Prayer book blues (or, help decoding the text), part one

There are Universalist prayer books, and there are Unitarian prayer books, and rumor has it the Episcopalians have one.

One of the big problems with a prayerbook tradition, especially one that is in the margins, is that there is a learning gap between reading the printed text and having directions for the order of worship. This is the difference between ritual and ceremony.

I bring this up, not because I’m a huge devotee of prayerbook worship, but because the proper application of prayerbook use might help the smallest Christian churches out there worship God in a reliable and unabashed way, and in particular, those lacking clergy. And certainly some of those tee-tiny Christian churches are Universalist. (One or two, anyway.) This is a bit of help.

First, you need a liturgy. What you need is something appropriate to the time of day, so for most, it will be morning prayer. Here’s a Universalist liturgy. The Episcopalians have one available online, too. (see here.) I am also partial to services of morning prayer that come from the “newer churches” and two online are from the Melanesian Anglicans (see here) and the Church of South India. But many denominations have one. Look in any hymnals you may have handy. Unitarian Universalists who have an old red Hymns of the Spirit can follow along with Service One. I’ll be using the old Universalist prayerbook, mentioned above.

Now, a term: rubrics. These are the directions, originally printed in red (red::ruby::rubrics) but are more often today in italics or small caps. These are going to be very helpful. Using the rubrics, outline the rite. Here’s mine, with as little jargon as possible. (This field is ripe with jargon.)

  1. Sentences of scripture
  2. “Beloved in the Lord . . .”
  3. First prayer
  4. Lord’s Prayer
  5. First dialog (“O Lord, open . . .”)
  6. Ascription (“Now unto the King . . .”)
  7. Psalm 95 and 96, edited as the Venite “or some other Anthem” with Gloria Patri
  8. Psalms “read responsively . . . from the Selections” with Gloria Patri
  9. Profession of Faith
  10. Lesson “out of Holy Scripture”
  11. Anthem, “or some Hymn of Praise”
  12. Second dialog (“The Lord be with you.”)
  13. Choose between a string of prayers (“the collects”), the litany, or free prayer
  14. The reception of the offering
  15. A hymn
  16. The sermon
  17. Last hymn
  18. Concluding prayer
  19. Benediction

First off, know that nobody does the service “by the book” so don’t start off complaining about how constrained you feel. Little customs and interpretations slip in: some good and some bad.

Go and outline morning prayer (or evening prayer, or “order of service” or “divine worship”) and meet me back for part two.

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