Liturgist Paul Gibson transformed worship as leading force behind BAS

The Rev. Paul Gibson, shown here in 1984, died on Jan. 14 after a long struggle against Parkinson's disease. He was 89 years old. Photo: General Synod Archives
By on January 27, 2022
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When Amanda Rogers was a teenager, she remembers her father, the Rev. Paul Gibson, going to a conference on Baffin Island. When it ended, parish leaders sent him home with a giant, salted arctic char as thanks for his contribution. The fish was too big for his bags, she says, so he had to carry it openly on the plane ride home. As he did, “he became aware that people were shying anxiously away from the bearded guy in a parka clutching a giant smelly fish.”

That was the kind of man he was, she says. Whether the adventure meant getting funny looks on an airplane or huddling under a rock in India with a dozen strangers and their goats to get out of the rain, “no opportunity to live life was ever wasted on him.”

Gibson was a professor at Trinity College, a recipient of the Cross of St. Augustine—an award from the Archbishop of Canterbury for outstanding service to the worldwide communion—and a liturgist for the Anglican Church of Canada, best known for his work on the Book of Alternative Services (BAS). He died on Jan. 14 after a prolonged illness with Parkinson’s disease.

But while he certainly had a love for adventure, says Rogers, Gibson was a scholar first. That’s how the Rev. Eileen Scully, the national church’s director of faith, worship and ministry remembers him, too.

“He was my first serious mentor,” she says. “The teaching that I received from him in liturgy and theology was like doing an informal doctorate with a brilliant fellow.”

That attitude of intellectual rigour defined his faith as well, says Rogers. “He wasn’t looking for an easy way of being Christian.” Instead, she says, he was willing to throw himself into the hard work of discipleship. He believed that faith should be expressed both through daily action and carefully chosen words.

Gibson was especially happy with his contributions to the BAS, says Scully. The book of liturgy traded the Tudor English of the Book of Common Prayer for contemporary language, stating scripture in a way modern readers would find familiar without losing beauty in the bargain.

Gibson’s work on the BAS was also highlighted in a 2016 news release from the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office, after he was named a Companion of the Worship Arts—an honour bestowed jointly by the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. “As the leading force behind the development of the Book of Alternative Services, from its inception through its completion, distribution, and use, the Rev. Gibson is widely recognized as one of the most influential figures in transforming the worship life of the Anglican Church of Canada—influencing generations of Anglican leaders, preachers, musicians, and worshippers from coast to coast to coast through his commitment to liturgical renewal and reform,” the statement reads.

Today, Anglicans recite the words of the BAS every week in churches across Canada, a fact which Rogers calls her father’s widest reaching legacy on earth.

“Of course he wasn’t the only one who worked on it. But it was his whole focus,” she says. “That those words are spoken over and over again by so many people I don’t know, and that many of those words came through my father—it’s very powerful.”

Author

  • Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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