Reflection on Prayer Book Revision by The Rev. Jeff Jackson

The iOS on my phone updates pretty frequently. Sometimes it does it without me noticing, and other times it has the decency to ask me. There have been times when the update is hardly noticeable—bug fixes on apps I don’t even use. Then there are times when the update really slows down my phone, and I have to decide if I will go back to an old system, or just bite the bullet and order a new phone. There’s a cost to that, unfortunately, but soon enough, I find I’m pretty happy with the new iOS.

The Episcopal Church has been “bug fixing” our Book of Common Prayer for years, creating small changes to fit the life of our particular congregations. We’re really not supposed to do that, but we do anyway (maybe you don’t, but I certainly do). One example is “And blessed be *God’s* kingdom, now and forever. Amen.”

The scuttlebutt at the 79th General Convention has been whether or not to begin the revision process. At the time of writing this, the House of Deputies has already approved revision, and we await the response from the House of Bishops. Should we keep updating our phones or just buy a new one? Believe me, I’m not so naive to think that this won’t give us heartburn. But does it have to?

It has been interesting to see the response from Episcopalians back in Georgia around this issue. Many seem to have “General Convention whiplash” where folks don’t know or care about what business comes to our authoritative body until a big decision is made. I’ve been there myself. But as a deputy, I have been reading actions taken at the last General Convention and a lot of information leading up to this one. General Convention is our decision-making body, so it is important to know what they are working on at all times, especially the things that affect our common life like prayer book revision.

I love the ‘79 BCP. In fact, I’ve loved every prayer book I’ve ever picked up. None of them are perfect, mind you, but the concept of common prayer is mind-blowingly beautiful to me. Each revision has had its share of controversy, and yet over time, each one has been championed by the next generation in resistance to revision.

I believe in the Holy Spirit’s work through the Episcopal Church. I’ve seen her transform lives through us and she is currently transforming my life as I experience General Convention. Imagine the Holy Spirit moving through us again to craft a new prayer book that speaks to every concern? One that preserves the ancient and elegant language of previous prayer books and one that enlivens the language of the present and future to include every image of person who makes up our Church? Maybe it will be longer, so as to include all those expressions. Maybe it will be more like an art gallery than a monument, curated by gifted liturgists. Maybe this internal prayer work we do now will lead us to greater work of evangelism, leadership, social justice, creation care, and all the work God has called us to do. Maybe it will excite all our piety.

The Episcopal Church is amazing and can do this and do this well. It won’t be perfect either, but if we don’t try, we may never know. 

My prayer is that every parish, convocation, and diocese will begin a dialogue in order to increase the impact on the conversations that will revise our next prayer book. Start by expanding your own personal use of the ‘79 BCP. Use the Daily Office, both Rite I and II, and use them *daily.* Read through the numerous liturgies, not just the ones starting on page 355. Ask your rector to rotate through the Eucharistic prayers and Forms of the Prayers of the People. Pray the wealth of prayers and thanksgivings found in the back of the prayer book. Memorize the Catechism (which generations before us had to do to be confirmed)! Let these words lift you and deepen your understanding of who God is and who you are in God. Many people have prayerfully crafted those words, and some even died over them.

We have a good long time before a final draft of the next prayer book is adopted. The earliest is 2030 (I will only be a few years away from retirement then!). Even though this news may seem fast to some, know that we have a good amount of time to digest it. Like all important things, we will need to have heartfelt, honest, and loving conversation around our prayer book. Having spent these weeks at General Convention with incredibly faithful, diverse, and intelligent deputies and bishops, I am assured that whatever we craft together will only serve to glorify God and bring us closer to one another.