Book review of Prayers for an Inclusive Church

The prayer at the heart of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the Great Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer. The prayer at the heart of the Liturgy of the Word is the collect/opening prayer. Both of these prayers plunge us deeper into the life of God the Holy Trinity. They are led by the presider, addressed to God, the First Person of the Trinity, as we, together as Christ’s body, pray in the power of the Spirit.

The collect/opening prayer has a bidding (invitation to pray), the community prays together in deep silent prayer, then the collect is proclaimed, and the now-gathered community affirms/ratifies the prayer by a resounding “Amen.” (“So be it”).

The collect (like haiku or sonnet) has its own particular, recognisable structure. In the five-fold structure, three parts are always present (marked *):

*You– Address
Who – Amplification (& motive)
*Do – Petition
To – Purpose (& motive)
*Through Jesus Christ…

Collects, like Eucharistic Prayers, are to be general. Inclusive. We should all be able to find ourselves in them. We should all be able to assent with the “Amen”. We live in a RCL/3YearLectionary, post-tight-little-themed-Sunday-services church. Where pebbles are cast and we hope the ripples somehow touch all – or nearly all. Collects, hence, are mostly general prayers, not too tightly setting a them.

Prayers for an Inclusive Church is mostly a collection of collects – about a hundred and fifty of them across the three years of the RCL. Unfortunately the collects are not supplied with a particular bidding. They are mostly linked to the gospel reading. Other than that, they essentially fulfil the requirements of my criteria above [each has the shorter ending, eg. “through Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” rather than the normal Trinitarian ending, which in any case the presider could continue with, “…with you… and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”]. About half a dozen of them are addressed to the Second or Third Person of the Trinity, creating that oddity of praying to the Second Person of the Trinity “through Jesus Christ”. But Steven Shakespeare is clearly aware of these issues and his Introduction sets out an understanding of inclusiveness and the place of prayer which articulates insightfully the contribution of René Girard. For those who think inclusiveness is “a shapeless tolerance for anything and everything”, Steven Shakespeare highlights from his previous book that “the inclusiveness of the church is precisely what makes it a demanding, counter-cultural presence in the world.”

Mostly the prayers here are pretty-much usable as given. Occasionally I would alter a word here or there. I am possibly not as comfortable as the author to use an image in prayer for the purpose of what I might call “shock tactics”. Here are prayers that allow us to see scriptural passages afresh. There are also confessions, introductions to the Peace, and Eucharistic Prayers which would need their own review. Because of this book I have already ordered his book The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church. Out of five stars, this collection gets four and a half from me.

Collect for this coming Sunday:

Holy Trinity,
you are neither monarch nor monologue
but an eternal harmony
of gift and response:
through the Uncreated Word
and the Spirit of Truth
include us and all creation
in your extravagant love;
through the Wisdom of God,
who raises her voice
to call us to life.
Amen.

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