Book of Common Worship

 I grabbed this awhile back: The Book of Common Worship (Louisville: WJK, 1993).  I had a very old Book of Common Prayer, but after using it at a few funerals and for a few other pastoral duties, I was sick of translating “on the fly” the archaic language of the old BCP.  Also, I wanted something with more prayers, liturgical helps, funeral outlines, and wedding details.  I saw The Book of Common Worship for a good price; now I use it for certain pastoral duties.

Reading through it I found some stuff I didn’t like at all (I stress at all).  For example, I’m not comfortable praying to “Eternal Light,” nor am I comfortable with paschal candles or the sign of the cross marked on foreheads while kneeling.  Some parts of The Book of Common Worship I’ll for sure skip!

To be sure, there are parts of it I really like.  I’m glad it is in modern language.  Some of the prayers and hymns are solid.   Here is one example.  This is a prayer for a funeral or burial service.

“Eternal God, we acknowledge the uncertainty of our life on earth.  We are given a mere handful of days, and our span of life seems nothing in your sight.  All flesh is as grass; and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades; but your word will stand forever.  In this is our hope, for you are our God.  Even in the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us.  O Lord, let us know our end and the  number of our days, that we may learn how fleeting life is.  Turn your ear to our cry, and hear our prayer.  Do not be silent at our tears, for we live as strangers before you, wandering pilgrims as all our ancestors were.  But you are the same and your years shall have no end.  Amen!”

The bottom line is this: I’m glad I have this liturgical resource, and I’ll use it quite a bit.  However, I have some big theological problems with large parts of it, so I can’t give it two thumbs up. 

One more thing – I’m certainly not a Book of Common Prayer/Worship expert, so feel free to comment if you have better suggestions.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

8 Replies to “Book of Common Worship”

  1. We use the BCW at my church, which is a conservative (theologically and liturgically) PCUSA congregation. Your assessment is spot on. It’s a mixture of excellent material and typical mainline mumbo-jumbo.


  2. Calvin called the Anglican Book of Common Worship “multas tolerabiles ineptias”.

    Is there a relationship between the Anglican book Calvin read and the Presbyterian (I’m assuming) book you’re referring to?


  3. Hi Shane,
    I’d recommend the Worship Sourcebook put together by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and published by Faith Alive. Seriously, it is an excellent resource for prayers, litanies, etc. Basically, they’ve gone through and taken the very best from the BCP and other resources like the BCW, etc. In addition it is helpfully indexed, etc.

    Another resource for funeral prayers, etc. is In Life and in Death by Leonard Vander Zee–an excellent little book which was required for all Calvin Seminary grads.


    1. Thanks for the comments, guys.

      CW – there’s a bit of difference between the Book of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. Of course they overlap, but they are not the same thing. I think the one I referred to here has some of the old Anglican stuff in it, but not a lot. Reminds me that I need to get an Anglican one some day!

      Nevada- thanks for the resource notes. I’ve heard about the Faith Alive resource; I’ve assumed that it would be close to the BCW I mentioned above – some good stuff, some not so good stuff. I’ll have to check it out!

      Larry – thanks for that note too. I’ll have to dig into it.



      1. Hi Shane,
        I understand the hesitancy about the Faith Alive resource, but seriously this one is excellent. Generally, I am pleased with anything put out by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. John D. Witvliet is the driving force there, and he is simply amazing. He’s written a few different books which are excellent. For example, his book “The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship” is a fine introduction to Psalms, etc. and his “Worship Seeking Understanding” has some incredible essays on the historical and theological issues undergirding Reformed worship practices. So for example, he has chapters on the “Americanization of Reformed Worship,” “Covenant Theology in Ecumenical Discussions of the Lord’s Supper,” and “Baptism as a Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Thought of John Calvin.”

        While I haven’t planned a ton of services (i.e., the whole grad school thing), I will say that I have yet to find a litany or prayer in the Worship Source book that I’ve been upset with. Again, I don’t use it constantly, but from my perspective, it is a nice collection of materials (complete with an introduction outlining the dialogical model of worship).

        It is ecumenical in the good sense (i.e., some litanies and prayers are from Africa, South America, etc.), but never seems to descend into the cheesiness or outright foolishness of certain other liturgical resources.


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