Friday, September 16, 2011

A Baptist BCP?

In a previous post I mentioned the use I'm making this semester in my Christian Theology course of the worship book Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples published in 2005 by the Baptist Union of Great Britain. While Baptists do not have a fixed or mandated liturgy, many Baptist churches are beginning to draw selectively and creatively from the liturgical riches of other Christian traditions, adapting these resources in light of Baptist ecclesiology and incorporating them into distinctively Baptist patterns and practices of worship. Gathering for Worship is both a significant exemplar of the liturgical dimension of Baptist receptive ecumenism and a resource with much potential for enriching Baptist worship beyond the context of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

Gathering for Worship is published by Canterbury Press, which can be forgiven for describing the book on the Canterbury Press web site as "the authorised service book of the Baptist Church in England and Wales." While in certain respects Gathering for Worship is the Baptist worship book that most closely approximates the Book of Common Prayer, it is not only not an "authorised" liturgy for "the Baptist Church" (an inaccurate description of the ecclesial status of the Baptist Union of Great Britain besides); it is a much more flexible and adaptable collection of worship resources than the BCP, though Gathering from Worship does draw upon the BCP (and the liturgical resources of other traditions) for a number of collects, forms, and other liturgical texts, guided by the "core worship values" of Baptist communities identified in the rich theological account of Baptist worship elaborated in the book's preface:
  • attention to scripture
  • a devotional relationship with God and an openness to the Holy Spirit
  • an understanding of the church as community
  • a concern for the kingdom of God
  • the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is an over-arching commitment that binds these other values together (p. xvi)
In Gathering for Worship one will find multiple patterns for celebrations of the Lord's Supper, meaningful rites of dedication at the beginning of life, baptismal and baptismal renewal services (which include several options for use of the Apostles' Creed as a baptismal confession--in keeping with its ancient origins and use), congregational covenant-making, ordination and commissioning (including services for "Inducting a Chaplain into a Chaplaincy Team" and "Inducting a College Tutor or Principal"), marriage ceremonies, funerals, prayer services, hospital and home visitations, and services related to various Sundays and seasons of the full Christian Year, along with extensive collections of prayers for various circumstances and for personal devotion. A CD-ROM included inside the cover contains the full text of Gathering for Worship in PDF format along with some additional resources, facilitating easy electronic cutting-and-pasting into printed orders of service (though American users will probably want to alter British spellings, and all users will need to proof carefully, as there are several typographical errors scattered throughout the text).

Gathering for Worship is a treasury of resources that deserves to be better known and widely utilized throughout the English-speaking Baptist world. Baptists in my own American context have long needed such a resource, and I hope that my students as well as others will begin turning to it regularly when they plan and lead worship.


  1. Hi Steve. I learned of Gathering for Worship (GfW) from Curtis Freeman's online list of recommended readings. I ran out and bought it the same day. (Okay, there wasn't any running involved, but you get the idea.)

    I really like much of it. But I've noticed something that bothers me and I wanted to get your take on it.

    In the New Testament the words "Satan", "devil", "demon", and close cognates occur about 130 times in the space of about 225 pages. But these words appear in GfW on only a single occasion, and that in a quotation from Matthew 8:16. (By way of comparison, the 1662 BCP has dozens and dozens of such references, and even the ultra-liberal modern Episcopal church’s 1979 revision has about a dozen.)

    So in contrast to the New Testament, GfW includes one such reference in a total of more than 400 pages. That means that the New Testament refers to the demonic/satanic more than 200X as often as GfW. Put the other way around, GfW only explicitly refers to the diabolical 1/200th as often as the New Testament.

    As someone whose own beliefs concerning the diabolical are somewhat fuzzy, I don't want to make too much of this. But doesn't that seem like a pretty serious climb-down? Especially given that GfW assiduously tries to use patristic and medieval formula and prayers where possible to reinforce (rightly) our link as modern Christians to the past, doesn't this glaring omission seem strange?

  2. Eugene, my apologies for the delayed reply to your comment. I'm not sure there's any conscious "de-mythologizing" agenda with regard to the demonic in the Gathering for Worship book; it may simply be an unconscious reflection of a time and place in which these concerns are not as prominent as they were for the communities responsible for the ancient roots of the historic liturgies. For what it's worth, one of the two co-editors of Gathering for Worship (Chris Ellis) has connections with the charismatic renewal movement within the BUGB.