A new book envisioned by a priest in the Diocese of Toronto is helping to make some of the oldest and most beautiful prayers from the Anglican tradition more easily available. These Our Prayers, published this past summer, compiles and organizes prayers primarily from the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer (BCP) into categories that can be used by individuals and communities in their daily prayer lives.
“The Book of Common Prayer is this rich resource of prayers that is not necessarily turned to by a lot of people anymore, especially if you’re in a church that uses the Book of Alternative Services exclusively,” says the Rev. Robert Mitchell, who compiled the book. “It’s part of our collective Anglican heritage, and there’s all these wonderful prayers within it that are still very useful.”
Mr. Mitchell is the incumbent of St. Olave, Swansea, which uses the Prayer Book exclusively, so he is very familiar with the daily offices, prayers of thanksgiving and Sunday collects. But he says he’s discovered prayers that he wasn’t familiar with or had forgotten. “Even people that use the Prayer Book on a regular basis and have one on their bedside table may not know about some of those prayers that are buried deep in the back,” he says. “I thought it would be kind of neat to be able to pull those prayers from some of these dark recesses of the Prayer Book where they’re sometimes lost, categorize them and put them together in a place where they could be rediscovered and used, hopefully on a more regular basis.”
He had the idea for These Our Prayers in 2019 and started working on the project in earnest in the summer of 2020. He says the pandemic may have helped inspire him to finish the project. “It’s something that was rattling around my brain for a while, and I finally started working at it,” he says. “During COVID there was an increased appetite for prayer and prayer resources, so it pushed me through to the finish line. It felt like it might be of use to people, given the slightly new environment in which we found ourselves.”
The work included hours spent poring through the BCP in search of standalone prayers, collects and other resources that he felt would be useful in someone’s prayer life. He also chose several prayers from the Canadian Book of Occasional Offices, which was published in 1964 as a supplement to the Prayer Book, and delved into the 1918 Canadian Book of Common Prayer, the 1938 Common Praise hymn book and the English Hymnal of 1933. In all, he categorized and included nearly 500 prayers.
Realizing there would be some cost to publishing the kind of book he envisioned, Mr. Mitchell approached the Prayer Book Society of Canada, which offered funding. He was also well supported by people in his parish. His rector’s warden, who has worked in communications and publishing, lent her expertise, while other parishioners created the book’s cover art and did the layout and design.
The result is a well-organized collection of prayers divided into categories for use in daily life, such as prayers for church musicians, prayers for an end to racism, prayers for those in anxiety, prayers in a time of pandemic, and grace at meals, among many others. There is also a section of seasonal prayers for the liturgical calendar, prayers for feast days observed throughout the Church year, and tips for readers who want to create or customize their own prayers. “I would guess that I’ve incorporated at least 95 per cent of the standalone prayers in the Prayer Book,” says Mr. Mitchell.
The Book of Common Prayer wasn’t always a central part of his own prayer life. Growing up in Saskatoon as the son of an Anglican priest, his parish used the Book of Alternative Services exclusively. “I did have access to the Prayer Book, but it wasn’t necessarily something I was using on a regular basis,” he says. He grew more familiar with the BCP in seminary and then in parish appointments after ordination. “Maybe a couple generations before me, it was just the book everybody had. For people of a younger generation, we’ve discovered it potentially in a different way than our parents and grandparents.”
He says he thinks one of the reasons these prayers continue to resonate with people is the language. “There are beautiful turns of phrase, and the use of language is just so elegant,” he says. “For some people, when you have that moment of beauty in language, there’s a connection there. It elevates the prayer to a certain degree.”
But more than that, he says he believes the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, some of which are hundreds of years old, can help Christians feel part of a long legacy of people praying over countless generations. “You’re not just a solitary individual trying to start from ground zero; you’re part of a tradition that’s vast and much larger than you are. That can hold you up, especially when you don’t necessarily have the words that you need in a particular circumstance,” he says. “If you’re able to pray this prayer that’s been hallowed and sanctified by generations of other Christians, that’s liberating. You don’t always have to know exactly what to say.”
Mr. Mitchell says he hopes that These Our Prayers will be helpful to a broad audience, lay and ordained alike. “I think the obvious first group of people might be Anglicans that are interested in this style of prayer,” he says. “Really anybody, certainly any Christian, who’s interested in prayer. There’s no limit to who could use it.”
These Our Prayers can be ordered from Lulu Publishing for $22.99 plus taxes and shipping, or for pickup at St. Olave’s in the west end of Toronto for $25. For more details, visit www.stolaves.ca/these-our-prayers.