Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Keeping Faith with 350-year old Book of Common Prayer

Keeping faith with 350-year-old Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, May 17, 2012

IT IS perhaps, the defining artistic work of the Church of England – more than any number of Victorian hymns, more than all the nation's stained glass windows and bell-ringers, even more than the King James Bible itself – but, despite the best efforts of generations of ecclesiastical modernisers, as it reaches its 350th anniversary, the Book of Common Prayer remains at the heart of Anglican worship.
Indeed with its familiar baptism, marriage and funeral prayers, the immortal words of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, are still as much a defining part of English life as Shakespeare and Dickens, even in an increasingly secular society.
          ​Above right, the Rev Richard Hoyal  with a Book of Common Prayer  at  Christ Church in Broad Street, Bristol, above   Picture: Michael Lloyd
            Above right, the Rev Richard Hoyal with a Book of Common Prayer at Christ Church in Broad Street, Bristol, above Picture: Michael Lloyden in an increasingly secular society.
Every time we use phrases like "'til death us do part"; "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest", "peace in our time" and "ashes to ashes", we are quoting directly from the book.
Bristol's Christ Church in Broad Street – one of the city's oldest religious sites, which before being rebuilt by the Georgians would have been familiar to Cranmer himself (he once visited Bristol in order to worship here) – is one of the few churches in the country that prides itself on still relying entirely on the 16th century book for its daily liturgy.
"We've just never brought in a modern version here," says the Rev Richard Hoyal, vicar of Christ Church, who is also a trustee of the Prayer Book Society.
"If you stand still for long enough, things come back round to you," he says, as he prepares the church for its daily lunchtime service.
"The people who come here to worship do so because they enjoy hearing this traditional form of service – there is a continuity and beauty to it that the more modern versions of Anglican service just don't have.
"Most churches now use a combination of modern and Prayer Book liturgy, but here we continue to stick to the words of Cranmer, because that's simply how we like it.
"The language is beautiful. It is lyrical and poetic in form, and despite being the language of 16th century England, it remains remarkably accessible, and for churchgoers in particular, reassuringly familiar. It is the message of the Church of England."
Born out of the Reformation, the book was first penned by Cranmer, an enthusiastic protestant, in 1549, but it never came into use during his lifetime, because on the death of Edward VI his half-sister Mary I restored Catholicism as the national religion.
It wasn't until the Restoration – in a national atmosphere of delicate reconciliation after the devastation of the English Civil War – that King Charles II granted the publication of a less overtly protestant version of the book as the official liturgy of the Anglican church.
"Here was a book that appealed to all members of the Church of England – the high church, the low church and all the mishmash of worshippers in the middle," says Mr Hoyal.
"Perhaps that is part of the secret to its enduring appeal."
He walks over to the pulpit, and returns with a grand copy the Book of Common Prayer, which he flicks through as we talk.
"I've worked in churches around the country that have used modern forms, and I can understand why many people feel modern forms of worship are important.
"But when I came here to Christ Church in 2004, I actually found it rejuvenating to reconnect with the worship forms I was nurtured in.
"I am grateful for this reconnection with the forms that were standard until my twenties."
Richard is keen to ensure today's generation of young Anglicans also have the opportunity to enjoy the lyrical nature of the Book of Common Prayer.
To mark the 350th anniversary, he is organising a city-wide competition to encourage children to engage with the book.
The competition, Celebrating Prayer in England, which is being organised by Bristol's Diocesan Board of Education, will be open to all children aged between five and 16 in local authority and independent schools in Bristol. The deadline for entries is June 7.
Key Stage One children, aged between five and seven, will be invited to create paintings on the theme "Lighten our darkness", the opening words of the Third Collect spoken during the service of Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.
Key Stage Two pupils, aged between seven and 11, will produce posters and written work explaining the meaning of sin, while secondary school pupils aged between 11 and 16, including those studying for GCSE, will be required to write an essay on the topic "War and Peace" – another oft-quoted phrase from the liturgy.
"I hope that, by selecting themes like these, many more of Bristol's young people will begin to discover for themselves the wonderful language of the Book of Common Prayer and that teachers will introduce the idea of Cranmer in the classroom to help them explore it further," Mr Hoyal says.
A prize-giving ceremony will be held at Christ Church on June 20, with the prizes being presented by Fawlty Towers actress Prunella Scales, an enthusiastic member of The Prayer Book Society.
"The winning pupils will each be awarded a bound and inscribed copy of the Book of Common Prayer and their schools will each be presented with a prize of £500," explains Mr Hoyal. "Then the winning entries will go on public display at Christ Church. For me there can be no better way to celebrate the 350th anniversary of this wonderful book, than by ensuring that it is passed on to yet another generation, who will doubtless find joy and comfort from the language, as countless generations before them have done."
 For more details on the competition, visit

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