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The Collect for Purity

The Rev. Susan W. Springer is the rector of St John’s in Logan,Utah, and the rector-elect of St John’s in Boulder,Colorado. She serves on the boards of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/USA. Every spare minute finds her biking, hiking, skiing, and golfing, which, come to think of it, is probably why the deferred maintenance list is so long…

My house is on the market and—like any motivated seller—I’ve been attending to all the minor maintenance issues I’ve permitted to slide for the last three years. Where the snow sweeps in and snuggles against the door frames in winter the paint had peeled and so a weekend was devoted to scraping and wire-brushing and sanding before fresh paint could be applied to seal the naked wood. Colorful viscous matter has been scoured from the nether regions of shower doors; eager shrubbery has been subdued, and this last weekend I addressed the kitchen sink sprayer, whose round pattern had calcified closed into a few side-glancing streams of water.

White vinegar is the elixir of the household goddess, and I filled a jar with it and soaked the sprayer head. A little scrubbing, a little more soaking, and a final prying loose of the shards of mineralized crust, and the sprayer is once again a fully open conduit for water from the waiting pipes below. White vinegar also worked magic in the shower’s secret places and on the window glass, and the baseboard molding, and the gunk where someone taped a flier to the front door.

In our prayer book, the Collect for Purity is white vinegar for the human heart.

When the priest stands before the people and calls upon the Holy Spirit, she comes, shimmering like carbonated air. She ties back her sparkling tresses in a cotton kerchief and hums to herself as she pours a bit of white vinegar into each clogged and hopeful heart of those gathered. Maybe she uses a spray bottle on some people who just need a touch-up. Maybe others require a gallon of the stuff and a chisel.

Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.

Marion Hatchett writes that the Collect for Purity evokes the words of Psalm 51. If you loosely translate verses 2 and 10 from the Septuagint Greek you come up with decidedly domestic imagery:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. [NRSV Ps 51:2] becomes: Wash me like a garment; agitate the water and scrub me. Free me from my wicked conduct more completely than I could free myself. Purify me. Cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me [NRSV Ps 51:10] becomes:

O God, reduce the disorder and wildness in me, and call into being a spotless heart, one free from guilt and the obstruction of sin. Consecrate a new and straight-aiming spirit inside of me.

I like the term “straight-aiming” because it makes me think of the crooked sink sprayer before its vinegar bath. Open my heart, O God, and make me a clear conduit for your love that waits to be shown to the world through me. Cleanse my secret places of all that rots and mildews there. It is not by my desire or design or agency or might that my interior debris is cleared away, but by your gracious and powerful spirit rinsing through me.

Now the door on my designer oven needs my attention for it sags tiredly on its hinges and will no longer close completely. I don’t know why it has any right to feign exhaustion—I barely use the thing. No matter—I will set a jar of white vinegar inside, close the weary door, and pray. If it works for sink sprayers and hearts, it ought to do something for ovens.

The Baptismal Covenant

Our Guest Blogger this week is Nancy Koonce, a member of The Church of the Ascension in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Nancy is a life-long Episcopalian, a CPA, a mom and grandmom, a deputy to General Convention, and a nominee for Executive Council.  To learn more about Nancy go to her website at http://nancykoonce.com/

“. . . . and respect the dignity of EVERY . . . HUMAN . . . BEING?”  The first time I heard Bishop Harry say it that way, I thought, “has that always been there?”  The answer is in fact “No.”  According to Marion Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book, the first American Book (1789) asked just one question, “Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles’ Creed?”

Mention the Apostles’ Creed and I have flashbacks to Confirmation class.  If I didn’t memorize it I couldn’t be confirmed, and (in those days) if I wasn’t confirmed I couldn’t take Communion.  Hearing mention of the Apostles’ Creed still causes me some bit of apprehension.

But back to the Baptismal Covenant.  When I was given the opportunity to participate in this blog, I quickly grabbed this date. Those five wonderful questions that replaced the one above – and thank goodness they did – can make a huge difference in our lives if we listen to them and really mean it when we answer, “I will, with God’s help.”  Where the question above is the easy and inert, “Do you believe . . .”, the five we have now call us to action.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example he Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

It is that last question in particular that I look to for guidance in my daily life. And I’ve added some additional emphases of my own.  Justice and peace for ALL people – not just Americans, not just Christians – ALL people.  And, of course, RESPECT the dignity of EVERY HUMAN BEING – all races, creeds, socioeconomic levels, sexual orientations, education – EVERY . . . HUMAN . . . BEING.

Thank you Bishop Harry.

                                                                                                                                                                  The Rt. Rev. Harry Bainbridge                                                                                      The Twelfth Bishop of Idaho

Full and Indissoluble

Meet The Rev. Shawn Carty, rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hailey, Idaho.  Besides serving as guest blogger,  Fr. Shawn is also preparing to represent the Diocese as a deputy to General Convention.

I answer the phone and the reason for the call becomes clear: “Well, the grandparents are going to be in town next weekend and it would be convenient if we could get the baptism done.”

Done?

As a parish priest, I could easily get worked up about the thought that Holy Baptism is supposed to be convenient (it’s not) but the word that really bothers me is “done.” I find it often comes up when people inquire about Baptism. It is as though the Sacrament is something on a checklist. “Are we on the waiting list for a good preschool?” Check. “Vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella?” Check. “Baptism?” Let’s get it done.

And while most of us do not stay awake at night fretting about medieval fires of hell as described by Dante, I have encountered a few parents who view Baptism as ecclesiastical fire insurance. It is not a pretty sight.

God knows that parents do not need one more thing to worry about. In fact, they can use all the help in the world, so I try to put their minds at ease and talk instead about God’s love and the value of a supportive Christian community, which inevitably leads to talking about the beauty of Holy Baptism. And I like to use words that come straight from the rubrics of the Prayer Book: Full and indissoluble.

On the Sundays we celebrate Holy Baptism in our parish, I make sure these remarkable words from our Prayer Book (p. 298) are printed at the top of the service leaflet: Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.

Full and indissoluble. Complete and unbreakable. Sufficient and permanent.

Holy Baptism is not about checking off an item on a list of requirements. And it is not about getting something “done.” Instead, it is about an ongoing relationship with the Creator of the universe, the One who, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, has redeemed the world and is setting things right. It is about a life-giving relationship. This is why, when I refer to my own baptism, I do not say “I was baptized,” but rather, “I am baptized.”

In The Episcopal Church, we still have some work to do, I think, in acknowledging that Holy Baptism is full initiation. We cling to Confirmation (often called a “rite seeking a theology”) as a requirement for certain positions of leadership, an indication that we think Baptism is not quite sufficient. “Yes, you are baptized, but…” When it comes to Baptism, there are no “buts.” It’s full and indissoluble, no exceptions. I once heard someone say that Baptism is one of the very few things we do in the Church that can be called infallible. Yes, indeed.

Recently, on the Day of Pentecost, I had the privilege of presiding at the baptism of a six month old girl. After I poured water on her head, she instinctively reached down to touch the water in the font. She knew she belonged. Later in the service, when we celebrated Holy Communion, I gave her a small piece of bread and then dipped my finger in the wine and placed a small drop on her lip. In that moment, I knew that the newest full member of the household of God, Christ’s Body the Church, was at home. And her journey was far from being done. In fact, it is just beginning.

Say It Like You Mean It!

Our guest blogger this week is the Honorable Mick Hodges, Magistrate Judge in Cassia County, Idaho and Fisherman Extraordinaire!

I was baptized, with my parents and two younger siblings, at Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church in Rupert, Idaho, (population 3000? at the time). Trinity Memorial is now St. Matthews and is still one of those picture-perfect, small town Episcopal Churches of old, complete with a shake roof. I was fourteen years old when I joined the community of Christ.

Celebrant    Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?                                                                                                                     People           I will, with God’s help.                                                                          Celebrant     Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect  the dignity of  every human being?                                                                           People    I will, with God’s help.

I remember obligingly repeating what I was instructed to say, but this 14-year-old wasn’t a real deep thinker at the time. I loved the building and I loved the people who attended there, but the words were many and confusing. In retrospect, the highlight of the day for me was opening the neat gifts my god parents brought. Thirty-four years later, the experience was much more meaningful when I renewed those vows after a conversion experience.

Mine was a later life “conversion”, (realization?) and following a life-threatening illness I was literally “born anew”, as Hatchet discusses on page 251 in Commentary on the American Prayer Book. I made my Cursillo and studied to become a worship leader. I continued to enjoy my life with my wife of 35 years and my three beautiful daughters and, along the way, donned a Magistrate Judge’s robe.

With that judge’s robe, I am publically challenged on a daily basis to “strive for justice and to respect the dignity of every human being” This is especially easier said than done when dealing with the mentally ill.

Several years ago, I was involved in founding a misdemeanor mental health court in our home county. This is a sentencing option for the mentally ill involved “minor” crimes that may include substance abuse, medical problems, unemployment, a housing problem or family disputes. Often this is the person who has gone into the library to get warm and has fallen asleep. These individuals attract attention because of their disheveled appearance and unpleasant smell. In Idaho, the misdemeanor mental health court is also called a problem-solving court. In other jurisdictions these courts are called “therapeutic courts” and yet others are called “accountability courts.” With this model, a treatment plan is formed and the defendant appears in court on a weekly basis, usually with a Psychosocial Rehab Worker.  Achievements are lavishly praised and relapses or other deviations from the plan are treated with varying degrees of sanctions.

In the worst cases, the defendant will serve jail time. With the most difficult cases, the individual is dismissed from the program and serves the entire jail sentence. With the most successful cases, the person “graduates” with a job or disability benefits.  The person’s mental and physical health is stable, the family has been reunited and the person has a year of sobriety under his or her belt. If all of that can be accomplished then the criminal charges are dismissed and the case is closed.

Rather than arresting and jailing as the solution, we are finding that simply treating mentally ill people with same the respect and dignity we do anyone else can make their day and make for a brighter future.  Such a simple act can also go far in answering that most difficult of baptismal vows.  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?  Daily I am reminded that I will – with God’s help!

 

 

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid . . . He is Risen!

The Rev. Canon Jeunée Cunningham is a priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, serving as Canon for Congregational Development for the Diocese and Rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Appomattox, Virginia.

The Easter Vigil has been the highlight of my year ever since I first came into the Episcopal Church. I grew up “generic Protestant” and although I had had a relationship with Jesus ever since I was a young child, I had never been baptized. I figured I had “missed the baptism window” – that baptism was for babies, or adults who had had a conversion experience, but that since I believed, it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t until I began to worship in the Episcopal Church as a newly married 20something with a newborn son, that I began to understand the importance of baptism, not only for the individuals baptized, but for the church community as well.

I entered a time of preparation and my son and I were both baptized at the Easter Vigil in 1989, which in the early church, was the primary time set aside for baptism. Our two other children were baptized at the Vigil as well. Each time we rose in what seemed like the middle of the night, preparing our babies in hushed tones trying to keep them asleep for as long as possible, driving off to church in the dark, and gathering with others in the courtyard of the church for the lighting of the new fire at 5:30 in the morning. When the time came, we stood around the font in near darkness, gazing out to see the beautiful faces of the congregation lit by the fire of the candles they each held. How powerful it was to me to realize that through this ancient service we were linked to our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in our congregation, but around the world and through the ages. As the opening prayer to the vigil states “the church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer.”

Now, as a priest, the Vigil for me continues to be a powerful time that mysteriously connects the people of my local church community with the whole human family Jesus came to redeem. As the Exsultet, that ancient prayer celebrating Salvation and Light, says, “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

When I chant the Exsultet, (there being no deacon in my current congregation) I am often brought to near tears by the line “How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.” This is the essence of the mystery that we proclaim at all times, that God has come to us in Jesus, to make reconcile us to himself, at great sacrifice to himself.

Marion Hatchett says that the ancient Easter Vigil, recovered in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer, is

“the keystone about which the rest of the church year is built. Other baptisms of the year reflect this primary baptismal rite. Other Eucharists of the year are, to use the anology of Augustine of Hippo, the repeatable part of this rite. In the Great Vigil of Easter we celebrate and make present (anamnesis) the pivotal events of the Old and New Testament heritage, the passover of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ from death, and our own Passover from the bondage of sin and death to the glorious liberty of new life in Christ Jesus.” (Hatchett, p.242-243)

Each year I celebrate the vigil, it brings new meaning to my life as a baptized Christian, to my understanding of the sacred stories of our faith, and to the mystery of communion I enjoy with God and my neighbors, with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven through the Eucharist.  Alleluia. Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

It’s not just about Palms!

This week our guest blogger is The Rev. Elizabeth M. Magill.  Liz is the Pastor of Worcester Fellowship, an affiliate of Ecclesia Ministries. She graduated Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA in 2002 and coordinates the EDSConnect, their distance learning program.

When I grew up, Palm Sunday was just about Palms. Probably Jesus, too, and a donkey, but in my memory, it was just about Palms.  Today Palm Sunday has grown into something more–we start with the Palms, but then proceed into the passion. For those who attend the Holy Week services and spend time in Holy Week reflection, Palm Sunday provides a preview, or an overview, of the week to come. For many, it is their primary connection to Jesus last days living among us.

But the thing that matters most about Palm Sunday for is that it doesn’t have any baggage.

I serve an outdoor church in Worcester, Massachusetts.  We are reaching out to homeless and at-risk adults. We provide pastoral care, a listening ear, lunch and worship on Sunday afternoons. The rhythms of the church year are important to our ministry, providing a framework for people to connect their very real, and often very hard, lives to the life of a Jesus who they understand had a very hard life himself. We celebrate Christmas by acknowledging the times their families may not have had money to buy gifts. We celebrate Easter recognizing that some years their family dinner turned into a family fight. We honor Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by naming the way that sometimes Mothers and Fathers have not come through with the love that God has promised us. We name the fact that Thanksgiving is often a holiday when childhood memories include excessive alcohol, drugs, and violence.

But Palm Sunday doesn’t have any baggage. It’s an un-burdened holiday.

And the story that is told! What a glorious story.

This year St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Grafton, MA provided palms along with lunch. They brought cheeseburgers! A hot lunch is an unusual delight on the streets. People made crosses with Palms while we cleaned up lunch and set up the altar. And then worship began.

We sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” and paraded through the park that is our sanctuary, up around the fountain, and back to our folding table altar. And then a team of six readers took on the story of the passion, five from our congregation, and one of the youth visiting from Yarmouth, Maine.

We put the prayers of the people into the middle of the story, right after Peter denied Jesus, and the prayers showed the heartfelt way we recognize that we deny his life by failing to change our own lives every day. And then we heard the rest of that great passion story, continuing through the hard stuff of betrayal, being found guilty, and death. A cliff-hanger ending, but we all know the good news we’ll hear next week.

At the Peace several were emboldened by our marching around, and they marched over to the other side of the park offering peace signs and hand-shakes to the confused members of Occupy Worcester, which meets in the same park. And then we shared Eucharist, moved deeply by the gift of forgiveness and the healing of our brokenness that came on that night before he died.

We carried the extra palms with us to the homeless shelter up the street, and to our Bible study at the local hospital’s atrium. Some people looked startled by the offer of Palms, but many were thrilled.

I love the “Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday”. It’s a holiday without any baggage, and because of those missing weights from the past we can be fully present today. Hosanna!

To learn more about Pastor Liz and the Worcester Fellowship read her blog about outdoor church at www.outdoorchurch.livejournal.com or friend Wordester Fellowship on Facebook.

Holy Saturday and Easter Week

In his post this week, Canon Howe gives us perspective about Holy Saturday and Easter Week:

For many Episcopalians, Holy Saturday is a liturgical down day – of preparation for Easter dinner. Some are fortunate enough to attend a well-executed Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. I grew up with an earlier version of this service more than 50 years ago. This is the heart of our liturgy, and if you have never experienced the Easter Vigil I urge you to get to one, if possible, or to read 239-250 in Hatchett’s Commentary. The Exultet is one of our most glorious liturgical hymns, and encompasses the whole history of salvation. It is followed by what used to be called the Prophecies, a series of readings, psalms and collects which again recount the history of salvation from Creation to Zephaniah’s vision of the gathering of God’s people. Then follows the oldest celebration of Baptism, and the Eucharist.

Several decades ago, I had a generous sabbatical which found me studying atSt. George’sCollege,Jerusalem. It was a rare year in which Passover, Western Easter and Eastern Easter all happened at the same time. In Jerusalem Holy Saturday is the day of Holy Fire. Thousands of pilgrims squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/ Resurrection on Good Friday evening, and in the late morning of Holy Saturday police and ecclesiastical officials escort the Greek Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarch and the Coptic Archpriest through the crowd to Jesus’ tomb. For some time nothing happens, while expectation builds.  Then the two Patriarchs thrust bundles of lighted candles through oval gaps in the sides of the tomb structure with cries of “Christ is risen!” There is a scramble to light many candles from the first two. Pilgrims burst from the Church to light the candles of those who wait in the courtyard and others light lanterns and run for taxis to the airport so that they can fly home to carry the flame to their own Easter Vigil.

I would not presume to improve upon the collects for Easter Day and Easter week, but if your parish doesn’t have daily Eucharists during Easter Week, a careful study of the readings can be rewarding. The Year B readings from Acts trace the beginnings and early growth of the Church, with Peter’s first sermons, and a major healing.

 The Gospel portions for the week are the cornerstones of our faith. We have Matthew and John’s accounts of the resurrection, in which the one constant is Mary Magdalene, the first witness to Jesus’ new life. Jesus may have called only male disciples, but he certainly called Mary too. Then there is the beautiful Emmaus story, which has fascinated many great artists. Could it be that we don’t recognize our risen Savior until the bread is broken? The week ends with Luke’s promise of the Holy Spirit, John’s post-resurrection appearance in Galilee, where it all began, and the ‘long ending’ of Mark. Many scholars have assumed that this is a later addition – that the Gospel ended with verse 8. This is certainly more comforting than “they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

To learn more about Canon Howe and the work of the Custodian, check the previous post dated April 26.

The photo of Holy Fire was taken at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Fr. Johannes Jacobse – 2011) and the painting is Walk to Emmaus (c. 1565) by Lelio Orsi, an Italian Renaissance painter.

Introducing the Custodian

A Year with the BCP is very pleased to announce that this week’s guest blogger is The Rev. Canon Gregory M. Howe, Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer.  Today Canon Howe offers an explanation of the nature of the Custodian.  His post about Holy Saturday will follow in the next few days.  Thank you, Canon Howe, for serving as a guest blogger!

  In the 1860’s the General Convention was concerned about page and text uniformity or congruence as the Book of Common Prayer was being printed by several different publishers – so that any edition could be used with ease in any congregation. Since theBCP was/is not copyright, there was a certain amount of confusion. One publisher was found to have the bulky collection of metal plates then necessary to print theBCP.

General Convention decided that a presbyter should be appointed to take custody of the printing plates, and be responsible for certifying and circulating all future revisions. At the revision of 1892, a Standard Book was established so that all other editions should conform to it under the direction of the Custodian. The first Custodian had been appointed in 1868 and I am the 8th of the line [a complete list can be found at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Custodian_of_the_Standard_Book_of_Common_Prayer ]. I was nominated by the Presiding Bishop and confirmed by the House of Bishops.

Happily, I don’t have to worry about a large pile of heavy metal plates, but I am a sort of living copyright. I check all new editions of the BCP, or parts thereof, as well as any music that employs text from the BCP, before granting a Certificate that the material is congruent with the Standard Book. In addition, I am an ex officio member of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music [voice, but no vote], and sit with Legislative Committee #13 Liturgy & Music at General Convention.

And to all a good night!

Welcome to our guest blogger, The Rt. Rev. Brian Thom, Bishop of Idaho.

There are days when I believe that the Order for Compline should be the primary worship experience of every Christian.  Eucharist has its Jesus-God-incarnate-sacrificial-in-remembrance-of-me thing going on, which is nice.  It also comes with tasteful snacks.  However, Compline has the potential to do the most good for the most people. I am talking about sleep.  I ask you, would not better, deeper, more restorative sleep actually cure many of the ills of the world?

The Augustine prayer (Keep watch, dear Lord) and the Song of Simeon (with its antiphon) that close Compline are at the center of my hypothesis.  Simply put, Augustine’s prayer relieves me of my obsessive night watch duties and the Song of Simeon reminds me that I have ministered enough for one day… or perhaps, even for a lifetime.

I can remember the feelings I had when I first encountered Augustine’s nocturnal bidding.  It seemed a welcome misfit in the services of Evening Prayer and Compline that rolled by daily in seminary.  While all the collects of our prayer book flow with grace and truthful character, one could observe that they lean toward a formal theology and literary structure.  Trinitarianism, atonement, and separation by sin abound.  In this rendering of Augustine’s fifth century appeal, we step away from theological formality into human reality.  I find it so real, that I was flabbergasted to learn it came from an ancient and honored Father of the Church. I was certain that the BCP crafters had allowed a humble, yet weary, middle-aged WASP on to the editorial board.

This prayer was obviously written by someone who had worked a night shift. Or who had spent a night in worry and tears. Or who had run out of blessings, tender loving care-giving, and pity.  Or, certainly, by someone whose gift of temporal or spiritual joy had been destroyed by an envious sour-graper.  Someone like you and me – a modern, well-intentioned, compassion-fatigued, multi-tasker.  The prayer spoke/speaks to me.  Admiringly, the person who sincerely prays this prayer turns each of these needs over to the Lord.  At least for the night.  Well placed, we’d assert.

The Song of Simeon has a similar effect.  While the antiphon bids God’s kindly oversight of both our waking and sleeping hours, Simeon’s proclamation of divine fruition acknowledges that there will come a time when our time has come.  Not by frailty or chronology, but in the blessedness of fulfillment of God’s promise to each of us: God with us now, God with us after now.

Back to my theory.  Really, if we could each find the true rest (which is peace) that comes from letting go and allowing God, which Compline asks of us for only one night at a time, our human sleep could serve us as it’s meant.  CPAP machines and aging bladders notwithstanding, we might arise each day more able to re-take up our crosses.

Of course, they’d be smaller.

Morning Has Broken

Our guest blogger this week is Jerry Campbell who is currently the Director of “Dollars and Sense,” a fundraising consultancy firm providing professional guidance to churches. Jerry recently retired as Vice President for Advancement at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He now lives in Carlsbad, California, where his wife, the Rev. Laura Sheridan-Campbell is the Vicar of Holy Cross Episcopal Church. He is also a musician (Bachelor of Arts in Music from Arizona State University), and an amateur juggler!

Despite 17 years as an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church, I was in my mid-40’s before I started using the Book of Common Prayer with any regularity.  I was not impressed.  It seemed stiff, formal and old-fashioned to me.  But then it was old – 1979!  Surely the church would be producing a more modern version soon.  I found it mildly comical that the two versions of the liturgy were characterized as Contemporary (Rite II) and Traditional (Rite I), while my sense was that they were actually Traditional (Rite II) and Antiquated (Rite I). 

Seventeen years of using the Prayer Book has helped me develop a greater appreciation for its wisdom regarding liturgical structure, and there are portions that I can say I actually admire.  One of those is the Daily Morning Prayer:  Rite Two.  It contains several elements that I often find lacking in Episcopal worship:  elegance, simplicity and brevity.  I do not wish to lead anyone into thinking that I’m a regular partaker of Daily Morning Prayer, but I have encountered it frequently enough to have a keen sense of how wonderful it would be to share in a community that started each day in this way.

Daily Morning Prayer does not require any clergy (that alone is enough to commend it!), and a regular practice of Morning Prayer will steep the participants in communal prayer and scripture (with a wonderful emphasis on the Psalter and Canticles) without dragging them to the communion rail every single time.  And much to my delight it is devoid of the pomp and ceremony (robes, incense, candles, linen, etc.) that clutter typical Sunday morning worship in the Episcopal Church. 

I sometimes feel that I came to the Episcopal Church too late!  I’ve learned over the last seventeen years that there was a time when Morning Prayer was the dominant liturgical form in the church.  I guess, in my own way, I long for “the good old days.” 

It seems to me that the real genius of the Prayer Book is in the way that it gives structure and form to worship without limiting the ways in which creativity and inspiration can imbue the static liturgy with meaning and relevance.  While worshipping at Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti, last September, it was a great pleasure to find “meaning” in the shape of the liturgy even though the service itself was conducted entirely in languages I do not understand (French and Creole). 

About five years ago I actually bought a Prayer Book of my own, and having it makes me feel more like a “real” Episcopalian, though I doubt that its pages will ever be as worn as the pages of the Bible it lies next to.