Wednesday Word: Common Prayer

I have an old book on my desk called, Thoughts on the Services, copyright 1900, by the Rt. Rev. Cleveland Coxe, Bishop of Western New York. I have no idea when or where I got this book, but I do know that Bp. Coxe wrote it as an introduction to all forms of Episcopal liturgy.

He writes: “Common Prayer is so called in distinction from private or special prayer. It comprehends those needs . . . which are common to all God's children who come together to worship.”

You may or may not have read an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this week by (if I have all this right) a priest in ACNA (the conservative Anglican group that split from the Episcopal church over the place of women and LGBTQ people). I didn't actually read the piece, but from what I've gathered from a number of sources it put forth the idea that online church/worship was invalid because people weren't gathered together, and that if you want to properly worship, you need to get off the couch and get to church.

I won't get into the arguments this piece generated on various platforms here, because that would take longer than this format was designed to do.

But I will say this: whether you worship in person or online, if you are fully present then I believe that you are worshiping with all those gathered, whether in the pews or in their homes. Would I prefer that people gather for worship in person? Yes, because there is something tangibly present about the gathered body. There is the sense that the body of those gathered embodies the person of Jesus Christ and his one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

On Sunday morning as we gather for the Eucharist, whether we are gathering together in person or online, we need to remember that we are gathering to worship and pray together in a service that comprehends those needs which are common to all God's children. It might take more effort for those joining online from their homes to settle down and prayerfully focus on worship than for those who are in the church building, but regardless of where the people are we can recognize that we are gathered together for common prayer.

I see this when people place their prayer requests into the comment section. I know we are a gathered body when I see people joining us who wouldn't normally be able to join us for worship due to illness, location, transportation issues, or other reasons. And I know that for some, the ability to worship and connect with the parish online as they navigate the waters of COVID has been a comfort.

Online worship, while having its drawbacks, allows us to remain connected. It allows those in the building to connect with those online. It allows those online to connect with those in the building. It allows all of us to remain connected and in community with every other person.

This is part of the point of worship: that we are bound together in the common act of worship through our common prayer allowing us to maintain a holy community.

Common prayer binds us together – whether together in person or together online. So don't let anyone tell you that you aren't part of the body just because you happen to worship in a format not to their liking.



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