Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: And how is it that we hear, each in our own native language?

23rd May 2021
Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Just before Easter a large postcard dropped through the letterbox – it had an albatross, elephant seal, and a Union Jack on the front

I was delighted to find that it was from Emma and Nigel Phillips on their annual trip to South Georgia

As you probably know, South Georgia is a British territory in the South Atlantic and forms part of the parish of the Falkland Islands

Indeed, the Governor of the Falkland Islands makes an annual visit to South Georgia in his role as Commissioner

I was lucky enough to accompany him in 2018

Whist we were there, I took a Book of Common Prayer service at the old Whalers Church

The Church is in remarkably good condition compared to the ghostly whaling infrastructure which has been left to decay

Above all however, I was very conscious when I took the service that I was very far south indeed

Intrigued, on my return, I subsequently penned a short piece for the Prayer Book Society

The Prayer Book News reported, as follows

Reverend Mercer said that he could not say for sure whether there had been a Prayer Book service held further south. “Did Shackleton or Scott have the BCP with them on their trips to the Pole? It could be that Book of Common Prayer has been used on a royal vessel further south, or, indeed, at the British Antarctic Survey in Antarctica.

“In any event, South Georgia is very remote and very far south, and it was a joy to hear Cranmer’s words on this remote and almost uninhabited island.”

The article attracted a number of letters

First from a former military chaplain who had served on South Georgia just after the Falklands War

He did not expand on whether he had used the Prayer Book but it is highly likely that he did so

I also received another letter pointing out that the Reverend Thomas Bridges served as a missionary at Ushuaia in the Beagle Channel

The Beagle Channel is, marginally, further south than South Georgia

Again, no proof of use of the Prayer Book but, again, it is highly likely that it was used

I strongly suspect that my service was not the most southerly prayer book service ever held

However, whoever holds the record the Prayer Book was used a very long way from its original home

The former Bishop of Portsmouth, told how he was given a copy of the Prayer Book for his confirmation as a teenager

As he put it

“In many respects, it looks just like another old book…but its content were revolutionary…one book for everyone, with every service complete…Morning and Evening Prayer, Holy Communion, baptism, catechizing the young, confirmation, marriage, visitation of the sick, burial of the dead

But he went on to say

“It is a foundational service book…in use over the Anglican Communion to day”

But as well as being a foundational book, its use across the globe to this day is one of its most remarkable achievements

Even a cursory examination of its global reach yields astonishing results:

First of all, the growth of the Anglican Church overseas was largely a result of exploration and trade

And records show that the Prayer book was used at sea, not only for weekday services but burials and the occasional baptism

But all journeys come to an end and, as one commentator remarked

“As vessels neared unfamiliar shores, the Book of Common Prayer provided the hope and solace a migratory people sought”

Not surprisingly, the Prayer Book began to take root right across the globe

It was first used in Dublin Cathedral in 1551

The Colonies and States of America had their first prayer book service in 1607 and found its way to South Africa in 1749

British North America and Canada decided to use the Prayer Book after the Winnipeg Conference in 1890

The development of Anglicanism in East Africa saw its use in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan

Then to West Africa through the Diocese of Niger

Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia and from thence to Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Philippines, Japan, China

Not forgetting the Church of South India as well as our own doorstep in Scotland and Ireland

The geographic reach of the Book of Common Prayer is quite remarkable

From east to west, pole to pole, the Prayer Book wraps itself around the world even to this day

As the former Archbishop of Canterbury said

“The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is unique among the worship books of Christendom in having become the touchstone for the ethos…[and] unity of the whole Church”

And he is right

This Book of Common Prayer has straddled nearly five hundred years

17 monarchs

50 countries around the world

And no less than 200 languages

I even noted that it had been translated into Inuit!

It has ridden out revolution and has been used as the foundation for other liturgies across the world

Whatever our differences, we have a book of “common prayer”

Indeed, it is this theme of “common prayer” which seems to be so relevant for the feast of Pentecost which we celebrate today

As the reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us this morning

“And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

I don’t want to suggest for a minute to suggest that the Anglican Church has been specially favoured by God or the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

But I do not think it is too extreme to make the claim in our welcome to the Priory

“worship is centred around the Book of Common Prayer 1662 which, in the Spirit of Pentecost, is used and understood across the world wide Anglican communion”

On Whit Sunday, when we remember the ability of the disciples to speak to one another in a language they can understand

There is perhaps no better time to remember the triumph of the Prayer Book too