New liturgies and other features reflect a changing church
By Kimberly Bracken Long | Presbyterians Today
Five years, 200 people, a bajillion emails and a whole lot of prayer. That’s what it takes to make a new Book of Common Worship (BCW). You might ask: Why do we need a new BCW? A changing church needs a worship book that reflects contemporary concerns and offers new liturgies, fresh language and a good deal of flexibility. The revised BCW will do just that, making room for new ways of being church while staying grounded in the best of Reformed and ecumenical practices.
Worship for a changing church
Everyone knows that the church is changing. Just how it is changing — and what we will become — is yet to be seen. While the revised BCW has strong continuity with the 1993 edition, it also offers an approach to worship that reflects how the church is continuing to grow and adapt to 21st century life. Language is more inclusive, less formal, more poetic and less didactic. Prayers are leaner, guidance is clearer and opportunities for shared worship leadership are made apparent.
More and more of our worshiping communities include people who speak multiple languages. The revised BCW offers several services that will allow pastors and other leaders to conduct worship in both English and Spanish. Bilingual liturgies include those for baptisms, the reception of new members, ordinations, weddings and funerals. In addition, the book provides a collection of commonly used phrases in English, Spanish and Korean, accompanied by drawings of corresponding gestures to encourage more embodied forms of worship.
A revised marriage service features inclusive language and a flexible format, making the service useful for all sorts of couples and family configurations. Those who want to renew their vows will find a service that is adaptable for a variety of people and places. Also included is a brief service of prayer for those who seek a way to ritually mark the end of a marriage.
Churches are often called to respond quickly to public events and crises. Pastors and other worship leaders will now have services for use after a natural disaster or an act of violence in the community or the world, along with guidance on gathering for interreligious events. Other new services include a Blessing of the Animals, a service of prayer for the earth and prayers for justice and peace in the neighborhood, nation or world.
Other new features
The editorial team held consultations in six cities around the country, engaging pastors, scholars, musicians and other church leaders in conversations about worship and the church’s needs. One of the most-requested changes was the addition of shorter, more poetic Communion prayers. The 2018 BCW will include many familiar eucharistic prayers — some of them edited for brevity — as well as a number of prayers that follow different formats and use language in new and evocative ways.
A new prayer form, the Thanksgiving for Baptism, may be used for the reaffirmation of baptism at the opening of worship or in response to the proclamation of the Word. The following thanksgiving is for use at Christmas:
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
O Lord our God, we give you thanks for the wonder and love you offer us through the gift of our baptism — your Word made flesh among us, a child and Savior born to us, good news of great joy for all. By the power of your Holy Spirit, poured out upon us in baptism, let us be born anew from above so that we may give glory to you and live as your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
David Maxwell, senior acquisitions editor for Westminster John Knox Press and part of the project’s editorial team, says, “I have been overwhelmed to see the fresh, evocative and poetic writing coming from a multitude of writers from our church and around the world. As an occasional worship leader, I love the user-friendliness of the new edition. It explains absolutely everything needed to plan and lead worship, including illustrations of gestures, descriptions of each part of worship and plenty of alternatives without being overwhelming.”
Commenting on some of the newest features of the revision, he notes that “the new sections on creation care, justice and reconciliation, and interfaith worship provide the tools to lead special services during difficult moments like disasters and political crisis, and during joyful moments like blessing animals and rejoicing in creation.”
“I will feel confident planning and leading worship for the next 25 years,” Maxwell adds.
Well-loved features remain
Of course, not everything in the 2018 BCW is new. Many well-loved features still have a place in the book. A complete psalter — now in an updated, inclusive version arranged for responsive reading or communal singing — is shared with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Prayers for a wide range of occasions and circumstances are included in various places throughout the volume. The funeral service is largely unchanged, but includes expanded commentary and more detailed rubrics to help worship leaders with ritual and movement. Many of the liturgical texts for use during the Christian year remain in the revised BCW, along with new options that highlight themes and images of the season.
This denominational worship book will include services used by a wide range of communities. A liturgy for Las Posadas, a festival celebrated by some Mexican and Mexican-American churches, as well as a service of Lessons and Carols, based on the traditional order from King’s College, Cambridge, are offered for use during the Advent/Christmas season. Communities who hold Tenebrae or Seven Last Words services during Holy Week will find resources with which to do so.
Easy to use
Another request that emerged during consultations was for a better organized, more user-friendly book. To that end, the editors have structured the book so that each major section includes brief commentary introducing the service or services in that section, model services and a “sourcebook” of additional liturgical texts that give worship planners and leaders a multitude of options. In addition, the new BCW features a streamlined baptism service with clear instructions regarding options for reaffirmation or confirmation, as well as a unified ordination service that makes clear that deacons, elders and ministers share a common ministry in Christ’s name.
Three formats will be released in May 2018 — a desk edition ($50), a pastoral edition ($35) and a daily prayer edition ($35) — ensuring that pastors and other church leaders will have everything they need for a variety of services and circumstances. (Visit PCUSA Church Store to preorder.)
“I’m particularly excited about the way the three print editions are taking shape,” says PC(USA) Associate for Worship David Gambrell. “The ‘big book’ will be an invaluable desktop reference for pastors, church musicians, session committees, planning teams, liturgical scholars and anyone who loves worship. The pastoral edition will be an indispensable resource for practical ministry in a variety of settings — presbytery meetings, protest marches, hospital rooms and gravesides. I believe the daily prayer edition, redesigned for more convenient use, will become a cherished companion for personal, family, small group and congregational worship.”
Plans for electronic resources are also underway, to make it easier for churches to plan collaboratively and to produce custom worship resources.
The 2018 BCW won’t just have new words; it also will have a new look. Imaginative artwork by Martha Kelly (marthakellyart.com) will be featured at the beginning of each major section, as well as on the cover of each edition.
“We pray that this latest edition of the Book of Common Worship reflects and responds to God’s ongoing reformation of the church,” Gambrell says, “shaping disciples for Christ’s service in the 21st century.”
David Gambrell of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Kimberly Bracken Long, former associate professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, are co-editors of the 2018 BCW. The editorial team also includes William McConnell, former executive director of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, and David Maxwell of Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
An excerpt from the new BCW
Prayer of Great Thanksgiving for Epiphany
the beginning and the end,
the giver of life:
Blessed are you
for the birth of creation.
Blessed are you
in the darkness and the light.
Blessed are you
for your promise to your people.
Blessed are you
in the prophets’ hopes and dreams.
Blessed are you
for Mary’s openness to your will.
Blessed are you for your Son Jesus,
the Word made flesh.
The words of institution are included here, if not elsewhere.
A Memorial Acclamation may be sung or spoken.
With this bread and cup
we remember your Word
dwelling among us,
full of grace and truth.
We remember our new birth
in his death and resurrection.
We look with hope for his coming.
Come, Lord Jesus.
we long for your Spirit.
Come among us.
Bless this meal.
May your Word take flesh in us.
Awaken your people.
Fill us with your light.
Bring the gift of peace on earth.
Come, Holy Spirit.
All praise and glory are yours,
Holy One of Israel,
Word of God incarnate,
Power of the Most High,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.