Every Home a Chapel – Common Prayer in Practice

It is important that families pray together as the basic society in which the Church is built upon. To that effect, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer at p. 587 provides a form for Morning and Evening Prayer that is shortened from the regular and more formal daily office. Additionally, an even shorter form of both Morning and Evening Prayer are provided for busy families starting on p. 592. Finally, a selection of Additional Prayers are included at p. 594 that can be used as appropriate during a family gathering for daily prayer or separately when applicable to a situation. Of course, their are also the additional Prayers and Thanksgivings located after the full office of Evening Prayer starting at p. 35.

These tools are useful in assisting families with praying together. The purpose is not to merely recite one or both offices daily for the sake of checking it off of a spiritual to-do list but to be used as a tool in discipling families. The regular use of prayer is a discipline that easily catechizes the family to quickly learn the Lord’s Prayer, especially for the youngest members of the family. Including the readings from the 1662 or original 1928 lectionary (not the 1943, which is printed in most 1928 BCPs) will ensure the Word of God is taught by hearing and will result in nearly the entire Bible being heard through the year.

As children come of age, one can easily incorporate elements of the Catechism that begins just prior to the Family Prayer section in preparation for their Confirmation into the church. Additionally, the Thirty-Nine Articles are conveniently located just after the Family Prayer section and can be referenced as needed on answering and teaching the broad reformed catholicism embodying the Anglican faith.

My last post mentioned the expansion of family oratories into something more – what was once referred to as a society of families gathered to recite a daily office and reading from the lectionary. Such a gathering for Evening Prayer can include the shorter versions in the Family Prayer section, especially considering the presence of small children who will likely have a difficult time remaining attentive for a full Evening Prayer service. However, for those families with older children, the full Evening Prayer service can be recited by the laity, minus the absolution after the confession of sins. For purposes of this post, I will assume a shorter service fits better with the average busy American life.

Prattville Anglican Fellowship suggests starting small with a shorter Evening Prayer service from the Family Prayer section and perhaps only meet once a month at first with another family (the meeting location can swap to make it easier on the families participating and to avoid a regular host family from being “burned out”). The evening could start with a small potluck dinner and after blessing the meal the relevant biblical texts from the lectionary could be read and reflected upon over dinner (Perhaps this meal is a modern adaptation of the agape feast). Afterwards, the Evening Prayer service begins and part of the Catechism and corresponding article from the Articles of Religion can be read and discussed.

Naturally, young children will want to be busybodies and play but the fact they hear the common prayer and texts being read week after week will soak into them. What is important is that they see their parents taking the obligation of prayer and Bible reading seriously. Over time, the children will learn the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed by “osmosis.” I say this from personal experience in merely being raised a regular Sunday churchgoer in the United Methodist Church, where I easily learned the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed by heart at a very young age simply from attending the services regularly. I will forever be grateful that my local UMC parish had not (yet) abandoned the traditional language and outline of a Book of Common Prayer service.

Obviously, the Catechism and Office of Instruction are both very elementary and short documents within the prayer book and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion can be quickly reviewed (although I could easily spend two years on the Thirty-Nine Articles if meeting only once a month – they are short but theologically a deep well). After exhausting these resources, a printed homily or sermon could replace the catechism and Thirty-Nine Articles to enrich and educate attendees on the meaning of the lectionary text (or other biblical text) from a church father or well-known expositor from the faith. I suggest taking a look at any of the following sites for source material: Sermons for Lay ReadersLectionary Central; and Read the Fathers. An idea I am currently considering is perhaps reading through the two Books of Homilies, or at least the Homily on Salvation (which is specifically referenced as the Homily on Justification by Article XI of the Thirty-Nine Articles).With the internet at one’s fingertips there are a plethora of free sources of classic sermons, catechisms, and commentaries at one’s fingertips. Many Anglican specific ones will be added to the Links section over time.

Essentially, if a couple of families (or more) are willing to gather regularly and say an office I suggest it begin with food and discussing the relevant Bible readings and then flow into a short Evening Prayer service. If it ends after prayer then you have done more than what the average family does on a weekly basis. I encourage families to press on and do a short reading and discussion of the Catechism and Thirty-Nine Articles when one is starting their fellowship of families so that everyone is, in theory, will be well-grounded on the basics of the Trinitarian and orthodox Christian faith. Afterwards, the “study” portion of the evening could expand to include sermons, classic catechisms, or devotional readings.

The key to such a fellowship is to find a few like-minded persons who are committed praying together and seeking holiness in the day-to-day. The first several meetings will be awkward in execution but persevere and things will begin to flow more naturally. Starting off small is better than trying to go “all-in” initially. A meal where everyone alternates reading the lectionary texts and then engage in a short form of Evening Prayer is an excellent start to hopefully something that will grow into a fuller study over time. Godspeed!

The Need for Common Prayer and Family Oratories

1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

American Christianity has embraced the zeitgeist of her culture and projects the individual as the ultimate unit in society much to the detriment of the family. While Christ came to save sinners, he also has called and elected his people to be built into His body, His temple. See 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9 (“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”).

The cell is the fundamental unit of any body, but individually cannot form tissue or parts of the body without working together. However, we are not called to be individual cells, but to work together and to become parts of the body of Christ. Furthermore, once joined with other cells to form a part of the body, we are to again come together with all of the parts of the body of Christ and to be united:

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slavesd or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts,e yet one body.

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-20.

Families are traditionally the base unit and structure of the Christian church as they are the church-within-a-church and the first unit of individual cells gathered together. Therefore, it is crucial that family prayer not only occur, but also catechism occur so that the children in families understand what their faith means and believes. Only by being shaped by the waves of daily prayer and catechism can one’s mind be transformed so that their lives conform to the love that only the Spirit produces over and against the carnal self we are all born into.

Unfortunately, the American church is commonly a place for programs, seminars, and frankly worship that appeals to the individual and does not create a united body that the church is called to be. Instead, one may peruse a cafeteria of options for groups to attend, programs to participate in, and worship that suits one’s personal tastes. Ironically, contemporary evangelicalism is appealing to many of the passions and desires of the old man, without any formation of their members into becoming transformed and transforming Christians. At the end of the day, the American church is creating a creed-less Christian (an oxymoron) whose loyalty to his church is solely based upon what appeals to him, and not any underlying truth taught by his church through catechism, confession, and creed. It is a driftless Christianity with no firm anchor or foundation. It is a building made of straw on the sand and will not stand when challenged.

This is why the Book of Common Prayer is what American Christianity needs. It provides a standard of doctrine reflecting a broad orthodoxy of Reformed thought during the early Reformation and provides a manner of prayers rooted in Trinitarian worship and focused on family use for building up the body of Christ. It provides a rule, or discipline, that has been simplified from the dedicated Benedictine Order. This rule of prayer is the rule of our belief and ultimately the rule of how we live (lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi). In other words, the prayers presented by the Book of Common Prayer in Morning and Evening Prayer  shapes our faith through the wording of the services. Additionally, the services of Morning and Evening Prayer provide not only a set of prayers and optional prayers, but calls for a daily recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and selections from the Bible. When regularly performed, one will quickly learn the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and other prayers by heart to reflect upon and pray throughout the day. Additionally, the lectionary allows for one to essentially read the entire Bible within a year (when using the 1662 or 1928 prayer book). When such a discipline of regular prayer is adopted not only by the individual, but also by the family, it naturally builds up a unit of cells within the greater body of Christ.

How can Christians be built up into stronger units of the body of Christ? Through prayer, catechism, and ultimately living out the faith through service to our neighbor. This is what inspired us to begin a family oratory and to open it to other families. We base our prayer life through the Book of Common Prayer not out of Anglican superiority, but because we are Anglicans and believe that our common worship is a broad orthodoxy that bridges the divide between Lutherans and Reformed bodies. Additionally, in a time and place where the majority of American Christians are in a non-liturgical, non-creedal, and uncatechized church, we hope to offer a monthly (hopefully weekly one day) addition to their current place of worship to root them in the deep waters of ancient Christianity.

Being the body of Christ is not traversing one church program to the next, but is a discipline that creates disciples who go out into the world. We pray to be a small unit of cells at Prattville Anglican Fellowship that helps create rootedness through the prayer book for Christians yearning for something deeper. Through this small gathering it is our hope that other families and eventually circuits of families will become united in similar groups of prayer to edify  and enrich their local churches. Until we know our faith through catechism, conform our lives to daily prayer, and let those prayers transform us into actively obeying Christ through serving others, we are merely pagans wearing Christian makeup.