Last week I was the guest speaker at the semi-finals of the Book of Common Prayer recital contest in Kent. Even one of the participants said to me, “This is a bit eccentric, isn’t it?”
I’d been invited to give a talk on “my relationship with the Book of Common Prayer.” I didn’t think I had one, so I was minded to decline – except that the lady organising the event was so nice and persuasive that I gave in. She wrote that she couldn’t offer me payment “but I can guarantee you a parking space”. That was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The contest was for secondary school children: each pupil recited two passages from the Book. When the judges retired to compared notes on diction etc, I gave my little speech, beginning by saying how really very good the recitals were. Church reading isn’t easy. You need to bring the passage alive but don’t want to ham it up: the focus must be on the text, not you, and the Book speaks for itself because it’s quite simply one of the greatest achievements in the English language. Compiled by Thomas Cranmer in the middle of the English Reformation, it is the beating liturgical heart of Anglicanism.