New essays reflect on prayer book’s 25th

Twenty-five years ago, a shiny new green book popped up in the pew racks of Canadian Anglican churches. Some people welcomed it, some were puzzled, and others were upset. The Book of Alternative Services (BAS) was a compilation of new liturgies developed for use alongside the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), and gradually it has become the primary prayer book used within the Anglican Church of Canada.

A new essay collection marks the 25th anniversary of the Book of Alternative Services.
A new essay collection marks the 25th anniversary of the Book of Alternative Services.

To mark this quarter century of existence, four church leaders who helped shape the BAS have written about the prayer book’s history and legacy. Read the essays online:

-Twenty-five years of the Book of Alternative Services [PDF]—the Rev. Paul Gibson
-An Imperative for Change Once More [PDF]—Bishop Michael Ingham
-The Book of Alternative Services: Introduction in a Northern Diocese [PDF]—Archbishop Caleb Lawrence
– Reflections on the Creation of the Book of Alternative Services[PDF]—Bishop J.C. Fricker

All Canadian Anglicans are invited to submit their own reflections on the BAS and liturgical revision by email to the Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, interim director of Faith, Worship, and Ministry.

Another way to mark the BAS’s 25th anniversary is to buy a T-shirt[PDF] with the BAS logo. Proceeds will support the Faith, Worship, and Ministry Committee, which oversees continuing liturgical revision. BCP T-shirts are also available.

Liturgical revision an ongoing process
Before the 1970s, the BCP was the only authorized worship text in the Anglican Church of Canada. Originally published in 1549 and refined throughout the 16th century, the BCP expressed the primary tenets of Anglicanism through liturgy. As Anglicanism spread to the British colonies, the BCP took root in Canada. It was modified for specific Canadian use in 1918 and 1959.

In the 1960s, leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada identified a need for more permissive, flexible liturgical alternatives to the BCP. In 1971, General Synod approved a process to revise church services, and between 1974 and 1978, the Doctrine and Worship committee (the predecessor of today’s Faith, Worship, and Ministry Committee) produced the Canadian Anglican Liturgical Series, alternate liturgies that were distributed as booklets throughout the church.

These trial liturgies got the ball rolling. In 1980, General Synod decided to produce a new book of alternative services instead of revising the BCP. After much consultation and testing, the BAS was published in 1985. The new green book contained many changes, including contemporary language and an increased focus on the Eucharist.

Once introduced, the BAS sparked much controversy, with the debate playing out in church halls and national newspaper editorials. Some Anglicans argued that the BAS diluted traditional Anglican beliefs, including the sacredness of marriage. The argument went as far as the Anglican Church of Canada’s Supreme Court of Appeal, which was convened in 1989 to rule on the validity of the BAS.

On the other side, BAS supporters argued that the new prayer book was faithful to the reformation principles of the BCP’s original author, Thomas Cranmer, who wrote worship services in the language of the people. BAS supporters described liturgical revision as a much-needed, perennial process.

Similar revision processes were happening around the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Church of Canada joined Anglican churches in England and Australia, which were also experimenting with alternative liturgies to live alongside the BCP.

Despite the controversy, the green book caught on. A survey conducted in 1993 showed that three of four respondents were using both prayer books within a month. After a formal evaluation, the church agreed in 1995 that a new prayer book should be produced, though not immediately. In the meantime, they responded to some liturgical concerns by producing a supplement to the BAS: Eucharistic Prayers, Services of the Word and Night Prayer.

“Obviously the time was right for it,” said the Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, interim director of Faith, Worship and Ministry, about the BAS’s success. “The church throughout the 1970s wanted to express worship in meaningful ways that connected with the language, culture, and mission context of the day.”

Join the next stage of revision
General Synod has already started the next stage of liturgical revision. During the 2007 to 2010 triennium the Faith, Worship, and Ministry (FWM) Committee approved principles for liturgical revision and this triennium a liturgical task group will develop new liturgies that can be distributed and discussed online.

Dr. Scully anticipates that the new liturgies will respond to current concerns including environmental stewardship, adaptation to local cultural contexts, and translation. She also expects this next stage to be highly collaborative and to consider work taking place in other Anglican provinces.

“My vision for this is that it’s not going to be a group of six or ten people who sit in a church hall in Toronto writing the next prayer book,” she said. “There are going to be leaders and project managers and editors; but we have started to cast the net widely across the church, connecting with groups that are doing that in their local contexts, so we can get the greatest input possible from local communities.”

The four essays marking the BAS’s 25th anniversary are a good place to start this next stage of reflection. Dr. Scully invites all Canadian Anglicans to consider questions, such as “What does common prayer mean to you?” and to continue the conversation online.

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