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Why is The 1662 Book of Common Prayer so popular all of a sudden

Why is The BCP 1662 so popular all of a sudden; and why is its American child, The BCP (1928), in continuing if slow demise?

by Dr Peter Toon
August 8, 2007

Various questions have come my way during the last week since the adoption of The Common Cause Theological Statement by The Anglican Communion Network, and here is my summary of their content, and a tentative reply to them:

Why has the Common Cause Movement apparently by-passed the authentic Common Prayer Tradition of American Episcopalianism-i.e., from the end of the British colonial period to 1976/79, and expressed in three editions of The Common Prayer, 1789, 1982 & 1928?

Why has this Movement recovered as its Formulary the very Prayer Book that was in use in the thirteen colonies in America up to Independence from the British crown?

Why is this Movement seemingly prepared to ditch a peculiar but valid expression of the Common Prayer Tradition ( i.e., that of The Protestant Episcopal Church, USA) in order to recover the original one on which the 1789 was based?

In 2007, The BCP 1928 is still in print (luxury edition from OUP and pew edition and with KJV Bible from Anglican Parishes Association of Athens, GA.) and still in use (by at least fifty churches inside The Episcopal Church (TEC) and by several hundred, mostly small, churches in the various departments of Continuing Anglicanism). Inside TEC several large congregations use it, such as St Andrew's of Fort Worth and St John's of Savannah. It has an excellent Hymnal, the Episcopal of 1940, to go with it and this Hymnal is also still in print.

Within the Common Cause Movement, the 1928 BCP with the 1940 Hymnal, are used in most of the parishes of the APA and in some of the REC. However, in most of the parishes of the other partners the Canadian BAS 1985 and the American Prayer Book of 1979 are used-but happily there are a growing number which is using the contemporary form of The BCP 1662 on trial use in the AMiA and elsewhere (and available from St John the Evangelist AMIA church in Philadelphia).

After thinking about possible answers to the questions summarized above, I have come up with the following possible answers, which may or may not contain singly or together the truth.

1) The Common Cause movement has no real meaning or future without the active support of major players in the Global South of the international Anglican family. And the fact of the matter is that these players are from provinces, which like most in the global Anglican Family, have constitutions based on the Formularies of the Church of England (which means that BCP 1662 & Ordinal) and in some cases use The BCP 1662 all the time now. To walk with the Global South is thus made the easier if the same Formularies are in place.

2) The Common Cause movement has Canadian partners and the BCP 1928 has never been used in Canada , while the 1662 tradition is basic to the history of The Anglican Church of Canada.

3) The Common Cause movement wishes to recover the authentic Anglican Way in the context of the dysfunctionality of contemporary American Anglicanism and the international global crisis in the Anglican Communion. Thus it goes back to the roots of the massive world-wide extension of the Church of England through colonialism and missionary effort, an expansion that began in the seventeenth century and reached its heights in the nineteenth. And a movement that held the Bible in one hand and The BCP 1662 in the other.

4) The BCP 1662 is the kind of base line and standard that can serve everywhere, allowing local (but certainly not universal mandatory) additions in terms of hymns, canticles, ceremonial and the like. Thus a comprehensiveness can be attained based upon a common form-and this has been in place in the past before the arrival of the seemingly uncontrollable variety of modern liturgies since the 1960s. On this principle, the present Canadian 1962 and the American 1928 editions of the authentic Common Prayer Tradition could be used-but not to set doctrine, which remains inside The BCP 1662.

5) In the Church of England, alongside The BCP & Ordinal of 1662 (which remain the Formularies and in use) there existed Alternative Services 1980 and now there exists Common Worship. This model possibly allows for the use of the BAS, 1985 of Canada and the 1979 Prayer Book of the USA-even though, it may be recalled, these two books [and 1985 is based on 1979] were designed to undermine and remove The BCP 1662 tradition.

6) Within The Episcopal Church, there was from 1979 a purge to remove the use of The BCP (1928) and those who did not conform were subject in many dioceses to the displeasure of the Ordinary or even his persecution. Some of those in leadership in TEC dioceses within the Anglican Communion Network, the major Common Cause partner, have been zealous in the past in their seeking to remove the use of The BCP 1928 from their dioceses. It is therefore easier for such people, and those who thought like them and supported them, to go to The BCP 1662 and avoid talking about or contemplate using the whole classic Common Tradition of The Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.

Now for use in the USA there will need to be a little editing of The BCP 1662 for the Monarch is very much part of this Prayer Book, but this can easily be achieved, and prayer for Presidents and Governors and the like introduced.

So what is going to happen to the specific American edition of authentic Common Prayer? That is, will The BCP 1928 survive?

What seems clear is that, if the forward movement of the Common Cause towards becoming eventually a new Province of the global Anglican Communion actually proceeds to its conclusion, then the use of BCP 1928 will become more and more a characteristic of those who stay outside the new Province. Here I have in mind the traditional Continuing Anglicans whose origins lie in the secession from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1977 and who in general adopt the Affirmation of St Louis of 1977. In some cases these groups do not allow the use of The BCP 1662 because they deem it to be "Protestant;" but yet they do use The Anglican Missal , based on The BCP 1928, which makes The BCP 1928 effectively become the agent of certain Tridentine Roman Catholic doctrines (which are wholly excluded by The BCP 1662 tradition).

So it would seem that the possibility of a revival of The BCP 1928 for use in a new Anglican Province in America is virtually nil, and the possibility of its continued use in the U.S.A. very limited due to its eclipse in most of traditional Continuing Anglicanism by The Anglican Missal. (However, in these circles The BCP 1928 is needed for the Daily Office, Baptism, Funeral and Wedding etc but it is deemed insufficient and even treated as invalid as a stand-alone text for the "Mass".)

However, the use of The BCP 1662 as the standard text and base line seems to be a real possibility for a large sector of would-be orthodox American Anglicanism and through it may come the restoration of the authentic Anglican Way as Reformed Catholicism and part of a global Family. For parishes with a solid musical tradition, the use of The BCP 1662 opens up massive possibilities of classic and modern sung services and of course with this Prayer Book comes a tremendous devotional and theological literature, together with marvelous poetry and special services (Advent Carol Service etc.). Not least with this tradition comes the missionary zeal, exhibited in the past by the major evangelical missionary societies of England-e.g., Church Missionary Society.

---Dr. Peter Toon is president of the Prayer Book Society USA

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