An effort to remove a prayer for conversion of the Jews from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and to replace it with one for reconciliation with the Jews has passed its first major hurdle at General Synod.
On July 15, a resolution to amend Canon XIV passed its first reading at the 42nd General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. The amendment would delete prayer number four in “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” from use and future printings of the BCP, and replace it with a prayer entitled “For Reconciliation with the Jews.”
The resolution passed by nearly unanimous votes in all three orders. In the Order of Laity, 103 members (99%) voted “Yes” and one member (1%) voted “No.” In the Order of Clergy, 77 members (100%) voted “Yes.” In the Order of Bishops, 35 members (100%) voted “Yes,” with one abstention. The amendment will require a second reading at the next General Synod in 2022 before the prayer for the reconciliation of the Jews can replace the current prayer in the BCP.
O GOD, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Have mercy upon us and forgive us for violence and wickedness against our brother Jacob; the arrogance of our hearts and minds hath deceived us, and shame hath covered our face. Take away all pride and prejudice in us, and grant that we, together with the people whom thou didst first make thine own, may attain to the fulness of redemption which thou hast promised; to the honour and glory of thy most holy Name.
—Proposed prayer “For Reconciliation with the Jews”
Bishop Bruce Myers brought forward the resolution to General Synod 2019, having spearheaded efforts to delete the prayer “For the Conversion of the Jews” from the BCP and replace it with one more suited to contemporary relations between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Jewish people.
In his presentation to General Synod on the need to amend the BCP canon, Myers put the prayer for reconciliation with the Jews in the context of the history of persecution against Jews, from forced conversion to pogroms, deportations and the genocide of the Holocaust. But he also highlighted a sharp rise more recently in anti-Semitism around the globe, including in Canada and the United States.
“Persecution of the Jews is not a thing of the past, nor is it restricted to other parts of the world,” Myers said. A “bloody reminder” of this fact came in 2017 with the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead and several others injured. The killer reportedly screamed “All Jews must die” in the midst of his rampage. Another act of lethal violence against Jews took place at Passover earlier this year, when a Jewish worshipper was murdered at a synagogue in California.
In Canada, 2018 alone saw 2,041 reported incidents of anti-Semitism, a 16.5% increase from the previous year. These included swastikas being spray-painted on a Jewish person’s home, death threats against Jews on social media and teenagers throwing lit fireworks at a group of Hasidic Jews. In Myers’ home province of Quebec, the provincial government recently passed a law affecting individuals who wear religious distinctive clothing, including the Jewish kippah.
While concern over anti-Semitism is part of the motivation behind the prayer for reconciliation with the Jews, Myers also highlighted the rich, shared faith tradition of Judaism and Christianity.
The Hebrew scriptures make up a large part of the Bible, with the Psalms constituting the ancient hymn book of the Jewish people. Eucharistic prayers and the story of salvation turn on God’s covenant with the Israelites. Jesus himself was a Jewish rabbi born to Jewish parents, who came not to “abolish the law or the prophets,” but to “fulfill” them.”
For much of Christian history, Myers said, the common view was that “fulfill” meant “replace,” and that “Christianity trumps Judaism”—a belief known as supersessionism, which was reflected in Anglican liturgies.
In 1992, the Anglican Church of Canada amended Canon XIV to delete the Third Collect for Good Friday from use and future printings of the BCP. That collect asked for God’s mercy on Jews for willfully rejecting and denying Jesus.
“That prayer’s removal nearly 30 years ago was a recognition that the collect represented an obstacle in Jewish-Christian dialogue,” Myers said. “Its continued presence in our liturgies also did not reflect the church’s renewed understanding, especially in the shadow of the Holocaust, of Christians being joint heirs with the Jewish people of God’s covenantal promises.”
A similar prayer, “For the Conversion of the Jews,” remains in the BCP, “even though it reflects the same attitudes toward the Jewish people as the collect that our church removed from use in 1992.”
Rather than simply expunging that prayer from the BCP, Myers led an effort to replace it with one that would reflect contemporary Anglican engagement with the Jewish people, expressing sentiments similar to the Good Friday liturgy in the Book of Alternative Services but in a literary style consistent with the BCP.
The new prayer “For Reconciliation with the Jews” has been approved by the Prayer Book Society of Canada (PBSC), whose president, Gordon Maitland, crafted the prayer along with Anglican priest and PBSC member Chris Dow. That process was undertaken in consultation with the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, a representative body of ordained Jewish leaders from across the country.
Rabbi Adam Stein, associate rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue, spoke to General Synod about the significance of the new prayer, praising both its stylistic qualities and the hope and friendship it offered to Jews at a time of rising anti-Semitism.
“We had some great discussions with [Myers] and others about this new text,” Stein said. “I think it’s just such a wonderful thing, and a really wonderful feeling for us, that a prayer that certainly made the Jewish community quite uncomfortable might soon be replaced with one that’s so beautiful and so positive—and not just that, ‘Let’s take this thing out and have a blank spot,’ but to replace it with something with such beautiful language.”
“Seeing things through the eyes of others is powerful,” he added. “It’s clear to me that the Anglican community is seeing its prayer book partially through the eyes of the Jewish community, and understanding how these words can impact us. I think it can only strengthen your own understanding and commitment to your faith, as well as strengthen the relations between our two communities.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, outgoing primate, invited Primate-elect Linda Nicholls to sign a copy of the resolution to amend Canon XIV and present it to Rabbi Stein following the passing of the resolution by General Synod.