerbook you can go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Custodian_of_the_Standard_Book_of_Common_Prayer
If you are interested in perusing the texts of older Prayerbooks, and I mean way older, check out http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/. You will find dozens of Books of Common Prayer from throughout history and around the world.