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Gerry Lynch: Prayer Book can bridge class divides

15 March 2024

YouTube/Prayer Book Society

Charlie Mutton recites Psalm 139 in the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, last month

Charlie Mutton recites Psalm 139 in the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, last month

I HELP the Prayer Book Society with its annual Cranmer Awards, organising a local heat at the Wiltshire end of the diocese of Salisbury, and occasionally giving some communications advice. Competitors, aged 11 to 18, recite portions of the Book of Common Prayer; if they make to the final, they have to do this from memory, an impressive and humbling feat to witness.

Some people tell me that I am wasting my time on an archaism that will, at best, appeal to a handful of reactionary public schoolboys. That’s when I point out that I fell in love with the Prayer Book — not at first sight, but gradually, and rather ambiguously — while a teenager, in my native inner-city Belfast, after I wandered into St George’s in the city centre and was seduced there by Anglicanism’s balance of ordered worship and intellectual freedom.

So, I was particularly delighted to see that one of the four finalists from our diocese this year — a delightful quartet, all of them — was Charlie Mutton, from Poole, who wandered into his parish church, St Aldhelm’s, from one of the local council estates a few years ago. He discovered the Prayer Book only recently, and yet picked it up with all the mental agility of an 18-year-old. Encouraged by the clergy at St Adlhelm’s, he entered the competition — a rare entrant who is no longer in full-time education. Well, he only went and won the whole thing!

Some say that only worship in immediately comprehensible language can possibly touch the broad mass of people, especially working-class people. The evidence from Britain’s fastest growing faith, however, argues against that. In my first term at Staggers, I made it my business to attend the Jumu’ah prayers every Friday lunchtime at Oxford Central Mosque.

A number of things struck me powerfully from the experience. Negatively, the absence of women in the prayer hall is quite a shock. More positive is the obvious crossing of generational and class boundaries in British Muslim congregations — something that the Church should reflect on. Most profoundly, the words and actions have not changed since the first decades of Islam. It does not seem to be putting off young people: there is a noticeable religious revival among young British-born Muslims.

Of course, we should not seek to imitate another faith that differs profoundly from Christianity in many essentials. But, as the song goes, “We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.” The young, growing up in an environment full of shouted certainties that change every few years, may nowadays be looking to seek deeper roots.

The Prayer Book’s language conjures a beauty that touches the heart, and yet still feeds the intellect. We are fools if we neglect its enduring power to nourish Christians in their earthly pilgrimage.

The Revd Gerry Lynch is Rector of the Wellsprings Benefice in the diocese of Salisbury.

Angela Tilby is away.

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