I love to read Prayer Books: So What?

“Get a hobby,” “Church nerd,” “liturgy geek,” “you need to get a life” the list goes on.  I’ve heard these and so many other things from peers, classmates; colleagues both clergy and lay, but I still do not understand why they make such a big deal of my love for liturgy.  You see, I do not think it is a problem.  It is a life.  It is a hobby.  For me, it is vocation.

photo-45I have a deep and abiding love for the liturgical life of The Episcopal Church.  The beautiful music, poetic language, the engagement of all five senses, the interaction with the Sacraments: but, my love goes beyond the here and now.  I have a quest and deep desire to understand the meaning, history, and development of our worship.  I want to know where this stuff comes from and how it got to us today.  I want to know where we are going next.

My senior year of college, I had some extra time on my hands: I already had enough credit hours to graduate, and only a few required courses left.  Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I elected to write a thesis in the History department (it might be helpful to know that I was a Political Science major).   I could write on anything I wanted to. I had no restrictions, no limitations, and no requirements.  I wanted to know that I could write a major academic work; I wanted to push myself.  More importantly, I wanted to take the opportunity to know more intimately that which I loved so deeply.  I wrote on the Prayer Book.  What else would I write on?

I approached my History of the Reformations professor and she agreed to be my advisor and we spent both semesters of my senior year reading and studying together.  I read more in that first semester than the entirety of my collegiate career.  I could not get enough.  It was a level of academic energy and drive I had never experienced before.  One day I was studying in the student café and another professor walked in.  He could tell that I was animated about what I was talking about, so he came up to ask what we were talking about.  “The Black Rubric.” I said in a duh-of-course-this-is-exciting tone of voice.  After noticing the confusion on his face I told him more.  At the end of my explanation he smiled, “Clearly you’re headed into the right line of work.”

Recently I put to use some Amazon gifts cards that I had gotten for Christmas.  Of the several books I got, the two I was most excited about were The Prayer Book Parallels.  I remember when they came in the mail.  “You got a heavy box from Amazon,” my wife said.  I took one look at the box and new what it was.  “MY PRAYER BOOK PARALLELS!”  I think I scared her a little bit, but ultimately she was not surprised; she knew whom she married.  I opened the box, cracked open the books, and began thumbing through the pages.  The rest of the room disappeared: it was just me and my books.  I began to feel this overwhelming excitement as I noticed similarities and differences between the Prayer Books from the 1662 English Prayer Book to the most recent American Prayer Book – the 1979 edition.  I was up far later than I should have been, but it was worth it.  If there was ever any doubt left of my love for liturgy, this made it disappear.  Studying the history of liturgy in The Episcopal Church is not a chore, for me, it is life giving.  My experience in studying liturgy is like developing a relationship with a new partner and rediscovering an old friend all at the same time.

Keeping the Sacramental life of the Church in the forefront of my mind has changed the shape and focus of my own ministry.  This life is what makes the Church different than local social service organizations and non-profits.  There are organizations that feed, clothe, nourish, and teach people far better than we ever can.  But, there is something far more powerful that we can offer.  We have the opportunity to take those acts of mission and outreach and turn them into Sacramental moments.  To take these ministries and allow them to transform our communities, ourselves, and all those we come into contact with.  This transformation and motivation are our greatest gifts to the world around us.

What happens if we allow our Sacramental life to penetrate our very beings?  The phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi comes to mind.

This is the only way I know how to live into my vocation and ministry.  It is why I seek ordination in The Episcopal Church and am not off working for a non-profit or in law school.  The liturgy of the Church and my study of said liturgy have transformed my life more than I could ask for or imagine.  I wonder what the Church would look like if we all took are acts of worship a bit more seriously?

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