Scripted Prayers



This column was written for the Wednesday Word that goes out to members of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship.


I have a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the King’s Chapel Book of Common Prayer in my library and reach for them often for their beauty of language and clear, effective liturgies. The bloody battles fought by my Dissenting and Puritan religious forebears against the use of set and scripted liturgies recorded in the BCP mostly feel too far off historically to be relevant to me today. I appreciate and savor the beauty of a traditional collect, such a the Collect For Peace,

“O God, who art the author of peace, and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

That is a powerful incantation and I have turned to it many times in my personal devotions and translated its ideas and intentions for humanist Unitarian Universalists congregations with whom I have ministered.

All that said, during these past months I have felt increasingly grateful to be the heir of clergy who vehemently fought against the imposition of set prayers into their liturgies. These men (and the lay women who supported them) were persecuted and some died for the right to pray extemporaneously, as the Spirit moved them and for as long as they liked. Sometimes their prayers lasted for hours – much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of some of their cold and uncomfortable parishioners! While I would neither want to hear nor give a prayer that long and verbose in a worship service, neither do I feel that I could recite some of the prayers and collects that my liturgically scripted colleagues are required to give – and particularly for the nation’s leaders.

Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, and I do. The Scriptures promise us that God will work in the hearts of even the most hard-hearted of humans, and I believe that God can and may. But right now, when I see daily evidence that my nation’s leaders are determined not to extend grace, not to learn wisdom and not in any way or moment to embrace the humility of spirit by which wisdom and grace may enter, I choose to direct my most ardent (and extempore) prayers to the victims of their follies and failures.

May the love of God and the peace of Christ be with you, guide you and sustain you this day and every day.

August 30, 2017