July 16, 2014

Bulletin vs. Prayer Book

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More heated than perhaps any other debate in the church today is an age-old struggle: whether to print everything in the Sunday morning worship bulletin or use The Book of Common Prayer.

Those staunchly on one side of this argument contend that Episcopalians must learn to use the Prayer Book, and those congregations generally turn out leaflets with phrases like “Opening Acclamation,” directing the user to secret code words such as “BCP p.355.” The advantages of this position are that people, in such a congregation, do in fact use the Prayer Book; however, the obvious disadvantage is that a newcomer is overwhelmed and confused and can’t figure out why, if God wanted her to become an Episcopalian, God didn’t give her four arms to hold all those books!

On the other side are those who contend that hospitality is paramount. They produce veritable booklets every weekend which contain every reading and song and prayer therein. The advantage, here, is that a newcomer has everything he needs to worship, while the disadvantage is that it comes with no small weekly cost to the parish, not to mention stress on the parish administrator – and folding team – to produce a veritable newspaper week in, week out.

Given that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is no longer “new,” although some still insist on calling it that, this wrestling match is probably beginning to subside, but I’m not so certain that it means we need to go wholly over to the other side. Learning to use the Book of Common Prayer, let alone open and read an actual bible, is an important tool for ongoing discipleship. As such, our corporate worship on the Lord’s day should model and teach those skills. At St. George’s, the congregation I serve as rector, we’ve struck on a happy middle. For all outward appearances, we are a traditional, colonial church – the Prayer Book tradition and connection to historic Episcopalianism, here, is strong and meaningful – but we’re also growing and reaching young adults and young families, meaning that we’ve had to figure out a way to make this lovely liturgical expression much more accessible and user-friendly. Our Sunday morning bulletin, then, is designed to work in coordination with other books and, since God only gave us two arms, the user only needs the bulletin and one book at a time.

And it works. Let me explain.

First, in our pews we have three books: The Book of Common Prayer, The Hymnal 1982, and a pew bible.

Second, the bulletin works alongside those three books so that the user only needs one bulletin and one book open at any one time. The bulletin provides for the people most of their responses and, sometimes, doesn’t even reference the BCP. The Opening Acclamation isn’t called that (the Prayer Book doesn’t call it that, either); instead, the Celebrant’s opening words are printed along with the people’s response. Simple. The people’s “And also with you” is printed following the Celebrant’s “The Lord be with you,” and if they wish to find the text of the Prayer of the Day the BCP page number is given. But it is a prayer, after all, and as part of my sermon preparation throughout the week I pray that Collect, through and through; one consequence of which is that my offering of those words on Sunday morning is not the recitation of an obscure cancatenation but, instead, a heartfelt prayer to God. The worshipper doesn’t need to read along, though she may if she wishes.

For the liturgy of the word, the people are directed by the Lector as well as the bulletin, if they wish, to open their pew bible to the page where the reading can be found. We also inserted tabs into those bibles, marking the sections for Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament. Since they’d have to juggle books to get from the Lesson to the Psalm, we print the Psalm in the bulletin. Again, they only have to have one book open at any given time, alongside the bulletin.

The BCP page number for the Nicene Creed is cited in the bulletin, and the service leader announces the page number and waits for the obvious sound of page turning to end before beginning. That, itself, brings up one more, apparent argument which is related to this: whether to announce page numbers or let the service run smoothly without guidance from the worship leader. For me, I see everything right in occasionally announcing page numbers, but doing so by turning the page number announcement into an invitation, such as “Turning in your Prayer Books to page 358, let us together confess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed…” Gerunds can be your friend.

For the Prayers of the People (a subject about which I will spend greater time in a future blog post) we print in the bulletin a call-and-response refrain that changes with the season along with the names of those who have commended themselves to our prayers. The Lay Leader has greater flexibility, then, to follow the BCP rubrics and develop, indeed create prayers that sound less like a shopping list and more like actual prayers of the people.

The bulletin contains the people’s responses during The Great Thanksgiving, including the full text of the Sursum Corda. We print the full text of the Sanctus and the Memorial Acclamation, including, as a prompt, the few words the Celebrant says immediately before. Service music, even if it’s from The Hymnal 1982, is scanned and printed in the bulletin in the appropriate places, and I make certain to announce that the people’s responses and service music can be found in the bulletin and, if they wish to follow along with the full text of the Eucharistic prayer, they can find it beginning on page such-and-so of the Book of Common Prayer.

Any other hymns or musical pieces that are not in The Hymnal 1982, whether from Episcopal hymnal supplements or other resources, we scan into the bulletin itself. We choose regularly from musical resources outside of The Hymnal 1982, but shoving two or three hymnbooks into the pew is equally unwelcoming and confusing. I could imagine a scenario in which, say, Wonder, Love and Praise is the primary songbook. In that case, following this model, that book should be in the pews along with a pew bible and BCP; pieces from The Hymnal 1982 or Lift Every Voice and Sing, then, would be scanned in.

There’s plenty of room for announcements and a weekly calendar, the latter of which we print on the very back side of the bulletin so people can post it to their refrigerators or desktops, and this format fills up a bulletin which is eight pages long. With the exception of an occasional half-sheet which we want people to be able to remove, there is never any such thing as a “bulletin insert” – the very bane of a bulletin’s accessibility! True, that makes it longer than the simple leaflet but much shorter than those tomes in which everything is printed and scanned. The bulletin, in this case, not only welcomes and invites but also informs (functioning as a weekly newsletter) and teaches (serving as a guide to the other books of our Christian tradition). It’s a very happy middle ground, it’s own via media.

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