When Revd. Putnam at the Offwell Mission Community asked me if I would write a piece for Honiton News about the Book of Common Prayer services at St. Mary’s I started to browse books and websites for inspiration. It very soon became clear that despite the decline in church attendance churches offering on-line services from the BCP were seeing unprecedented engagement with hundreds choosing to ‘tune in’ to a more traditional offering.
It has been said that the Church of England’s doctrine is to be found especially in its worship. If this is true then it’s above all tribute to the creative genius of Thomas Cranmer. His first Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549, followed by the second in 1552, which looks and feels much like the 1662 Book of Common Prayer still in use in the
Church of England today.
The BCP language is variously described as having: ‘extraordinary simplicity and gravity… beauty and dignity’. It was in the 1960’s that the gradual decline in churchgoing turned into a sharp contraction and by the 1990’s many members of the church felt that the 1662 Prayer Book was: ‘a poor vehicle for contemporary worship’. They were demanding much greater informality and flexibility to worship.
The Alternative Service Book (ASB) was finally produced in 1980 but it adopted a radical approach to the rewriting of familiar texts. The ASB satisfied neither those who wanted something closer to the rhythms and language of 1662 nor those who wanted the language to reflect contemporary concerns, such as gender inclusivity. The ASB was
superseded in 2000 by Common Worship, a library of services in several volumes, giving far more variety than its predecessor.
As Church of England congregations continue to decline The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. This enthusiasm has increased since the pandemic with churches advertising ‘Matins n’ Brunch’ or ‘Evensong n’ Curry’. One West Country vicar has confessed that: ‘… ten years ago during a spring clean I tossed around 60 pocket-sized Prayer Books into a black bin bag and drove them to the tip. What was I thinking!’ While this renewed popularity may well have been helped by the late Queen’s insistence on funeral rites from the Book of Common Prayer, it is overwhelmingly led by millennials. What the 1960’s revolutionaries
wrote off, a younger generation is embracing.
BCP Evensong is held at St. Mary’s Church, Offwell, on every 2 nd Sunday of the month at 5.00pm; BCP Holy Communion is held on the 4 th Sunday at 10.30am. All Offwell Mission Community services can be found on www.parish-church.com
By Carol Hayes