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A good short history of a large important subject
on July 11, 2013
Massachusetts Episcopal churchman Huntington compiled _A Short History of the Book of Common Prayer_ (BCP) from various lectures presented and papers published over a number of years. It certainly has a lot of history in it, but it is more than that, because it also presents his own opinions about revisions made to the during the process of its several revisions over the centuries. This is clearly a book of the nineteenth century--he still used the old term "divines" for ordained clergy of the established and dissenting churches--but his writing doesn't come across as antiquarian as some of this contemporaries' did even after 1900. He was generally careful to delineate and separate the historical record, historical scholarship, and his own opinion one from the other. To great literacy about a very serious topic he wed a sense of humor that I enjoyed, at least.
This is clearly a book for people like me who love church history as well as literary history; you don't have to love or respect the BCP--which I do--but it certainly helps. The title does not indicate what I think is very important to whether someone would be interested in reading this book. After the first part of it, which covers the origins and subsequent history of the BCP it focuses upon the American prayer book, that is, that of the Episcopal Church of the United States. It does a good job for the general reader of explaining why and how the first revision of the BCP was made for the newly independent country, and some of the factors relating to the revision under consideration in those early days of independence.
Huntington was very much involved in efforts to revise the prayer book in his own day, and many other of the most important issues facing the Episcopal church during his life. No "ivory-tower" academic or churchman, even in this short and specialized work his humanity and his groundedness comes through in his recognition that the church and its prayer book had to change as life changed around them due to industrialization, urbanization, and more. This book is surely not for everyone, given its topic and its dated style. But if you're a church geek like me, and especially if like so many others today across Christian denominations you've discovered and embraced made a part of your life the spiritual treasury that is the _Book of Common Prayer_, this book is for you.