I HAVE been saying a daily Office in one form or another since the age of 18: some 40 years or more. Its rhythm has helped to shape my day, and kept me connected to the wider body of Christ at times when I was dangerously close simply to drifting away. I cannot now imagine my day without it.
It was when I was in the seminary in my late teens that I first encountered the Roman Catholic Breviary: a book that very quickly became my anchor. I left the seminary after almost four years and a rather acrimonious parting, feeling estranged from Church; but, somehow, through all the turmoil, I clung to my Breviary, and it became something to hold on to when God and his Church seemed far away indeed.
The psalms seemed to anchor me during that feeling of separation. I felt as if I was holding on to a memory of the voice of God which would have to sustain me until such time as I heard from him again, whenever that might be. There have been many months — years, even — when I felt that I was hearing nothing from God at all: desert experiences. In the mean time, my daily Office would have to suffice.
IN MY mid-twenties, I became friendly with two people who would later form the Northumbria Community and co-write what has now become Celtic Daily Prayer (Books, 17 November 2017): John Skinner and Andy Raine, who both remain friends to this day.
Before they ever published anything, those of us who were their friends — a group that eventually evolved into the Northumbria Community — used an early form of Celtic daily prayer in a Filofax. Over time, we added more prayers, psalms, and other readings. I have my copy to this day.
I began to alternate between my old Breviary and this early form of Celtic daily prayer, and stuck with that routine until about two years ago. I am registered blind, and have only a small amount of remaining sight in one eye, but, by 2016, my sight loss had reached the point at which using my old Breviary and Celtic daily prayer were just too difficult for me to manage any more. This was not just because of the font size: flipping from section to section using marker ribbons had also become too difficult, and I began to feel even more isolated.
BY THIS point, however, the campaign group Disability and Jesus (of which I am a co-founder) (News, 8 December 2017) had increased its Twitter following to about 11,000 (today, it’s more than 14,000). Our followers have a range of disabilities: some struggle with complex language; some with print; some are deaf. Many feel that they have suffered from a lack of understanding and bad teaching on disability. Inaccessible buildings, inaccessible liturgies, and a lack of transport all contribute to many of our followers’ being unable to access church in the normal way.
So, I was faced with a situation in which my beloved Office, which had served me well through many dark days, was becoming inaccessible; but, at the same time, I was communicating with many others who faced obstacles to a routine of daily prayer — a routine that helped them to feel connected to something bigger than just them praying alone.
I BEGAN to compile a list of requirements for any form of daily prayer:
- It must be accessible in its font, language, and formats.
- It must somehow help participants to feel part of something bigger.
- It must not be overly simple, nor appear juvenile.
- It had to be something that non-disabled people would join in with
- There had to be a way of showing people that others were saying it with them.
Through my work with Disability and Jesus, I already knew how important the internet was for disabled people, and that many of us were using social media to stay connected with each other, with church, and with the wider world in situations where we were otherwise in danger of becoming increasingly isolated.
It seemed obvious to me that whatever we came up with needed to be online, as that was where disabled people were most easily found. So, I assembled a small group of friends, and we built the website, wrote a few liturgies, and, in July last year at the General Synod, launched our website, The Ordinary Office.
IN THE 15 months since then, we have added extra liturgies and watched the numbers grow to a size that we could never have imagined: on average, the Ordinary Office is now being said more than 2000 times a day.
Each liturgy is available in clear print, in Widgit symbols, on video, and in audio. At the end of each liturgy, readers are asked to click an “Amen” button, which keeps count and gives others an idea of how many people are saying the Office alongside them. To date, that number stands at more than 542,000.
For the past month, we have been leading a live Twitter service on a Sunday evening, based around elements of the Ordinary Office.
Looking to the future, we would like to be able to provide the Office in BSL, and to produce a high-quality book in the style of a breviary, as well as bespoke reflective videos and daily Gospel readings.
We are limited only by what we can manage to self-fund and produce with such a small team of volunteers. Take a look at our site, join in for a while; and, if you feel you can help, we’d love to hear from you.
Dave Lucas is a co-founder of Disability and Jesus and of the Ordinary Office.