Motion to delete prayer for Jews fails at General Synod

"Why are we praying for the conversion of the Jews specifically?" asks Archdeacon Alan Perry, former member of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue of Montreal. Photo: Art Babych
"Why are we praying for the conversion of the Jews specifically?" asks Archdeacon Alan Perry, former member of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue of Montreal. Photo: Art Babych
Published July 21, 2016

A prayer for the conversion of the Jews may remain in the Book of Common Prayer until at least 2022, after a motion to delete it failed at General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body, last week.

The resolution, moved by General Synod Chancellor David Jones Tuesday, July 12, called for Prayer Number Four, in the book’s “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” section, “to be deleted from use and omitted from further printings.”

Because the resolution dealt with an amendment to Canon XIV, on the Book of Common Prayer, it would have needed to be approved by two General Synods in a row, and by a two-thirds majority in all three houses. While passing by more than 70% among the clergy and laity, the resolution garnered the support of 65.63% of the bishops-just under the 66.67% it would have needed.

Because of technical problems, two votes were held on the resolution. Soon after the first vote-in which the resolution was similarly approved by the laity and clergy, but not the bishops-a number of members complained that their voting clickers did not seem to be working. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and chair of General Synod, then said he realized he had not asked everyone if they had seen the green light on their clickers before declaring the voting finished-his customary practice. He ordered the second vote.

In the second vote, 21 out of 32 voting bishops produced the percentage of 65.63.

However, because the vote on the resolution, like that on the marriage canon, was so close and had encountered a technical problem, some questions about its status may remain.

It was established Monday, July 18, that none of the electronic votes cast by National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald at General Synod were counted because he was “erroneously listed” as a “non-voting” member.

Had he voted in support of the resolution, it would have garnered 22 out of 33 votes, or precisely the two-thirds majority needed.

MacDonald could not be reached to comment Thursday, July 20, on how he would have voted on the resolution.

Bishop Michael Hawkins, of the diocese of Saskatchewan, says the proposed deletion of the prayer should not have been presented as a "housekeeping" issue. Photo: Art Babych
Bishop Michael Hawkins, of the diocese of Saskatchewan, says the proposed deletion of the prayer should not have been presented as a “housekeeping” issue. Photo: Art Babych

In a statement on the technical problem involving MacDonald’s votes, released July 18, Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of General Synod, said he would “seek the advice of the Chancellor of General Synod, and present a full report of all voting issues and recommendations of any possible mitigation, to the Council of General Synod at its first meeting this fall.”

Asked if MacDonald’s lack of a vote on the Prayer Book resolution might be among these issues, Thompson replied in an email, “I am not prepared to speculate now as to what will be pertinent to share with the Council in November.”

The resolution was introduced as a follow-up to the de-authorizing of another Book of Common Prayer collect in 1992. In that year, General Synod gave the needed second reading to a resolution to delete the third Good Friday collect, which asks God to “have mercy upon the Jews, thine ancient people.” But Prayer Number Four was not similarly de-authorized,

Jones said, “and so this is in a certain sense a housekeeping motion to complete that deletion.”

The motion met with some debate, with Bishop Michael Hawkins, of the diocese of Saskatchewan, voicing opposition. The context of Prayer Number Four is different from that of the Good Friday collect, he said; praying for the conversion of the Jews during Good Friday in particular, he said, “colours things greatly.”

This, he told the Anglican Journal, is because of the “whole bunch of historical problems and issues in the history of the church and its treatment and scapegoating of the Jews” associated with Good Friday.

The content of the two prayers is also different, Hawkins said.

The prayer removed in 1992 asked God to take from the Jews “all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word.” Prayer Number Four, on the other hand, while asking God to open the hearts of the Jews, refers to them as God’s “ancient people,” and also requests that God “take away all pride and prejudice in us,” for example.

Moreover, Hawkins said, Prayer Number Four is optional, whereas the Good Friday collect was mandatory.

“I think it’s fair to say that there are many people who would not use this collect,” he told General Synod. “But there are also many who might use it, and for whom the theology of that collect is something that they’re comfortable with, and to remove it might seem to say to them that there’s no place for that kind of point of view.”

His main objection to the resolution, Hawkins said in an interview, was that a change to the Book of Common Prayer was presented as a housekeeping issue.

“The motion didn’t come from [the] Faith, Worship and Ministry [department of the office of General Synod]; it didn’t come out of a particular study; there wasn’t an adequate rationale for it,” he said. “I’m certainly prepared to consider the removal of it, but I think to find it buried in the housekeeping motions is something I wouldn’t like to see happen again.”

However, Archdeacon Alan Perry, of the diocese of Edmonton, and a former member of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue of Montreal, told General Synod he strongly supported the motion.

“Why are we praying for the conversion of the Jews specifically?” he asked. “That’s an extraordinarily difficult thing for our Jewish brothers and sisters to hear, or to see in our prayer book. And so it seems to me that it is entirely compatible with the trajectory of our Jewish-Christian dialogue, and with our developing good relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters, to remove this prayer.”

Speaking very briefly in support of the motion, Dean Iain Luke, of the diocese of Athabasca, repeated part of the prayer, which had just been publicly recited.

“As we just heard, ‘Take away all pride and prejudice in us that may hinder their understanding of the Gospel,’ ” he said. “Perhaps by bringing this resolution today, we’re finding that prayer being answered.”

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Perry said he was disappointed with the result of the vote.

“I thought it would be fairly obvious to people that this was a prayer so similar to one that we’ve already determined is inappropriate for public worship that I thought it would have been fairly straightforward,” he said.

Asked whether the Jewish community had expressed concern about the prayer, Perry said it had not, to his knowledge.

“I suspect not very many of them knew it was there,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t think many Anglicans knew it was there.”

Perry said he was disappointed the motion failed, and said he hoped it would be re-introduced at the next General Synod in 2019.

The prayer, found on page 41 of the 1962 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, reads:

4. For the Conversion of the Jews.

O God, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Look, we beseech thee, upon thine ancient people; open their hearts that they may see and confess the Lord Jesus to be thy Son and their true Messiah, and, believing, they may have life through his Name. Take away all pride and prejudice in us that may hinder their understanding of the Gospel, and hasten the time when all Israel shall be saved; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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