Above: Henry Van Dyke, 1920-1921
Image Source = Library of Congress
Now, as Ordinary Time, the “Long Green Season,” is upon us and I wait until closer to Advent 2012 to add more Advent material to this blog, I have pondered what to put here. Film reviews have come to mind, and I have done some of that. And, given my interest in liturgy, reviews of contemporary books of worship seem like a good idea. So I have decided to review at least three such volumes, which I list in order of publication:
- The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), of The United Methodist Church;
- Book of Common Worship (1993), of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; and
- Chalice Worship (1997), of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Many active members of these denominations might not know that any of these books exists, although the clergy members do. But I, an Episcopalian, have had a copy of each since its year of publication. My ecumenical interests also come into my religious and spiritual life.
The Book of Common Worship (1993) is the fifth in a line of volumes dating back to 1906. The Reverend Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) was chiefly responsible for the 1906 and 1932 editions. His hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” proved more popular than his liturgical books in a denomination (the old Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1870-1958 incarnation) with a historical resistance to formality in worship yet an equally historical insistence on worshiping “decently and in order.” The third BCW (1946), which drew heavily from The Book of Common Prayer (1928), was too Episcopalian for many Presbyterians. Then came the fourth in the series, The Worshipbook–Services (1970), folded two years later into the new hymnal, The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns. The 1970/1972 book was an unfortunate product of its time.
In my library I have copies of the 1906, 1932, 1946, 1972, and 1993 books. I have studied them, and have the notecards to prove it. I have two copies of the 1946 book; one belonged to my grandmother and grandfather, good Southern Presbyterians. My grandmother, Nell Taylor, became a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) when it formed via a merger in 1983, and served on the session of Summerville Presbyterian Church, Summerville, Georgia. My grandfather (lived 1905-1976) was a lifelong Southern Presbyterian. So I write from knowledge and family history. Harold M. Daniels, editor of the 1993 BCW, has expanded my knowledge of this topic with his insider account in To God Alone Be the Glory (2003), which I have placed on a shelf next to the 1993 book.
To pick up a dangling thread, I first encountered The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972) in the Summer of 1992, at Valdosta, Georgia. One day I read a night prayer service out of the book and found it lacking. Actually, “clunky and uninspiring” is a more accurate description. But the service came from a time of liturgical transitions. The 1970/1972 book, unlike its 1946 predecessor, used modern English, which I like, but the committee had yet to find graceful modern English. And the language was, as I wrote, “clunky and uninspiring.” And, every time I read from that volume, I have an urge to pick up a soft drink, stand on a hill with many other people, and sing,
I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony….
So the 1993 Book of Common Worship is a welcome improvement. Written in graceful modern English, it borrows heavily from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1979), the New Zealand Anglican New Zealand Prayer Book (1989), and the Canadian Anglican Book of Alternative Services (1985), which owes much to the 1979 BCP. The 1993 BCW also preserves the best of the 1970/1972 Worshipbook by bringing its language up to date. The current volume is a wonderful resource for personal and corporate prayer and worship. I know about the personal use of the book. And, as a good Episcopalian who also uses A New Zealand Prayer Book, I recognize many of the services, sometimes in slightly altered forms.
I can tell that those who prepared the 1993 Book of Common Worship took their efforts seriously. One measure of this is volume thickness. Consider the following facts, O reader:
- The Book of Common Worship (1906)–263 pages
- The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932)–353 pages
- The Book of Common Worship (1946)–388 pages
- The Worshipbook–Services (1970)–the first 206 pages of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972)
- Book of Common Worship (1993)–1,108 pages
By means of comparison, the 1970 Book of Common Prayer, a fine volume in its own right, weighs in at 1,101 pages in my late 1990s copy bound with The Hymnal 1982. My 2007 copy (bound without the hymnal), which dates to after The Episcopal Church adopted the Revised Common Lectionary, includes the old 1979 lectionary as an appendix yet has 1,049 pages. So the 1993 BCW is about the same size as the the 1979 BCP.
The 1993 Book of Common Worship, like the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1970/1972 Worshipbook, emphasizes the centrality of the Holy Communion. I like that. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have become the normative pattern among Presbyterians in the United States of America.
My experience of the 1993 BCW has been mainly devotional. Each psalm comes with an appropriate psalm prayer. The prayer services appeal to my liturgical tastes, creating a proper atmosphere in which I can encounter God in beauty. And I have used the wide selection of prayers–those for preparation for worship as well as those for a variety of topics–privately and mined them liberally for inclusion on my GATHERED PRAYERS blog–with credit given, of course.
As one who admires the 1979 Book of Common Prayer greatly, I praise the 1993 Book of Common Worship highly. The latter is superior to the former in some ways, as in the wider selection of prayers for various topics. I know that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has produced a great treasure. It would be better, though, for more members of that denomination to know of the BCW‘s existence and to admire the volume at least as much as I do.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 28, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLUTARCH, MARCELLA, POTANOMINAENA, AND BASILIDES OF ALEXANDRIA, MARTYRS
THE FEAST OF SAINT IRANAEUS OF LYONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF RANDOLPH ROYALL CLAIBORNE, JR., EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA
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