By Kirk Petersen
In July 2018, while General Convention was in Austin debating a 12-year, $8 million proposal to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, a different prayer book project was moving toward fruition.
The House of Deputies in Austin handily approved the revision, which among other things would potentially lead to adding rites for same-sex marriages. The House of Bishops then scuttled the proposal without voting on it. The bishops instead approved the creation of a task force with a comparatively modest budget to study the matter further and report to the 2021 General Convention.
Meanwhile, the Anglican Church in North America was focused on its own revision, which has now been issued as the Book of Common Prayer 2019, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the founding of ACNA. The 802-page book is available now for download or purchase from Anglican Liturgy Press, ACNA’s publishing arm.
ACNA was created on June 22, 2009, driven by many of the people who left the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the years following consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003. They joined forces with former Episcopalians from prior, smaller schisms. ACNA now reports it has 135,000 members, versus 1.7 million reported by TEC.
The Rev. Ben Jefferies, who led the design and production of the 2019 prayer book for the past four years, said the prayer book committee was formed just after the formation of ACNA, so “it’s almost a 10-year effort.”
“The budget each year hovered around $10,000,” he said, and the expenses by ACNA headquarters were less than $150,000. “All that went to plane tickets” to bring the committee together for work sessions. He said participants otherwise paid their own expenses through their diocese or parish, so significant additional costs were distributed elsewhere.
To be fair about comparing the prayer book efforts, ACNA had a less complicated task than TEC. The TEC proposal would have started with the 1979 prayer book and looked forward to the present and to imagining the future. ACNA’s project was to start with 1979 and look backward, creating a prayer book that adheres more closely to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s version, as published in 1549 and comprehensively updated in 1662.
“Seventy-nine is rightly and universally recognized as a great revision of the prayer book,” incorporating material from 20th Century liturgical movements led by “the great geniuses of that era, the Boone Porters and Massey Shepherds,” Jefferies said, naming two prominent theological scholars. (After his academic career, Harry Boone Porter Jr. served as editor of TLC from 1977 to 1990.)
Jefferies’s admiration for the 1979 prayer book is not shared universally by conservatives. While the vast majority of Episcopalians have long since switched to the ’79 book, there has always been an active effort to promote the use of the 1928 version.
“There’s so much about [the ’79 prayer book] that is good, and yet there’s also a sizeable chunk of sort of ‘seventies-isms,’ famously the Prayer C,” Jefferies said. Astronauts had reached the moon just a decade earlier, and Eucharistic Prayer C gives thanks for “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”
More substantively, he said there was a belief, “rightly or wrongly, that the ‘79 prayer book was part of this rolling tide of ideological revision within the Episcopal Church.” TEC had just begun ordaining women, to the consternation of conservatives, and the prayer book was seen as “a harbinger of a cultural revision, which tipped kind of beyond the pale in 2003.”
Jefferies also said the ’79 prayer book “tried to tone down the severity of sin,” and the 2019 editors wanted to reinforce the historic penitential focus.
In the ’79 book “there’s a sense of ‘What’s in your heart? Thanks be to God for that.’ And no longer, ‘What’s in your heart is almost certainly corrupt and crooked and needs to be repented of.’ Which the 1662 prayer book left you in no doubt of,” he said.
The preface to the new prayer book states:
The Book of Common Prayer (2019) is indisputably true to Cranmer’s originating vision of a form of prayers and praises that is thoroughly Biblical, catholic in the manner of the early centuries, highly participatory in delivery, peculiarly Anglican and English in its roots, culturally adaptive and missional in a most remarkable way, utterly accessible to the people, and whose repetitions are intended to form the faithful catechetically and to give them doxological voice.
BCP 2019 eliminates the Rite I / Rite II division in the 1979 prayer book. It draws primarily from Rite I, but with modernized language throughout, thereby creating passages that will sound jarring at first to people used to either rite. For example, the call to prayer:
Officiant The Lord be with you.
People And with your spirit.
Writing last September in Covenant, Drew Nathaniel Keane of Georgia Southern University made a thorough, section-by-section comparison of the 1979 BCP with the 2019 version that was then still in development. Some changes may have been made to the 2019 book since then, but the text was nearing the end of its development.
As another example of language that was deemed too discordant with modern sensibilities, the 1979 editors omitted a stark phrase from the historic confession of sin that “there is no health in us.” That language is restored in 2019, but preceded by the new softening phrase, “apart from your grace.”
In an illustration of the complexity and passion involved in prayer book revision, Notre Dame professor Samuel L. Bray last year published a 4,600-word essay (four times longer than this article) arguing that the softening phrase should not be included.
Ellen Kirkland, president of the ACNA publishing organization, told TLC that sales have been brisk, and “the enthusiasm is quite nice.” The website indicates that the $29.95 deluxe edition has sold out, while they still have copies of the $16.95 pew edition from the initial print run of 10,000. Jefferies said “they’ve got bids out for a second printing of maybe 10 to 20 thousand” for September arrival.
“Knowing that purchases of the  prayer book go to the Church Pension Fund of the Episcopal Church,” Jefferies said, ACNA will no longer be “routing money to a support base of the institution that we’re trying to break away from.”
Still, there are no plans to pressure any ACNA congregation into buying the 2019 prayer book. “The College of Bishops determined right at the beginning, years ago, that nothing would be required or mandatory. Any prayer books that the ordinaries have authorized up to now remain authorized,” Jefferies said, including 1979 and 1928.