Priests have the toughest job that doesn’t involve running into fires or being shot at by psychopaths and enemies. They have to bring the word, the body, and the blood of Christ to us jerks in the pews. They also have to make a concerted effort to show forgiveness and love to people they, being human, don’t even like…or didn’t vote for.
I am blessed to have as friends and good acquaintances several priests, many Episcopal like me. One of them posted this prayer from the American Book of Common Prayer on his Facebook wall and asked without partisan preamble, “What would it mean for all Christians to pray this prayer every day?”
Here is the prayer:
“O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:
We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace.
Grant to the President of the United States, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.
Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.”
His point, I think, was that you don’t have to like the president to pray for him. You didn’t have to like the last president, the 43 before him, or the many after this one. But Episcopalians are asked to pray for the president because he (and someday, she) has an actually insane job, when you think about it, and needs your prayers.
Leading the free world, no matter ones skill level, is intense, y’all. Why do you think they all age ten years for every term they serve?
The first American Book of Common Prayer was created fifteen years after the American Revolution. It was deemed necessary because the head of the American church was not the monarch of Britain; previous BCPs were full of references to a sovereign.
Here is a beautiful and inspiring passage from the 1790 Preface:
“But when in the course of divine providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesial independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective churches and forms of worship and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; contently with the constitution and laws of their country.”
It then says:
“The attention of this church was in the first place, drawn to those alterations in the Liturgy which became necessary in the prayers for our Civil Rulers, in consequence of the revolution:—— And the principal care herein was to make them conformable to what ought to be the proper end of all such prayers, namely, that ‘rulers may have grace, wisdom and understanding to execute justice, and to maintain truth; and that the people may lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty.’”
The beauty of the modern prayer in contrast to the Anglican communion’s prayer for the Sovereign on the anniversary of her ascension to the throne is evident in this simple line from the latter: “…set over us by thy grace and providence to be our Queen.” In the American prayer, we just note God’s providence in guiding the nation, not setting a ruler upon it.
The Episcopal prayer allows us to pray for someone even if we didn’t vote for them, or did and stopped liking them because they didn’t fulfill our hopes in them. The prayer also takes the responsibility for our well being out of the hands of the human-in-chief and puts it squarely in God’s.
The founders of the Episcopal church exercised tremendous wisdom in other ways, too. There are prayers for the nation as a whole, the legislature, local government, the Armed Forces — name a group you might’ve been anxious about, and there’s a prayer for it. A lot of the time, we are so angry or fed up or fearful that we can’t think of what to pray. That’s when the Book of Common Prayer comes in handy.
America produced some outstanding works of wisdom and faith during its infancy. Let’s engage with them when we don’t entirely know how to handle what’s happening to the country today.