The Book of Common Worship
A No Go
Dr. Richard Allen Bodey, who died January 26, 2013, taught homiletics and worship in the old days at Reformed Theological Seminary. His courses proved to be some of the most valuable I took. He also provided some of my more colorful memories of seminary days.
His sermon criticisms were legendary for spilling seminarians’ blood (back in the day when seniors preached before whole student body and faculty followed by public criticism). In my first year he went ballistic when a senior titled his Thanksgiving sermon, “Let’s Talk Turkey.” Several us remember when an adjunct professor, a Reformed Baptist, who could be something of a comedian, preached in chapel. As the preacher went on illustrating the state of the sinner by talking to an imaginary dead man and students chuckled, the red crawled up Bodey’s neck to the crown of his head.
When I received my text for my first year sermon and looked it up, I read, “And he had a name which no man knew but he himself.” It turned out the the wrong letter had been placed after the verse number, and the text was supposed to be “On his head were many diadems.” That did not seem a big improvement to me.
He was mostly all business, but he had sense of humor, as was demonstrated the day he addressed the question of what to do if, as you prepared to baptize a child, you found that no water was in the font. Even Mr Bodey laughed when, after he recommended you proceed rather than wait for water to be brought, Joey Pipa exclaimed, “That would be like doing a circumcision with a rubber knife!”
Dr. Bodey was a fish out of water in Jackson, Mississippi, or, perhaps better “a Yankee in the deep South.” He came from a United Presbyterian background and had been a minister of the Presbyterian Church USA (or northern Church) before he came to RTS.
One of the things that made him different was the way he approached worship. He believed in wearing the collar (though he did not at the seminary) and Geneva gowns with tabs and stoles.
He introduced us to “liturgical” worship, following the template of Approach, Word, and Response. His primary text was Princeton’s Donald Macleod’s Presbyterian Worship: Its Meaning and Method. He taught the value of forms of prayer and required us to write many prayers which he returned marked up with red. He even taught grammar and made us write our sermons which came back bathed in a Jordan of red (which did not always suffice to remove homiletical leprosy).
He taught us to use the old The Book of Common Worship (1946) published by the PCUSA. When the chapel was built, he succeeded in getting the book placed in the pew racks as a memorial though they received little use and soon disappeared. He required students to memorize and recite in private to him a subtantial portion (or perhaps all) of the communion service as it is found in The Book of Common Worship.
I had grown up in a Presbyterian Church where the service opened with the Doxology, Invocation and Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and Gloria Patri, which today would be high church for most PCA churches. However, the problem I had when I first experienced Mr. Bodey (a problem shared by fellow students who came from southern Churches), was that what to him was natural felt either “Catholic” or “liberal” or both to me. You know, real Christians just don’t do liturgical worship and certainly don’t do forms of prayer.
Whoever heard of a congregation praying a collect or a prayer of confession followed by an assurance of pardon! Whoever heard of a real Christian minister using a prayer written by someone else 400 years ago or composing a prayer in his study and then using it in a service? I had never heard a Presbyterian minister read a prayer in my life, except for one time on TV, a case which scandalized my mother. As we watched a George Wallace rally from Montgomery, she just could not believe that Dr. Robert Strong, conservative stalwart and minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, read his prayer! (Of course, it never occurred to her or me to ask whether Dr. Strong should have been praying at a George Wallace political rally. BTW, he also conducted the wedding of Wallace to his second wife Cornelia, a divorcee!)
“Liturgy” was something close to a seven letter four-letter word for those who believed in spiritual worship. And, what students thought about Bodey and his liturgy much of the faculty also thought. The Book of Common Worship drew much upon Cranmer and The Book of Common Prayer as well as other historic resources. Everybody knew that Anglicans and Episcopalians were not Christians! We thought about them the way my Baptist wife grew up thinking about Presbyterians - almost Catholic!
As it turned out, Dr. Bodey did not have much success foisting liturgical worship on Southern Presbyterians. For one thing, it is hard to overcome a lifetime of low church Presbyterian worship with a few seminary courses. Then, too, most of the churches we went out to serve would have found an ordered liturgical service with written prayers something like singing the songs of foreign land in Zion. And, it was hard for Puritan-influenced consciences not to snag on the few occasions we might try to do a liturgical service. It was something like what Dr. Al Fruendt, a smoker who grew up in fundamentalist Presbyterianism and spent some time at Moody Bible Institute experienced. He said it was very hard for him to see someone smoking and not think they were sinning! So it was hard to overcome the nagging of weak conscience, though in one’s mind he knew better.
The truth is that liturgy is not the enemy of spiritual worship. It is the friend of worship that makes sense and is connected to the history of Christian worship. Forms of prayer are not a sign of the lack of the Holy Spirit. The masterful prayers composed Thomas Cranmer at the time of the English Reformation give expression to the mind of the Spirit far better than most of the free prayers I have experienced. For substance and depth, for aptness and economy of words, the prayers of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are unsurpassed. They are much to be preferred to the trite and inarticulate prayers that too often combine prayer with exhortations with announcements.
Dick Bodey didn’t have great success introducing forms of prayer and liturgical worship. However, even from his present vantage in heaven, I have to think Dick Bodey smiles when he recalls that the now President of Greenville Seminary showed up to have a prayer at the class of 1972’s graduation ceremony wearing a collar!