The Book of Common Prayer
From the mid-1970s and closely connected with the European Movement in as far as it was an attack on the independent foundations of an ancient nation state, wasthe determination by some people in positions of influence in the Church of England to eradicate the use of the Book of Common Prayer from its pews, stop clergy, congregations, using the book as the corner stone of their worship - and their church. This concerned me very much.
The Book of Common Prayer, was, and still is as its title suggests the Prayer Book for the whole nation, not just for members of the Church of England. It was the unifying link between Anglican churches all over the world. In 1950s, 60 and even 70s one could come from Australia and immediately feel at home in any service in any Anglican church throughout the United Kingdom. One could also immediately feel at home in the USA or New Guinea, anywhere.
Like most writers from earlier generations the Book of Common -Prayer with the King James Bible had a very great influence on me as a child. Most Sundays I would sit in the lovely St James Church, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, where the Rector was Canon E. H. Smith listening to language as full of power and music, imagery and drama as any Shakespeare play. I could most certainly worship Spirit in any service using The Book of Common Prayer.
Although there was no clamour from the grass roots for any great change, the Book of Common Prayer had slowly adapted and evolved when necessary over the centuries, those in control in the Anglican world were determined to stop the use of the Book of Common Prayer. 'We must bring the church up to date' they would cry.
I joined the Prayer Book Society soon after it was founded in the 1970s. I continued to be involved in theSociety until the 1ate 1990s. Established authors, unlike the poor support given by well known writers to the anti Common Market campaign, did condemn the determination of some in the church to destroy the Book of Common Prayer and all it stood for. I and other writers knew full well the spiritual force that can emulate from great poetry - which is the language of both the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible.
P.N. Review 13 published 1979 was entitled Crisis for Cranmer & King James. The first article by Professor David Martin was called Why spit on our luck? These words were taken from W.H. Auden's comments on those policies and trends which threatened to depose the Authorised Version and the Book of Common Prayer. Well known men and women from all walks of life, contributed to this issue, A.J.P.Taylor, C.H.Sisson, Helen Gardner, David Willcocks, John Betjeman, Iris Murdoch, Joyce Grenfell, Paul Scofield. There was also a General Petition and a St. Cecilia Petition. All this work was to no avail. The grand prelates of the church brushed all and every one away.
As far as I am aware I was the only baptised Church of England poet to actually write an informed poem about what was happening - and why - in the Anglican community.
REFLECTIONS ON THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
Think, Christians, what would Satan do
If this small book does in its prayers contain
Image of Christ.
Those words that light with love
And seed the soul with centuries of faith
Born from the lips of England,
Would not then Satan fear them
And fearing, hate and plan destruction?
He who has power of gold to give
Will easily ensnare
Agents to weave a world of lies,
Unnatural men who live on pain,
Who twist, distort and make decayed
All that the Law creates.
Past five hundred and a thousand years
Did not Thomas Cranmer say
The prayers he placed within this book
Had been in use in England.
Long, long before Augustine came
The church in Britain stood
Sacred in this sanctuary of service.
If Israel is His people
And His people therein pray,
If the cup is for remembrance
And by faith His people feed,
If Christ's Kingship of this nation
Our anointed Crown reveals,
Is not the Book of Common Prayer prime witness to deface?
You who would praise your love
Believing then Mankind will see her grace
Forget that Beauty to unnatural men
Shows only their corruption.
As faggots wove fire around Cranmer's stake,
Ring to shrivel sight,
So now foul creatures itch and skip
Around all that is heir of England,
Your words, well meant, are wind to flame
As Satan drives his minions on
To burn each Briton from the Cross.
If you the Prayer Book wish to save
See through the treacherous circling tongues
Whole vision of your Christian heritage.
"Faith and Heritage" published by The Prayer Book Society, 57 Great Ormond Street. London WC1N 3JA
In the three decades since the 1970s the Book of Common Prayer has almost disappeared from the Anglican community. It is now used on a regular basis only in a few isolated parishes and by a few individual priests. How many young Anglican clergy have ever studied it? Since its demise asthe corner stone of Church of England worship the Anglican church has suffered continual unrest, disunity, distress; loss of confidence, clergy, congregation. Its Christian compass has all but disappeared.