bcp cover

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3.5,6)

23 years ago, almost to the day, I was confirmed in Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Bristol, Virginia.

I remember nothing from my confirmation classes except that we were given the key to the soda machine and told to help ourselves, a rare treat for one who was normally forbidden sodas at home. Each class was audio recorded, and if we missed a session, we were given the tape to listen to the following week. We met in the rector’s office which reeked of cigarette smoke and had that kind of slippery leather furniture that made fart-like noises every time you moved. We were teenagers. We moved a lot. And laughed at fart-like noises. Every time. I adored my rector, but I did not adore those classes.

I remember being nervous on the day of my confirmation. Meeting the Bishop was a Big Deal (although seeing him do an awkward bishop-dance to Color Me Badd’s ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ at a youth event a year later put him firmly in the more common category of Embarrassing Adults). Being in front of the congregation was scary. I just wanted it to be over.

As a confirmation present, my paternal grandparents gave me a red leather-bound copy of the American Book of Common Prayer. It is a book I knew almost by heart when I was younger because when I got bored in the services (which was always), I would read the catechism or funeral prayers or try to get my head round the rules for finding the date of Easter Day. I was pious enough that I appreciated the gift, but for many years (20 to be precise), it pretty much just sat on a shelf.

bcp inscriptionI started using it again when I was training for ministry. And now I can’t imagine where I would be without it.

I love so much about the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I love our liturgies. But they are in horrible little booklets. They look temporary and unprofessional. And I often find myself juggling them, and a bible, and a book of collects, and whatever else I might need. And it just gets annoying, and I wind up feeling even more clumsy and inept than usual.

Whereas it’s all there in the Book of Common Prayer. Well, not all of it. But it contains the things I am most likely to need: prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for healing, prayers for the dying, confession, collects, psalms. It is small enough that I can fit it into my handbag, robust enough that it can survive a lot of use, and understated enough that it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It looks like a prayerbook and has a quiet dignity to it that I often hope might make it look like I know what I’m doing, even when I feel completely incompetent and overwhelmed.

Every time I use my prayerbook, I think of my grandparents with love and gratitude for all the gifts they have given me which this small book symbolises. And I think of my 13 year old self: nervous, uncertain, unprepared. If someone had told me on that day where I would end up and how I would be using my confirmation gift, I probably would have run out of the church and not looked back.

In so many ways, nothing much has changed. I still feel nervous, uncertain, unprepared. I’d certainly rather not be standing, hands shaking and heart pounding, in front of a congregation.

At the same time, I can’t imagine not being a priest; to be anything else would be to not be myself. But in the times that I falter — as I’m responding to that call of desperation, walking along the hospital corridor unsure of what I’ll encounter, or sitting in a care home anointing someone who may no longer be able to find words but who understands the language of sacrament — I take a deep breath, open my prayerbook and remember again the verses my grandparents wrote on the first page, and from them, I draw both comfort and courage.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3.5,6)

5 thoughts on “do not rely on your own insight

  1. I love this. And can we please start a movement to publish the SEC’s liturgies in ONE decent format? With real binding and no staples?

    1. Oh, I’m doing my best. Trust me, every opportunity I get to moan about it to the convenor of the liturgy committee, I do (usually as we’re discussing funerals because why, oh why is our funeral liturgy the most garish colour of pink????)

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Would be great to see a well presented, nicely bound new Scottish Prayer Book, incorporating up to date pastoral prayers, collects, Psalms and the Office…It’s a long time since 1929!

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