Friday, January 23, 2009

Hey, Episcopalians...Where did daily prayer for public leaders go?

Why did the 1979 Book of Common Prayer take prayers for the President and those is public authority out of their prominent place in Morning & Evening Prayer and bury them in a catch-all section in the back?

For a number of reasons, I used the 1928 BCP for my daily prayers all through the last liturgical year, and went back to '79 in Advent. The '28 Book has the prayers for public officials in a very prominent place. In fact, they come before the intercession for the church. You have to go hunting for them in the '79 Book.

Perhaps this is part of the "centrality of the Eucharist" emphasis. Eucharistic Prayers of the People do include prayers for public officials.

Or maybe the '79 Book reflects post-Viet Nam angst about all things national. Dunno.

But right now, President Obama faces our economic woes and global instability in various forms. Governor Mike Rounds here in SD is proposing some very painful budget cuts. Our chief executives, the legislatures that will have to grapple with budgets, and the courts upon which we dump all our problems are in need of prayer. Clergy, who should be attentive to daily prayer and Bible reading, ought to have prayer for public officials staring at us each day.

I am tempted to find a causal link between this flaw in the '79 Book and our national descent into political polarization. Our great old church of "national consensus" stopped emphasizing daily intercession for public officials, and our nation slid into petty factionalism. We have no clear political momentum beyond endlessly destabilizing our own leaders by "gotcha" (Watergate, a silly little event if you look into it, is intoned as if it were the Holocaust; Monica Lewinsky and the President's understandably human dissembling turned into a national distraction right when 9/11 was being planned against us; Dan Rather's attempt to create "evidence" against Pres. Bush was a manifestly political act; insane emails about Pres. Obama's "Islamic connections" were all over the net; and now Frost-Nixon is out to embellish the "gotcha is glory" myth.) The booing of former Pres. Bush at Pres. Obama's Inauguration was disgusting.

A healthy Anglican model was on display at my last cure in California. The mission included a PreK - 8th grade school. Along with the daily chapels, there was a weekly flag-raising during which the teachers and students shared a litany of prayer for public officials. It was illuminating to hear the leaders' names change after each election (I was there for about 10 years). The party and ideology didn't matter - we just prayed for those in office because that is our Biblical mandate.

The Episcopal Church has always been a small denomination. But its influence and voice used to have national reach and value. Perhaps it is God's judgement that we've gone from small to minuscule and from influential to irrelevant in the decades since we stopped praying for national leaders.


The Archer of the Forest said...

I think the American Episcopal Tradition has always had to tread lightly on this subject from the beginning when the 1662 BCP had sections about God Save King, etc.

If I recall my liturgical history class correctly, the harangue with the 1979 BCP on this issue was more having to do with the old wording of "Christ Church Militant here on earth." That wasn't going over well with the 60's generation.

And then it devolved into political partisanship discussions, so in Anglican "no size fits all" thinking, I think the "final cut" of the prayerbook was to relegate all of it to the back.

Which is sort of bizarre as you pointed out because it was kept in the Prayers of the People in the Eucharist.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Prayers for government officials, kings and presidents heads the intercessions in Eastern Orthodoxy, reflecting the Church's desire for just and righteous rulers.

The Standing Liturgical Commission that produced the innovative 1979 Prayer Book (erroneously called a "Book of Common Prayer") moved these out of Rite I and Rite II because they were following the Post Vatican II Roman liturgical reforms. Eucharistic Prayer D provides for intercessions for secular and ecclessial rulers while the priest stands (hopefully facing East) at the altar. Of all the Formularies in the 1979 book, this is by far the richest theologically. It is also the least popular with revisionists.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Orthodox Church prayers also include intercession for the Armed Forces.

I wonder how much the anti-military, anti-establishment sentiments of those who were students in the 60s influenced the shape of the 1979 Prayer book.