Ethnic cleansing’ feared in church

Published September 1, 1999

It has been 14 years since the Book of Alternative Services appeared on the horizon. Now, with General Synod needing to make a decision in 2001 on its future – and potentially also on the Book of Common Prayer – a member of the Prayer Book Society executive said he fears an “ethnic cleansing” of the Prayer Book ethos, should the church decide to develop one book of liturgy to replace the current prayer book and the dominant alternative book of services.

In a sermon delivered in May in Montreal, Prayer Book Society vice-president David Curry said “we face, dare I say, almost a kind of ethnic cleansing in our church, an unchurching of the ethos of the Common Prayer tradition, in the idea of a composite book – a combination of the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services.”

Fr. Curry’s concerns were echoed at the society’s annual general meeting in Halifax in June.

“I can’t understand this lust for conflict,” said Bishop Anthony Burton of Saskatchewan.

“We had an exhaustive study of the matter by the BAS Evaluation Commission which concluded that there was too much polarization in the church to revise the Prayer Book for quite a while. If anything, the Church has become more polarized since then. General Synod set the course to revise the BAS in 2001, which is something everyone can agree about. Why should we flip-flop now? There is enough to divide us without throwing this in the pot. We need to be more tolerant of one another.”

Rev. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of Faith, Worship and Ministry for the General Synod, said a number of options will be presented to synod in 2001.

Synod in 1995 decided to make no decision on next steps on liturgies until 2001. But Canon Barnett-Cowan said the mandate of the BAS runs out then, so synod will have to take some sort of action if people still want to use it.

The House of Bishops is also involved in the discussion. At its May meeting, it discussed a formal presentation from Eastern bishops that there be just one book. It’s an idea that will find little support from Prayer Book supporters.

“We already have a Prayer Book Language rite in the Book of Alternative Services, and it has few friends,” said Nora Johnston at the Prayer Book Society’s annual meeting.

“A combination book would be seen by Prayer Book supporters as abolition,” said the Vancouver branch president. “Reconciliation can only happen through respect for the Book of Common Prayer and new liturgies.”

Fr. Curry told Prayer Book supporters at the meeting that “the Prayer Book gives us a stable body of doctrine which makes freedom to experiment possible while holding the church together.

“The Prayer Book is more than a collection of liturgies under one cover,” he said. “It embodies a religious position with a particular view of the Bible, tradition, and worship. It is, if you like, a spiritual system. To substitute an anthology of liturgies for the Prayer Book, even an anthology that contained parts of the Prayer Book itself, might look like revision but it would be abolition.”

He said: “A lot of people who hold a traditional view of the Christian faith would perceive this as relativism and pack their bags. But I doubt they would leave without a terrible fight and certainly not without great sadness.”

Bishop Burton remarked that for various reasons, the General Synod was already headed for a serious financial crisis.

“In the next few years we will need the loyalty and financial sacrifice of our people as never before,” he said. “I can’t understand why anyone would want to alienate a large group in the church just now.”

The issue returns to the House of Bishops in October for discussion.


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