The Technology of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer
A rare example of tradition and technology merging together in ways that disciple people to deeper faith in the Lord.
You’re reading “Passing Through Digital Babylon”, a newsletter of insights and reflections from the digital empire while journeying towards the heavenly city. If that sounds interesting to you, please consider subscribing!
This week, I will be writing a piece that is more personal in nature. Generally, I tend to be critical (or at the very least, neutral) towards the role of digital technology and media in our spiritual lives. In this piece, however, I want to highlight an instance where I can safely say my spiritual life was improved by a digital tool - in this case, the 2019 Book of Common Prayer iPhone app.
The 2019 Book of Common Prayer
If you’re unfamiliar with the Book of Common Prayer, I would commend to you this short but effective introduction to the English Reformation and Thomas Cranmer. The Book of Common Prayer is the hallmark of the English Reformation and one of the greatest treasures and legacies of the entire Protestant Reformation, finding widespread use and appreciation in every major strand of the Reformation.
The 2019 Book of Common Prayer was released in 2019 (as you might’ve guessed) by the Anglican Church of North America. It is not, as far as I can grasp, an updated version to the previous Book of Common Prayer for the entire global Anglican Communion1, but an updated version produced by the ACNA for use in the ACNA. As such, it is not the “official” edition of the Book of Common Prayer, but just as the original editions of the Book of Common Prayer found widespread adoption outside English Anglicanism, the 2019 Book of Common Prayer has found an audience outside the ACNA as well - namely, in my own life and the life of many of my friends.
Theologically, I am not an Anglican; I am closer to Orthodox Presbyterianism than anything else (with a strong appreciation for the Three Forms of Unity)2. In practice, however, it’s hard to deny just how much of my private and family worship has come to be shaped by Anglicanism through the Book of Common Prayer. My wife and I pray the Morning Office3 together most mornings (and I have taught several friends how to do the same), and we regularly use the seasonal and weekly collects in the student ministry I work in as we teach our students how to pray. Both the content of the Book of Common Prayer itself, as well as the form and order of those prayers, have taught me how to pray with a consistency and discipline that I have seldom seen in my spiritual life before.
But it wasn't always like that - this is a recent change in my life that took place around this time last year, and it was a change that was only possible because I learned how to use the Book of Common Prayer not through the physical book itself, but from the official 2019 Book of Common Prayer app.
An Intimidating Book and a Useful App
If you pick up a copy of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer (or any previous edition of the BCP for that matter), you’re likely to be overwhelmed very quickly. Aside from the Psalter in the middle of the book, everything else will feel cluttered, disorganized, and very confusing. Even if you take the time to read through an office, you’ll still need to familiarize yourself with all the various elements that can be included, where they’re included, where to find them in the BCP itself, and more. If you’re like me, and coming to the BCP for the first time as an adult, it can feel as though you first have to figure out how to make sense of the dang thing before you can use it to pray at all.
I don’t know the history behind the development of the 2019 BCP mobile app, but calling it a “gamechanger” is an understatement. It takes the guesswork out of flipping through the pages of the BCP to find the assigned collects and readings for the day and loads it all for you, allowing your to pray through the liturgy in the proper order without interruption or distraction. In my physical 2019 BCP, I have five ribbon markers to help me keep track of where the various material is located; in the app, all I have to do is scroll as I pray.
Prayer is not just what we say, but how we say it. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, is not just a set of requests that Jesus told to pray for, but how we are to pray for them as well. The beauty of the Book of Common Prayer is that that it supplies abundant examples of what to pray, but learning how to pray them in the order the BCP arranges them is a daunting challenge by itself. As you use the app, you come to learn how to pray as the BCP wants you to pray, and how the various prayers work together and fit together. In stripping away the complexity of keeping your finger in multiple places as one does with a Dungeons and Dragons handbook4, the app allows you to see and appreciate the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy and the intentionality behind it.
Of course, while the app is helpful in teaching you how to use the 2019 BCP, it is not meant to replace the physical prayer book. The app says as much in the “About” section”:
Is This App A Complete Substitute For The Paper Book Of Common Prayer? No. While the app is a great and easy way to pray the Daily Offices of Morning, Midday, Evening and Bedtime Prayer, there are many other excellent prayers and resources in the printed book. For personal devotions at home, some may like to use the app exclusively. Others, however, will prefer the meditative (and push notification-free) quality of reading from the physical book. This app can still be a great backup for occasions, such as traveling or at work, when you find yourself without a book.
This is a beautiful description of how digital technology and physical technology can compliment one another. There is an experience to physically flipping through the pages of a book that reinforces the deliberate intentionality of prayer. You have to not only put away your distractions, but you have to be engaged enough to work with a book that guides and shapes your prayers and Scripture reading. You cannot do that passively; it requires your full, meditative attention. The posture of praying with a physical BCP naturally lends itself towards a posture of intentional and focused prayer.
But working with a book is a means to an end; it is not the end itself. The goal of praying with a physical BCP is to pray, not get lost in complexity for complexity’s sake. The goal of praying with the digital BCP app is to pray, not just scroll for the sake of scrolling (you can do that with any app). There are times and instances where praying with a physical BCP is just not feasible or possible, and in those instances, praying with the app is still prayer that pleases the Lord. Likewise, if you want to learn how to pray with the physical BCP, the app trains you on how to use the book so that you can appreciate the richer experience of praying with a physical BCP instead of just holding your phone.
Normally, if you’re curious about a book, I’d tell you just to go buy it and check it out yourself. But in this case, if you’re curious about the 2019 Book of Common Prayer…there’s an app for that. You’ve got nothing to lose, and potentially a whole new world of prayer and connection to Christian history and tradition, by downloading it today!
Substack Chat for This Week: Your Favorite Digital Tools for Spiritual Development
Thanks for reading Passing Through Digital Babylon. Next week’s piece is going to be a recap of where I last left off in writing about Digital Babylon on this Substack, the progress I’ve made on the book, and how I plan to use Substack to chip away at the book’s completion. It will be a shift in my writing relative to what I have been doing for the past several weeks, but I think it will be for the better and provide material that nobody else is writing about right now.
For this week’s Substack Chat, I want to know: what are your favorite digital tools for spiritual development? Do you use digital tools sparingly to supplement your physical Bibles/commentaries, are you a Logos Bible Software5 power user, or somewhere in between? I want to know what you use, especially if its something I’m not familiar with!
If you’ve enjoyed this piece, please consider subscribing and sharing with your friends or on your personal social media channels! And remember: together, all of us are passing through this temporary digital empire towards the celestial city.
Thanks for reading Passing Through Digital Babylon! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I wrote this line at around 7AM on Monday, February 20th, right around the time the single largest split in the global Anglican communion was announced. So much for that!
I do find Reformed Anglicanism intriguing as a sub-tradition within Anglicanism, but as there is no Reformed Anglican congregation in my area, it is not something I give much thought to.
The term “Office” is actually a term of deep theological significance and rich in Protestant theology. The idea is that in praying the Morning Office (or the Evening Office), the Christian is consciously stepping into their office as a priest in the priesthood of all believers, which is one of the most significant and defining features of Protestant theology outside the Five Solas themselves. In this sense, the Christian is assuming their role and duty to intercede not just for their own soul and needs, but for the souls and needs of their fellow saints and for Christ’s church as a whole. Instead of our daily prayers being an expression of private piety and worship, it now becomes a tangible means by which we love and serve one another through our priestly service in prayer - if that doesn’t change your view of why private worship is important for Christians, I don’t know what will!
No, seriously, if you have any familiarity with playing DND, praying with a physical Book of Common Prayer will be no problem at all.
Speaking of which: Logos, can we please get the 2019 Book of Common Prayer as a resource? Please and thank you.