The Portable Prayer Book
By the Revd. David Burrows
What is the main difference between the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services? Some of you might say that it’s theological: for example, that the BCP puts more (some would say too much) emphasis on penance than does the BAS. Others might say that it’s a language issue: the BCP uses the older language (you know, the “thee’s” and “thou’s”), whereas the BAS is in contemporary language. Or some might say that the form of the service is different: the BCP drew from the forms of worship in existence at the time of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, whereas the BAS originated in the 20th-century Liturgical Movement with its connections to the Roman Catholic trends of the day. Well, as far as I’m concerned they’re all wrong.
The main difference for me is that the BCP fits very nicely under my bullet-proof vest. I refer to the one that I wear when I do a ride-along with the cops (I’m a volunteer chaplain to Toronto Police 14 Division). The BCP fits comfortably between my Kevlar vest and the small of my back – you try to put the BAS in there and you’ll do yourself an injury!!
But seriously folks, it’s the BCP and not the BAS that was meant to be carried around. When you think about it, the size of the BAS shows that it was really designed to be used in church. The BCP was intended to be portable, to go wherever you go – in your car, in your pocket, even in your bullet-proof vest.
As a police chaplain and as leader of the Hunger Patrol (a mission of my parish church, St. Olave’s – we go out every Saturday, ten months per year, and feed the homeless), I use the BCP all the time. I’ve prayed with people whose friends were in the process of attempting to commit suicide. I’ve prayed with men who just found out they had cancer. What about the so-called language barrier, you ask? After all, street people aren’t usually highly educated. It never seemed to matter. They knew well enough what we were praying for.
I had a parishioner who kept getting injured – he had an ATV accident, a hockey injury, a serious fall. I finally photocopied the prayer on page 60, the thanksgiving “For Deliverance in Peril”, enlarged it a bit, laminated it and sent it to him for future use. The BCP applies in just about every situation.
By the way, when the BAS came out – being the scientific-minded guy that I am – I did a little experiment. I weighed both it and the BCP. The BAS came in at about twice the weight of the BCP – a considerable difference for someone, say, with arthritis.
Lately, we’ve been having trouble on our Hunger Patrol with a really violent drunk. He kicked a volunteer last October. Previous to that had assaulted three of our homeless; slapped not one but two bowls of soup out of one guy’s hands, knocked another guy down onto the sidewalk, and ran up to my son Paul who was talking to another and screamed at him, “Leave him alone!” About a month ago he assaulted another volunteer and we had to pin him down until the cops arrived. Luckily they were two officers from my own division, so I held up my badge – I didn’t want to get thrown into the “bull pen” at 14 Division for street brawling! (Although one of them knew me very well anyway.)
Whenever we go out on Hunger Patrol we say a prayer from the BCP. Check out page 11 in Morning Prayer, the second and third collects, with their calls to God to “Defend us …” in all perils; they say it all. This book really was meant to be carried around with you – it really is a book of COMMON prayer.
Remember the drunk, abusive guy that I mentioned in my article on “The Portable Prayer Book”? The guy who caused all the trouble, whom we had to pin down until the cops arrived and arrested him? Well, he came back a few Saturdays later when we were on Hunger Patrol, but this time he actually wasn’t drunk! He stepped back to let someone go ahead of him in the soup line, and then came to the side door of the van and politely asked for a blanket. When I gave it to him, he thanked me and said, “You guys are great. I love you guys!” and off he went. The next day happened to be the first Sunday in Lent, and we had the Litany with Morning Prayer in my church. When we got to the part where we ask God “to forgive our enemies, persecutors and slanderers, and to tum their hearts”, I immediately thought of that guy. I almost started to cry.
(From the southern Ontario PBSC newsletter “The Lamp”, Lent and Easter 2004 issues.)