By Mike Patterson
It all began on a social media thread. Jayan Koshy and Tony Hunt were both following the Episcopal Church’s 2018 General Convention and the ensuing discussions about prayer book revision. Both found themselves frustrated with how many Episcopalians seemed disengaged with traditions that they deeply valued. “We were disheartened,” Koshy said, “that that passion for quintessential Anglican practices like the Daily Office was lacking.”
Although they had never met in person, the laymen continued their discussion over social media — until they discovered both lived in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. They met for coffee and began to formulate their ideas for promoting the Daily Office throughout the Episcopal Church.
The Daily Office stems from a centuries-old Christian practice of reading Holy Scripture, reciting psalms and praying at fixed times throughout the day. The current form of the Daily Office as found in the prayer book consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.
Koshy has been leading Morning Prayer at his parish, St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Paul since January 2019, hoping to encourage others to experience and be formed by the same spiritual practice that has so deeply in his own spiritual development.
Koshy, who works in corporate marketing, grew up as an evangelical Protestant, in a tradition that emphasized extemporaneous prayer and a private, quasi-academic relationship with Scripture. He said in an email to The Living Church that “those approaches certainly have their place, and a rather important one at that, but they are fundamentally solitary practices.
“In my sojourn outside and eventual return to the church, I became sharply aware of a hunger for spirituality that is communal. We talk about being the Body of Christ, and most would at least pay lip service to that aspect of the Holy Eucharist, but we also need to engage in word and prayer as a corporate body.” The receptivity to being directed in daily prayer and Scripture reading by the church “is probably the most profound transformation that the practice of the Daily Office has wrought in my life,” he said.
Hunt, a postulant for holy orders in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and co-editor of The Hour Magazine, has prayed the Daily Office off and on for years. He is also studying for the MDiv at Luther Seminary.
Hunt eventually suggested that instead of “just lamenting the lack of interest, we actually do something about it,” Koshy recalled. They brainstormed about ways to spark more of an interest in the Daily Office and “drum up activity around it.”
As Koshy and Hunt continued to discuss their dreams for the Church, they were drawn to Nicholas Ferrar. This English courtier and businessman retreated with his family in 1626 to the hamlet of Little Gidding. There they followed a strict routine of daily prayer and tended to the health and education of local children. Koshy and Hunt decided to call fellow Episcopalians to join them in praying the Daily Office, inviting them to join an organization they have named the Society of St. Nicholas Ferrar, honoring a spiritual mentor.
“Once we had a charter, we started recruiting,” Koshy said. They started at St. John’s where a small community had already gathered for Morning Prayer. This formed the nucleus of the Minnesota chapter, which formally organized at Evensong at St. John’s on December 1, 2019.
They began spreading the word about their work through online networks, and a second chapter has already been founded in Michigan. The society’s 15 members commit themselves to observing Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer daily, attending the Holy Eucharist every Sunday and feast days, encouraging the public observance of these patterns of worship, and interceding daily for other members.
The general response to their efforts has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Koshy said. They have had inquiries from throughout the Episcopal Church, including Texas, western New York, Los Angeles and even a few places in the Anglican Church of Canada.
St. John’s rector, the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson, said that the parish “has responded very positively to the idea of daily weekday Morning Prayer. While attendance is still small, it is also slowly growing. Parishioners regularly express to me and to our other clergy their desire to find the time to make space to come to Morning Prayer.”
He credits Koshy and Hunt for encouraging the practice of Morning Prayer at St. John’s. “Jayan and Tony came along with the commitment and fortitude to see this through … as a consistent and regular part of our practice as a church,” Weber-Johnson said. “Morning Prayer is appropriately situated where it was intended, as a foundational part of our Christian life in a community that points toward and prepares us for the encounter we have in the Eucharist and the world with the crucified and risen Christ.”
Koshy said their “ultimate goal is to get people to do the Daily Office. In the end, it’s not about the society. I’d actually personally love to see the church reach a point where the society is no longer necessary because parishes across the church are practicing and encouraging the Daily Office.”
They hope to eventually “get on the radar” of bishops throughout the church. “Their clout can make a major difference,” Koshy said, “whether that looks like endorsing a diocesan chapter of the society as a ministry of the diocese or issuing pastoral direction to their clergy to pray the office or make it available.”
He said it’s hard to gauge the specific impact the Daily Office has had on individual lives, but “many people have responded positively to our efforts and said that the society is inspiring them to take up the practice. If and when that inspiration becomes actual practice remains to be seen, but people’s hearts are at least being stirred.”
Since Hunt attends another parish, Weber-Johnson has worked most closely with Koshy, whom he credits as being “a gift to our whole faith community. He is a natural and authentic evangelist both digitally and in person…I know of more than a few first-time visitors both to our Sunday worship and Morning Prayer who found St. John’s through Jayan’s witness and evangelism.” he said.
Weber-Johnson hopes that when the Minnesota diocese selects a new bishop, he can share what Koshy and Hunt “are up to as both deep faithfulness to our Episcopal liturgical practice and spiritual life, and as an example of innovation and experimentation. In many ways, I understand the desire of Episcopalians to experiment with new forms of liturgy and to refresh the liturgy we already have. But I also think that what we have has not been fully tried. “
For more information on the Daily Office and the Society of Nicholas Ferrar, or to learn how to organize a chapter, visit www.stnicholasferrar.com.
Mike Patterson is a freelance writer and a member of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Blanco, Texas.