The Book of Common Worship

The Book of Common Worship (2018 edition)
Book of Common Worship, Pastoral Edition

Book of Common Worship, Daily Prayer
Prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Westminster John Knox Press

Fyodor Dostoevsky said that beauty will save the world. Thankfully, the editors of the new Book of Common Worship have embraced this in every detail. Each of the three books is compelling to the eye, the mind and the heart. Can you judge a book by the cover? In this case, yes. The cover features an embedded sketch of a large tree. On each page, the fonts (and sizes) have been carefully chosen for accessible (and pleasurable) reading. In the largest book, used for Sunday worship, the font is large enough for easy use by all worship leaders. Each section is divided by a lovely page illustration that highlights a biblical or theological theme. The section contents are also laid out carefully for ease of use.

Accompanying the beautiful design is content that is edifying. This resource will no doubt shape the common worship life of Presbyterians for generations. The commentary that precedes each section is a primer for worship in the Reformed tradition that is deeply ecumenical. The Lord’s Day section has been expanded and includes prayers and services in Spanish. The Christian Year section is preceded by a brilliant page illustration. It has services, prayers and blessings for each of the Sundays of each liturgical season. New prayers have been added along with additional Great Prayers of Thanksgiving.

What is also new in this edition is the enfolding of the prayers for occasional services under the section Ministry of the Church. This includes services for ordination and installation and a myriad of other occasions. Many will find helpful the section on Mission in the World with new services and prayers related to creation care, justice and reconciliation, and interreligious events. The new Marriage section is exceedingly helpful with new ceremonies and prayers. In the services for Holy Baptism, I was delighted to discover questions for the children similar to the questions traditionally asked of adults in the congregation. I have practiced this for years as a way of affirming their presence in the church.

Turning to the Daily Prayer edition of BCW, one finds new prayers and benedictions along with helpful commentary and division of sections. For instance, there is a section for Ancient and Classic Prayers preceded by commentary that will be especially helpful for those unfamiliar with this rich tradition of prayer with the Christian history.

The Psalms are all included, but now are accompanied by references to the Glory to God hymnal. The lectionary section has been revised to be much more accessible. All in all, this is a beautifully designed and carefully written resource for the church. There is great division within the church and much confusion about the way forward. Unity is elusive. This new edition of the Book of Common Worship holds the potential of unifying the church around Word and Sacrament. Such unity is indeed the hope of our calling.

Roy W. Howard is pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland, and the book editor of The Presbyterian Outlook.