One Church – One Book’

Published September 1, 1999

IT IS TIME for us to be one church with one book again: not the Book of Common Prayer nor the Book of Alternative Services; but a new book that will incorporate the main services of worship in both traditional and contemporary forms.

This could be done much the way the Episcopal Church of the United States does with its Prayer Book that has Rite One (traditional) and Rite Two (contemporary).

Such an initiative by the next General Synod would inspire nothing less than a sigh of relief. It could end the liturgical Cold War that has divided so many congregations into factions, alienated people who spent a lifetime loving their church and put the national church in the contradiction of having a canonical (official) liturgy, the BCP, that most bishops and clergy seem bent on treating as a not very relevant memory.

One book with two rites can make us one church again.

First, it can restore our integrity as a constitutional society with respect for the rights of its three orders: bishops, clergy and laity, a respect lost by the years of manipulating people to accept what so many find unacceptable, years of forcing people to choose between the clerical way or the doorway.

Although we have never been a populist, bottom-up church, neither were we ever a priest-driven, top-down one. Instead we prized the mutuality of bishops, clergy and people speaking with one another, the security of each order respecting the rights of the others, the humility of all recognizing how the church is above each order.

That respect is not there now when an incumbent, allegedly in the bishop’s name, can simply tell a congregation they have to worship according to the BAS or not at all. If that is tolerated, it means a reversal of five Anglican centuries that makes the people totally subject to the clerical hierarchy instead of living under the authority of synods, convocations and parliaments in which they have a voice and a vote.

Aren’t they still represented in synods? Yes, obviously. But what good is that if the liturgy, authorized by a law of General Synod, the church’s highest legislative authority on worship, can be treated as a museum artifact, a heritage piece to be commemorated on its 450th anniversary but put to rest the next Sunday? We are on the edge of becoming what we have never been.

A book with two rites would also express our historic preference for the words, “both ? and,” over the words, “either ? or.” We have become a global family of 67 million people by being ready to include one another, by being a church comprehensive enough for high and low, catholic and evangelical, liberal and conservative. Can we now comprehend tradition and contemporaneity in one book with two rites, neither excluding the other, their being together between two covers showing how Anglicanism has arms large enough to embrace us all?

Having one book would be a practical gain too, especially if it is the giant size our ecclesiastical bureaucrats now prefer to cram into our pew racks. Let’s have just one book, one big enough to hold the services most people use, plus the psalms and lections, but small enough to be free of the unsought, unread and unnecessary commentary foisted on us by liturgical reformers bent on justifying their biases.

In 1662, when a revision of the Book of Common Prayer was required by the restoration of the monarchy, a Preface made the claim that our church had ever preferred the mean between the extremes of too stiff a rigidity in resisting change, and too eager a readiness to seek it. The revisers clearly hoped their version of the book would provide a bridge on which all Anglicans could meet. It is time for another book to be that kind of a bridge.

Dr. Reginald Stackhouse is Principal Emeritus and Research Professor at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.


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