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Variations from the BCP order

21 August 2015

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Your answers


When conducting holy communion according to the Book of Common Prayer, how much flexibility (if any) does the priest have to omit, edit, expand, amend, or vary the text to suit his or her personal preferences? How should this subject be most constructively raised by a congregation member?


The Bishop of London, as Ecclesiastical Patron of the Prayer Book Society, once remarked that it is only the opponents of 1662 who insist that it be used with a rigidity not seen since 1663! Some degree of flexibility is necessary and desirable and, according to Canon B5, “The minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance,” provided that such variations “shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”.

What would constitute “substantial importance” is, however, nowhere explicitly defined: this is inevitably subject to a range of interpretations, and a test of reasonableness needs to be applied. It can sometimes be the case that apprehension is aroused not so much by the use of variations in themselves, but by the perceived direction of travel, if it appears that the priest is moving further and further away from the BCP.

The “traditional language” services in Common Worship incorporate the texts of the Prayer Book rite, while allowing for considerable flexibility; but if the priest wishes to use one of these forms of service in place of the BCP, this must (under Canon B3) be agreed with the PCC.

As to how a member of the congregation might raise this with the priest concerned, I would say “diplomatically”, since there is little to be gained from conflict (nor from attending a BCP service conducted through gritted teeth by a priest who does not really want to do it). Draw the priest’s attention to the provisions of the Canons, and ask if he or she might explain the reasons for the variations. If the priest has concerns about particular aspects of the BCP rite as it stands, the Prayer Book Society (www.pbs.org.uk; telephone 0118 984 2582) may be able to assist with a response.

(Miss) Prudence Dailey
Chairman, The Prayer Book Society


While the decision which form of services are used is made jointly by the minister and PCC, Canon B5 permits the minister who is to conduct a service, including a service from the Book of Common Prayer, to make variations which are not of substantial importance. Such variations must be “reverent and seemly and not depart from the doctrine of the Church of England”.

It would be difficult to argue that a variation found within another authorised service fell outside that definition, but it could be argued that a minister was so substantially omitting, varying, or expanding the text that it was the use of another form rather than the Book of Common Prayer and was thus outside the agreement with the PCC.

To resolve the matter, a friendly personal approach to the priest is usually the most constructive way to raise any issue. With the right approach, not only can matters be resolved or better understood, but the relationship can grow, avoiding the danger of disagreement on an issue being felt to be an attack on a person. “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves” remains the best advice.

(The Ven.) Frank Bentley


[What a parish’s churchgoers and their elected representatives thought of as the BCP rite when they agreed its use for a particular “slot” (often Sunday at 8 a.m.), perhaps with a past incumbent and decades ago, before or during the era of the 1980 Alternative Service Book, may differ from the understanding of a newcomer to the parish. Regular communicants can be adept at following the service in the 1662 book while taking for granted omissions such as those of the Ten Commandments (in favour of the Kyries or Summary of the Law), the Collect for the Queen, and so on, as well as additions such as the response “Thanks be to thee, O Lord, for this thy holy Gospel”, without having any of this in print in front of them. The long exhortations are generally omitted. Editor]


Your questions


I hear terms such as “choral evensong”, “solemn evensong”, “sung evensong”, and just “evensong” used. What are the differences?

M. R. J. T.


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