By The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards
Our children are off to school! Backpacks and lunches in hand, they piled back through doors of plate glass and steel. Excitement, joy, and trepidation all showed on those young faces at Eastern Elementary last week as we waited for the first day to begin.
So when we think of the School of Prayer, do you feel all those same things? It was years into ministry before I realized that not everyone was spending their nights reading Evelyn Underhill and trying out obscure Eastern Orthodox prayer forms. As I hung around ministry students, priests, pastors, and a few deacons and monks, it never occurred to me that most lay people would not be doing this kind of study.
Now that I have three kids and a career, it seems naïve that I did not realize that regular people leading busy lives would not be studying scripture. But, if we can have a school of prayer, is there a home-learning version?
The answer is “yes.” It is called the Daily Office, and like school, it does not cover everything. (You should hear clergy lament all the things they don’t tell you in seminary.) But it does teach you the basics and get you grounded.
The Daily Office is a condensed version of the daily hours of the monks and nuns set out in the Rule of Benedict. They gather still for seven set times of prayer throughout the Christian world. Monks, nuns, and priests in the Roman church are required to keep the monastic offices (office means requirement). When the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and others put together the first Book of Common Prayer, they condensed the seven offices into two main hours of prayer, the Morning and Evening Offices that we continue. They also set aside a list of assigned readings, sequentially going through the Bible in a year and the Psalms in a month.
Today we still continue with the Daily Offices as one of the two pillars of our Common Prayer life. Morning and Evening Prayer are as essential to our life as Anglicans and Episcopalians as the set hours of prayer were in the deserts of fifteen hundred years ago. We have added back in a noontime prayer service and Compline, essentially the same as Noon and Compline in Benedict’s Rule. They are all in your Book of Common Prayer.
But we also have some new tools that can keep the parents of children, grandparents, busy singles, retired people and students on track with their Offices.
One is a Contemporary Office Book available from Church Publishing that runs $150 or so. There are several variations of Prayer Books from other Anglican churches and a particularly good Breviary (Office Book) from the Saint Helena Community (Episcopal).
Even more convenient are a couple of apps and websites that I want to share. First off, I have used all of these apps on my Iphone, and I refer to the websites on a regular basis. Second, these options do not exhaust all of what is available in print, on the web, or for your personal device.
The website and app that I use daily (or very close) is from http://missionstclare.com. They have been around since I first came into the Episcopal church providing a simple, straight forward and very full version of the Daily Offices. The website is effortless to use with a button for the current day and dozens of options, including downloaded months for Kindle and Nook readers, which I use when I am traveling without internet access.
The app from Mission St. Clare is very good, just as intuitive. You push a button and then scroll down to read the Office. These options do not include Compline or Noonday, though the website has both in the various offerings, but they are just as easy to read in the Book of Common Prayer.
Forward Day by Day is a popular little devotional here at Grace and around the church, and it’s available in both an online version and an app for phones and tablets. I have used it occasionally, and it does offer some customization. You can pick Rite I or Rite II. You should try the website for a whole set of options. I like it, but I usually end up at Mission St. Clare for the simplicity. The biggest benefit is that it has the Forward Day by Day devotional built right in.
There are a couple of Book of Common Prayer apps and the new one from the Episcopal Church is pretty good, very complete, and deleted from my phone. I carry the BCP everywhere with me, so I tend not to need the online version.
The other two websites are primarily for the Sunday lectionary readings. The first one I use every week to link from the sermon blog to the readings referred to is simply www.lectionarypage.net, and it has the readings on a calendar with the Collect and options when there are options. We usually take the first option if you start following this tract. The second page is very complete and has tons of resources besides. It is located at www.satucket.com/lectionary. This site carries files of the various Book of Common Prayers and is a tremendous place to learn more about our faith. Along with anglicansonline.org you could cover miles of territory without leaving your desk.
There are other resources, and we are just scratching the surface of what is available. This is the age of information. But, if you are looking for a simple way to get grounded in the Offices of our church, I suggest Mission St. Clare and Forward Day by Day. If you search for these two websites or apps, you will find a online great school of prayer.
Every school has its complications. The Offices can be a bit wordy when holding them alone. Feel free to pare down as necessary. I often skip the Canticles when traveling, but not as much as I used too. I do not always do every Collect offered and usually spend a great deal of time in quiet thinking and praying about and with the Bible and silence. Make it your own. And if you need a tutor, call the church, and I will be happy to walk you through our school.
Let today be your first day of class.