The PBSC – 25 Years On

The PBSC – 25 Years On

by Desmond Scotchmer, past National Chairman of the PBSC

I am sitting down to write this with two events on my mind: one is the founding of the Prayer Book Society of Canada, 25 years ago, the other the recent death of the Revd. Dr Robert Crouse.


The origins of the PBSC are, of course, connected deeply with the arrival of the Book of Alternative Services. I remember clearly the first time I picked up a copy of the book: a cursory glance through it filled me with alarm. It was clear to me that the book was intended to re-shape Anglicanism, and I didn’t much like what I saw. I expressed my concerns to church-going friends, and to my clergy. I was astonished to find almost everywhere the same response: blank amazement, even outrage that I could be as obtuse and reactionary as to question the New Directions on which the Anglican Church was set.

However, on my trip home to Ottawa for Christmas, I visited an old friend from High School; he put me in contact with a friend of his, a graduate student at Oxford, also home for Christmas. The three of us met over beer and pizza in the Byward Market, on a bitterly cold and snowy evening in the last week in December. “You must found a Prayer Book Society! Without delay!” my new friend from Oxford urged. “There are people you must get in touch with at King’s College, in Halifax. In the meantime, get together with anybody who feels the same way.” The student from Oxford was none other than Tony Burton, later to be Bishop of Saskatchewan, and the people with whom he put me in touch in Halifax were the Revd. Dr. Wayne Hankey –and the Revd. Dr. Robert Crouse.

I had previously met, that autumn, Fr.Robert Greene, Rector of St Bartholomew’s Church in Toronto, the Revd. Ken Scott, a retired clergyman who had helped found Royal St George’s School in Toronto, and Jack Webb, a retired school principal. Out of their own pockets, they had put up the money for a series of excellent lectures on the Book of Common Prayer at St Paul’s Bloor Street, Toronto. And so it was in January 1986 that I sat down with four others at the University of Toronto Faculty Club, to organize an infant Prayer Book Society of Canada. Ken Scott became our first President, Jack Webb our first Treasurer, Wayne Hankey our Vice President and theological advisor, Fr.Greene our chief gadfly and cheerer-on. I became the first General Secretary, though at the time I had no idea at all what a “General Secretary” was, let alone what one should do.

The five of us were very different people, high church and low church, old and young, academic and non-academic, lay and clergy, yet it was obvious to all of us that the new book had little if any connection with classical Anglican norms, and was an attempt to alter not just the ethos of Anglicanism, but its doctrine, that is, its teaching. Chief among these changes were its approach to Scripture, and the relation between Scripture, doctrine and the church.

Doctrinal Change at the Heart of the Issue

The eyes of many Anglicans glaze over at the mention of doctrine, but it is important to understand this: doctrinal change goes to the very heart of the extended crisis of Anglicanism over the past three generations. Doctrine, the BAS tells us, is to be found in liturgy: “liturgy is a reflective process in which doctrine may be discovered”(BAS p.10); “theology as the statement of the Church’s belief is drawn from the liturgy”. It followed, then, that the purpose of the introduction of the BAS, since it involved such radical change to liturgy, must also be to change doctrine!

In the BAS, the relationship between church and Scripture is radically reinterpreted, with the Scriptures becoming no more than “a repository of the Church’s symbols of life and faith”. The implication is clear: as no more than a “repository” of “symbols”, what was regarded by previous generations of Anglicans (indeed, by orthodox Christians everywhere, and in all ages) as being definitive, is really no more than a resource of imagery and symbol, elements of which can be retrieved individually or severally, rearranged, and restructured to conform to contemporary ways of thinking. What’s more, liturgy and doctrine can and should change and shift with the times: “it is consequently vital that [liturgy] wear the idiom, the cadence, the worldview, the imagery” of the passing age (BAS, p. 10).

This is in sharp contrast to the Book of Common Prayer, where the status of the Scriptures as “God’s word writ” is spelled out clearly and unambiguously: the Bible possesses both authority and integrity. The new theology, with its vague and airy talk about “symbols” and “imagery” and shifting world views, strips that authority and integrity away. The Gospel, as something that is revealed and eternal, timeless and True, as something to be handed on unimpaired, is at the heart of classical Anglican theology. Indeed, it is the essence of all orthodox Christian teaching, from the Church Fathers onwards. What was being presented in the BAS was something quite different. Clearly there was a profound disconnect between the BAS and BCP. Anglicanism was being stripped of its essence and its core, and hardly anyone was noticing.

Initial Impressions Confirmed

And indeed, a closer study of the book revealed that initial impressions were correct: repentance and sin are consistently downplayed, indeed marginalized: one could live one’s entire life with the BAS without ever having to confess one’s sins. Indeed, sin in the BAS is viewed as being something corporate and communal, rather than individual: what does that say about individual responsibility? There is a marked shift away from the BCP’s emphasis on the need for an inner transformation of the human soul, to an outward emphasis on what the Church does as a corporate community. Worship is centred on the Community, what we do, rather than on God, and what He has done for our redemption through the Cross.

The Eucharistic prayers move the emphasis away from Christ’s atoning death on the Cross: the word “cross” hardly occurs in the BAS Eucharistic prayers, the word “passion” not at all: indeed the Cross is reduced to but one act in the history of redemption as played out in Scripture, rather than its consummation and defining point. In fact, the authors of the BAS go so far as to attack the BCP for its emphasis on the completeness, the finality, and the efficacy of Christ’s death on the cross as
“mediaeval” (BAS pp. 178, 179). But the Christian Church has always taught that in Adam all have sinned, and that God, in His holy wrath, is angered by that sin, but in His holy love has taken that sin upon Himself, and paid the price that the law of righteousness demanded, in the person of his only Son, Jesus Christ, true God and perfect Man, upon the Cross. This is the essence of Christianity, it is what we read in the Scriptures; it is what the Church Fathers, the mediaeval doctors, and the Anglican reformers are all agreed upon. Yet it receives short shrift in the BAS.

The worst, for me, was the Introduction to the Funeral Rite. This extraordinary document rambles on with some anthropological meditations on the practices of our forefathers (as if these have any relevance for Christian believers), and then states “For the truth is that we do not know the condition of the dead… and everything that we say about them remains at the level of symbol” (BAS, p. 567). I remember turning in disbelief from the page when I read these words. What type of a book was it that the Anglican Church of Canada was putting in our hands? Did not St.Thomas, falling on his knees before the risen Lord, in one of the most vivid of all scenes in the Gospel, utter the supreme expression of faith set out in the whole Bible: “My Lord and my God”? Does this great moment of faith not affirm the reality of Christ’s resurrection? Has Our Lord not promised us that in his Father’s house are many mansions, and that he goes to prepare a place for us? Is this not central to the Christian message to the world? We proclaim Sunday by Sunday that we look for “the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come”. Mere symbol? I think not!

For me it was clear: the book was a mere “dumbing down” of the eternal and unchanging truths of the Christian religion,everywhere there was an attempt to soften the realities that Scripture sets out before us: sin, death, judgement, the need for repentance, individual responsibility for our actions, redemption, the promise of bodily resurrection and eternal life. In the 25 years since the introduction of the book I have not changed that opinion. Dr. Crouse expressed it best: “the BAS starts from the acceptance of contemporary culture as its standard, and reinterprets the Gospel in its light”.

And on top of everything, the prose was just plain crushingly dull, insipid; falling heavily on the ear of anyone who delighted in the robust and transcendent prose of the Book of Common Prayer. Language, diction, and tone need to be appropriate to context. The lover does not address his beloved in the same way he addresses his buddies over a beer. Who would ask the boss for a raise in the same language and diction that they use to speak with the greengrocer? Surely, when we address the “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy” a special form of language is called for, one that reflects the sanctity and splendour of God. It seemed clear to me that Anglicanism had entered a crisis: its defining characteristics were being lost, and with them Anglicanism’s Scriptural roots.

Early years of the Society

These are the issues that we sought to raise in the earliest years of the PBSC. There was another issue, too. The BAS was introduced in a most appallingly insensitive manner, which caused an immense sense of hurt and betrayal among many faithful Anglicans. In editorials, in articles, in sermons and addresses by clergy and bishops, above all, in the various “implementation sessions” for the BAS, we were subjected to long discourses about how inadequate, how poor, just how plain “wrong” the Book of Common Prayer was; and how reactionary, and foolish, and blind were those who wanted to hang onto it. Frustratingly, the theology and the history put forward to substantiate these claims were usually debatable, sometimes even demonstrably incorrect. Particularly galling was the routine sneer at the Prayer of Humble Access, derided as the “Prayer of Humble Excess”. “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies…” To hear that prayer, which spoke so closely to my heart and had played such an important part in my own conversion held up to mockery was very difficult to bear.

Implicit in all that was being said was the promise that the BAS would reverse the decline of the Anglican Church by bringing people back into the church. The message to those who loved the BCP was clear: your spirituality is irrelevant and out of date, and there is no place for you in the new church unless you change. To be inclusive, you were to be excluded, unless you changed!

From the beginning then, the PBSC had two thrusts: concern over doctrine and theological change, and pastoral concerns about the introduction of the BAS and the denial of BCP services for those who wanted them.

We organized, we advertised. I remember typing out our Newsletter on a borrowed word processor, rushing off to Kinko’s to get it copied, and folding and stuffing the copies by hand on Jack Webb’s dining room table (boxes and boxes of newsletters, thousands of them, and all the stamps to be stuck on individually, in the days before self-adhesive stamps! It took us two or three nights to do them all).

People responded, letters poured in from St.John’s and Joe Batt’s Arm, Newfoundland, Fredericton and Halifax, from Delhi and Walkerville, Brantford and Holstein and Toronto in Ontario; from Winnipeg; from Calgary and Saskatoon and Regina; from Kamloops and Victoria. Hundreds of letters! I still have them, on file. This was clearly going to be a grass-roots organization, founded from the bottom up. It was exciting!

We tried very hard to make our voice heard in a spirit of conciliation and charity. We made it clear in our Aims and Objectives that we were not against liturgical revision as long as the new liturgies reflected the theology of the BCP, and as long as the BCP was still available for those who preferred it. But usually we were met with a curious mixture of contempt, condescension, and outright hostility.

Some dioceses refused to allow us to advertise in diocesan papers. We were forbidden the use of a church for our first Annual General Meeting. We took the matter to the Primate: the bishop who had denied our request defended his actions “You are subversives!” he hissed (as God is my witness, the word is accurate!), “You have subversive intent!” I was infuriated, I lost my composure, I banged on the Primate’s desk. “Subversive? Is it subversive to worship God using the official liturgy of our Church? If so, then we have come to a sorry state of affairs!” Primate and bishop backed down, and after that, even the doors to places like St James’ Cathedral in Toronto were opened to us. But I have never forgotten the image of a bishop calling it subversive to stand up for the inherited faith of the Church.

We started our first fundraising attempt, and called it the “Cranmer Crusade”, arousing the wrath of another bishop, in one of the largest dioceses in the country. He wrote an Open Letter to the Society. We were “partisan”, “contentious and reactionary”, waging “guerrilla warfare” and “rearguard action” with a “lack of Christian charity”. Most of all, we were “pathetic”.

We published the letter (PBSC Newsletter No. 15, March 1990), and defended ourselves, quoting the reference to the PBSC in the judgement of the Supreme Court of Appeal of the Anglican Church of Canada (meeting in Winnipeg to adjudicate the validity of ordinations using the BAS) recognizing “the hand of reconciliation extended in the intervention of the Prayer Book Society of Canada”.

The reaction was astonishing. Professors from Winnipeg and St John’s, from Waterloo and Halifax, came roaring to our defence, as did many ordinary faithful Anglicans. We published many responses in our next Newsletter. The former President of the Church Army in Canada wrote: “The PBSC is a remarkable grassroots organization that has widespread national membership and support. The PBSC has arisen because of an informed and concerned devotion and loyalty for the Church of which the Book of Common Prayer is a precious and unique possession…”

The incident helped put us on the map. We continued to voice our concerns, continued to grow, becoming the second largest organization in the Anglican Church of Canada,after the Anglican Church Women. Taking our cue from Dr. Crouse, we were careful how we framed our concerns, stressing always the importance of the doctrinal norms of Anglicanism, and the need for faithfulness to Scripture.

And it paid off. The retired Bishop of Calgary, Morse Goodman became our first episcopal patron. Later, Archbishop Harold Nutter became our first Episcopal Visitor. We were greatly heartened when Dr J. I. Packer, one of the most outstanding Evangelical Anglican writers, publisher of many books on the faith and known around the world, consented to become one of our Vice-Presidents.

Our Accomplishments

Looking back, after twenty-five years, I have mixed emotions. We have achieved far less than we set out to do. Had our aim not been, after all, to recall our Church to its full spiritual heritage, both Catholic and Reformed? Alas! I cannot say we have succeeded there.

And yet, we did manage to accomplish two things: first, we initiated a theological debate, and second, we were prime players in ensuring that the Book of Common Prayer remains in place as the official Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Canada. Without the PBSC, I do not believe this would have been the case. About ten years ago, a friend, and a reliable source, then a seminarian at Trinity College in Toronto, reported that a classmate of his (in all innocence, apparently) had asked “Why does the Anglican Church have two prayer books?” The answer (the professor was an avowed proponent of the BAS) took the class by surprise: “I’ll tell you!” he said angrily.“One reason, and one reason only! The Prayer Book Society of Canada. That’s why!”

At the last General Synod but one, the fact that the BCP was specifically excluded from a motion to further revise the liturgies authorized for use in the Anglican Church of Canada was due largely to the efforts of the PBSC. This was a significant and important achievement, and preserves -for the time being at least -the Book of Common Prayer intact.

Members of the PBSC can take pride, too, in the fact that the Anglican Covenant, designed to strengthen the Anglican Communion worldwide, and bring refractory members into line, is a striking vindication of the positions held by this Society since its founding. Chief among these, is, of course, the identification of the Book of Common Prayer as central to Anglicanism, and vital to its continuing life. Back in 1986, the common assumption was that the Book of Common Prayer had been relegated to the scrap heap of history.

The Revd. Dr.Robert Crouse

I began by mentioning Dr. Crouse. It is no exaggeration to say that the debt owed by the PBSC to Dr. Crouse is immense. From the very beginning, we took our theological and doctrinal bearings from him. Kind, grave, and courteous, he always made himself available, sharing his deep learning and spiritual wisdom freely. To me, personally, he was a very much a spiritual mentor and guide, steadying and encouraging.

I took over the presidency of the Prayer Book Society after the first year, and held that post for seven years. I had no great talent for organization, I did not like the limelight, did not have any specialized knowledge of Anglican theology or doctrine, and was utterly uncertain of what we should do, or how to do it. But from the very beginning Dr. Crouse provided the Society, and me personally, with his spiritual and doctrinal guidance, offering the kind, thoughtful, steadying advice that can come only from deep learning, deep faith, a deep life of prayer, and a deep understanding of how God’s purposes work in the long, rather than the short run. I remember once, when he was visiting here in Toronto, I mentioned how stung I had been by some particularly virulent attack from some member of the Anglican hierarchy. Dr. Crouse merely said, said in his quiet, measured, thoughtful way: “Oh, but abuse is good! It means they have taken notice. It means they are finding you a threat. Press on!”

Looking Forward

Looking around at the position of the PBSC in the Anglican Church in 2011, it’s difficult to foresee how things will turn out. On the plus side, relationships between the Society on the one hand, and the clergy and bishops on the other are immeasurably happier than in the days when we were denied use of churches, and dismissed as subversives. We have seen where a theology which views doctrine as changing with the times leads: to a point where, in the words of the worldwide Anglican Primates meeting at Lambeth, the very fabric of Communion is torn “at its deepest level”, and the unity of Anglicanism worldwide threatened. The Anglican Covenant, as I mentioned, is a striking vindication of the positions held by this Society since its founding, whenit was profoundly unfashionable to hold them.

And there are two great anniversaries coming up, both noted by last year’s General Synod, and commended (no less, by Synod itself!) for observation throughout the church: the 400th anniversary of the Authorized (King James) Bible in 2011 and the 50th anniversary of our beloved 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer in 2012. The opportunity is wide open for the PBSC to further its work. In the immortal words of our beloved Dr. Crouse: “Press on!”

The PBSC – 25 Years On