Westcott ordinand explains the Prayer Book’s well-worn words

13 September 2017

Test of time: the title page of the 1662 Prayer Book

Test of time: the title page of the 1662 Prayer Book

THE Book of Common Prayer is subject to a “fair bit of snobbery” and a caricaturing that needs to be challenged, an ordinand who has produced a glossary for fellow students said this week.

The ordinand, in training at Westcott House, Cambridge, Fergus Butler-Gallie, researched and drafted the guide at the request of the Prayer Book Society (PBS), whose press officer, Tim Stanley, came up with the idea. It will be given free to first-year students in theological colleges, in addition to the free copy of the Prayer Book provided by the society.

“At theological college and, I’m afraid to say, among a certain generation of clergy, I’ve encountered a fair bit of snobbery around the BCP,” Mr Butler-Gallie said on Wednesday. “It brings out a latent clericalism, not least as its most enthusiastic supporters tend to be lay.

“A criticism I often heard was that it’s not understandable. Frankly, coming from a generation where all ‘God-speak’ is pretty alien to us, I never really saw the problem. The idea that Common Worship, for instance, is in the language of the street is rubbish. So the glossary was in many ways designed to counteract that accusation.”

The glossary would also “get people thinking more about the actual theology present rather than the caricature that is often presented”, he suggested. The “whole tone of confession” was changed, for example, by knowing that “miserable” meant “pitiable, in needing of mercy” rather than “down in the mouth”.

There had been debates about which words merited inclusion in the glossary, he said: some were included because the meaning had changed; others represented a “particularly advanced theological concept”. The latter had proved trickiest.

“For all the historically inaccurate caricatures, Cranmer and his successors were clever theologians, and, in classic Anglican style, there is much studied ambiguity in order to ensure maximum theological breadth,” he said.

“The Prayer Book Society is a very broad movement, with those who would identify strongly with Evangelicalism, Anglo-Catholicism, and liberalism in its ranks. Consequently, nailing down some of the trickier theological terms — propitiation for example — took some time. But it’s testament to the genius of the book that people from such different theological perspectives were able to do so.”

Mr Butler-Gallie describes the Prayer Book as “instrumental” in his vocation and conversion.

“Having not taken faith overly seriously, I realised it was about the only religious book other than the Bible that we had in my parents’ home: a very old copy belonging to an elderly relative. As I sought to explore faith, I found myself totally absorbed by its depth, its honesty, and its authenticity.”

The glossary, printed on a double-sided card, is available free of charge from the PBS, The Studio, Copyhold Farm, Lady Grove, Goring Heath, Reading RG8 7RT.

It can also be read on the PBS website

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