The same day Professor North showed us her own well-loved copy of the Book of Common Prayer, I purchased my own. A battered early twentieth century printing with thin, yellowing pages, it finally arrived. I positively ripped the packaging off, then sequestered myself in my dorm as though I were reading something indecent. (Though, as we’ll see, it’s not entirely clear whether or not the school’s leaders wouldn’t have rather caught me perusing Penthouse than reciting scripted prayers.)
So I rifled through the pages searching for these “Morning Prayers” she had mentioned in class, then began attempting to pray.
Let’s join Josh-is-in-over-his-head for a play-by-play:
“The Officiant begins the service with one or more of these sentences of
Scripture, or with the versicle . . . .”
“Hm. Maybe I’m not supposed to read the italicized parts. Okay, let’s skip down. It says ‘Advent’ (whatever that means), then there’s verses listed. Then ‘Christmas’, ‘Epiphany’ (again, what?), ‘Lent’ (like in your belly button?) . . . and pages more, all with verses. So, am I like supposed to pray all of these? Some? But it’s not even Christmas yet.”
[Closes the book frustratedly.]
[Opens it back up. Looks at the Table of Contents hoping for some help.]
“Table for Finding Holy Days. Sounds interesting.”
“Nope, that’s not helping. Looks like a graph. I went to Bible college to avoid those. Let’s go back to the Morning Prayers . . . .”
Yeah, it pretty much went like that for another ten minutes. I’d try to discern the order of service, get annoyed and flip through other sections, then put it back down. Eventually the book landed on my shelf, looking cool but proceeding to gather dust. Liturgical prayer was apparently not for me.
Fast forward six months.
Sunlight streamed in through the windows of the small sanctuary where I had been leading worship for the last few months. The words to the next song appeared on the screen as I began telling the congregation that this beloved worship tune was simply the words to an ancient faith statement – known as the Apostles Creed – set to music. I picked up the shabby brown book with yellow pages and showed it to them, relating how these words we were about to sing were in books such as this one and recited by Christians around the world in a multitude of languages for thousands of years.
Well, we sang good ol’ Rich Mullins’ song1 then, as the band faded into the outro, I asked the words to be put back up and invited the congregation to read them aloud together. It wasn’t Azusa Street or anything, but the people were at least engaged and participating, which was more than I could say for most of the service. The orders of prayer may still have been an impenetrable code to me, but in that moment I was able to blend history, theology, and music in a single communal moment of worship. And I was hooked.
That is, until after the service ended.
No, none of the church members threw tomatoes but the senior pastor, a local legend and leader of this small flock for thirty years, asked me into his office. He gently, but with absolutely no space for further conversation, asked me to not use such sources again.
He then proceeded to tell me, since I so obviously did not know, that our movement was based on such
creeds maxims as “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible,”1 so my extra books were not needed and my historical creeds were not wanted, thank you very much.
I left his office that day cowed but not utterly defeated. I would not use any more liturgically-based sources in our worship for the remainder of my time there, but thankfully I was too
thickheaded young and idealistic to fully appreciate what had just happened to me. Because, while my love for these practices continued to grow in the following years (and I did eventually figure out Morning Prayers), it was significant that my first forays into liturgical worship were met with a lack of understanding on my part, and suspicion and a wrist slap on the church’s. Things can only go up from here, right?
1. You don’t have to love his music, but the man had a rebel heart: the sort of earthy, Jesus-spirituality soaked in nicotine, alcohol, love, and the barefoot humility that comes from chosen poverty. Take it all, the good and bad – that’s Rich. Love him or I’ll punch you in the throat.↩
1. That sound you just heard was a face palm in case you’re wondering.↩