When the Rev. Chris Dow, a priest in the diocese of Toronto and member of the Prayer Book Society of Canada (PBSC), learned about a movement to delete the “prayer for the conversion of the Jews” from the Book of Common Prayer, he thought to himself, “It would be a shame to just see the old prayer deleted.”
For one, Dow thought, deleting the prayer might inadvertently send the message that the church was trying to “cover up” its painful history. But he also saw an opportunity for restitution in a line from the prayer: “Take away all pride and prejudice in us.”
A motion to remove the prayer was brought before General Synod in 2016, but it narrowly failed to get the two-thirds approval it needed in all three houses.
Bishop of the diocese of Quebec Bruce Myers brought the issue again to the attention of Council of General Synod in November 2017, suggesting that the resolution may have failed because its context was not fully understood, and it had been initially introduced as a housekeeping matter. (A similar collect from the prayer book was removed in 1992).
Shortly after, Dow approached Myers and asked if he would be open to the possibility of replacing the prayer with a new one focused on reconciliation.
“He said yes, and then [PBSC National Chairman, the Rev.] Gordon Maitland and I worked on the new prayer. It went through several drafts over a period of two years, and now we’ve reached the stage where we’re very happy with it,” says Dow.
The resulting prayer will be the subject of a motion that will come before General Synod at its meeting in July, to replace the “prayer for the conversion of the Jews” with a “prayer for reconciliation with the Jews.”
To craft the prayer, Dow says they drew on the Book of the Prophet Obadiah, the 1970 Roman Catholic liturgy for Good Friday and the Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish. They retained the structure of the original prayer as well as its opening address—“O God, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance”—and the phrase “take away all pride and prejudice.”
The prayer, Dow stresses, is not a prayer for the Jews. “We’re not actually praying for the Jewish people. Rather, as the gentile majority church, we’re praying for ourselves. It’s a prayer of repentance, and also a prayer that our attitude towards the Jews would change.” For 2,000 years, he says, the church has treated Jewish people terribly, ranging from contempt to violence. “It’s not just about being polite to the Jewish people. There is a deep theological, and I would say biblical, significance to what is going on here. The church is a repentant missionary. Repentance is at the core of who we are.”
Through the course of writing the new prayer, Dow says he and Maitland consulted widely with bishops, clergy and laity from across the church, academic theologians and people with literary backgrounds. Myers also submitted a draft of the prayer to the Canadian Rabbinical Caucus, who offered input and approved the final draft.
“It brought together all kinds of different people. It’s really a project of common prayer,” says Dow.
Some have asked why the church should pray for reconciliation with the Jews specifically, rather than with all peoples. “I would say that if you look back over the 2,000 years of church history, our persecution of the Jewish people has been especially bad and persistent, and that it’s particularly urgent to pray for it,” Dow says. “Also, I believe that Jews and Christians worship the same God, the Lord God of Israel as first revealed in the Old Testament…. Jews and Christians are brothers and sisters in the Lord.”
Dow says he has also heard criticism that the church is “losing its missionary zeal” by replacing a prayer for conversion with one of repentance. But, he says, the BCP has many prayers focused on evangelism. “If this prayer were to make it into the prayer book, it would appear on page 21, and on that page you see at least three other prayers with a robust theology of mission.”
A change to the Book of Common Prayer constitutes a change in doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada, as it effects Canon XIV, and must pass a vote at two successive General Synods by more than two-thirds majority in the orders of clergy, lay and bishops. If passed at General Synod 2019, the prayer will also require approval at General Synod 2021.
Dow also wrote an analysis and rationale outlining the new prayer in detail for the PBSC’s newsletter, which can be viewed in full here.