Removal of prayer for conversion of the Jews to be revisited at General Synod 2019

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Removing a prayer for the conversion of the Jews from the Book of Common Prayer would be a “small but meaningful gesture” in relations between Canadian Anglicans and Jews, Bruce Myers, bishop of Quebec, told Council of General Synod (CoGS) November 11. Photo: Tali Folkins

Another resolution to remove a prayer for the conversion of the Jews from the Book of Common Prayer is likely to come before General Synod in 2019 after a decision made by Council of General Synod (CoGS) over the weekend.

A resolution to remove the prayer was put to General Synod for a first reading in 2016, but failed narrowly to get the two-thirds approval it needed in all three houses after receiving the support of more than 70% of clergy and laity, but just 65.63% of bishops.

In a presentation to CoGS November 11, Bruce Myers, bishop of Quebec, said the resolution may have failed partly because some members of synod may not have fully understood the context of the resolution. It was introduced then as a housekeeping matter, he said, because General Synod voted to delete a similar collect from the prayer book in 1992, but for some reason, this prayer was overlooked at that time.

When they voted on it in 2016, Myers said, many members of General Synod may not have been aware of “substantial years-long theological reflection and dialogue,” both within the Anglican Church of Canada and between it and Canadian Jewish groups, that had led to the 1992 resolution.

Removing the prayer, Myers said, would not only eliminate the inconsistency of deleting one prayer for the conversion of the Jews and keeping another; it would also “represent a small but meaningful gesture in the growth of…important interfaith relationships” the church has been cultivating with Jewish groups in recent years. Myers proposed that another resolution to delete it be put to General Synod, coming this time from CoGS instead of the working group charged with housekeeping resolutions, and that enough historical and theological information be included with it for members of synod to “make a more fully informed decision.”

Cynthia Haines-Turner, prolocutor of General Synod, suggested that Myers work with another CoGS member to draft a resolution on the prayer for the next meeting of CoGS, with the understanding that CoGS would then present it to General Synod with the appropriate background information. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, put a motion to this effect before CoGS, which was then approved by consensus.

When the resolution was debated in General Synod in 2016, Archdeacon Alan Perry, of the diocese of Edmonton, said the prayer was objectionable because it singled out the Jews for conversion.

“That’s an extraordinarily difficult thing for our Jewish brothers and sisters to hear, or to see in our prayer book,” said Perry. “And so it seems to me that it is entirely compatible with the trajectory of our Jewish-Christian dialogue, and with our developing good relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters, to remove this prayer.”

But Michael Hawkins, bishop of Saskatchewan, said the prayer was in fact different from the collect removed in 1992 in a number of ways, and its deletion should not have been introduced as a housekeeping motion.

“The motion didn’t come from [the] Faith, Worship, and Ministry [department of the office of General Synod]; it didn’t come out of a particular study; there wasn’t an adequate rationale for it,” Hawkins said. “I’m certainly prepared to consider the removal of it, but I think to find it buried in the housekeeping motions is something I wouldn’t like to see happen again.”

If the resolution is approved by General Synod in 2019, it will require a second reading in 2022, since rules of the Anglican Church of Canada require resolutions dealing with an amendment to a canon (church law) be approved by two consecutive General Synods. Removing the prayer for the conversion of the Jews would require a motion to amend Canon XIV on the Book of Common Prayer.

The prayer, found on page 41 of the 1962 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, reads:

  1. For the Conversion of the Jews.

O God, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Look, we beseech thee, upon thine ancient people; open their hearts that they may see and confess the Lord Jesus to be thy Son and their true Messiah, and, believing, they may have life through his Name. Take away all pride and prejudice in us that may hinder their understanding of the Gospel, and hasten the time when all Israel shall be saved; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said a motion to remove the prayer for the conversion of the Jews will require a second reading in 2022 since it deals with worship. Resolutions regarding worship don’t require two readings. The reason why the motion to drop the prayer for the conversion of the Jews would require a second reading is because it would mean amending Canon XIV, on the Book of Common Prayer. Amendments for canons dealing with doctrine, worship and discipline require a two-thirds majority vote by Orders at two successive General Synods. 

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I think it would be worthwhile for the Anglican Church (and the Journal) to revisit the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Did he not come to seek and to save the lost? Did he not offer eternal life to whoever believes? Is his sacrificial death upon the cross for some people but not for others? Are Jews sinners like everyone else, or are they in some special category? What is universalism and why is it false? What is an unreached people group? What is a Messianic Jew, and how might he be different from a ‘regular’ Jew? Are there churches that host conferences on the unadulterated gospel? What is it that we are supposed to believe? Jews (and all peoples) are lost in their sin unless they trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – what’s the problem with that?

  2. a simple fact is that no one fully embodies Christ, including Christians. The BCP prayers (pgs. 41 and 174) that refer to specific groups for conversion are out of place when in fact everyone is in need of either conversion or further conversions to fulfill the potentiality of their God given life. Christians best look in the mirror to see if their lives are in fact a light to the world (bright or dim) and work at being exemplar.

    • All you say is true bur that should not do our calling in spreading the gospel to the lost and that includes Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers alike.

    • All you say is true but that should not deter us from doing our calling in spreading the gospel to the lost and that includes Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers alike. (that’s what it should have said)

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