Monday, March 30, 2009

Resource Review - The New Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education

The New Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education By: John P. Russell, editor 225 pages Published by Cowley Publications

(I've gone back and forth about whether to review this or not. I've just discovered that a new edition is scheduled to come out next month. I have no idea how much of what follows may apply to that edition or not. My hope is that the new edition will take care of my reservations but this version is still for sale and readily available. So please keep that in mind and we'll see if we can get a look at the new one soon.

OVERALL - An outline of the Christian year and holidays through the lens of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The first edition of this book came from a suggestion from the Children's Ministries Officer of the national Episcopal Church. The idea was to create a single volume reference for Episcopal educators that would be of use to everyone from clergy to lay leaders to enquirers of all ages and families. It walks you through the Liturgical calender starting with Advent and breaks each Holy day, season or week into teachable concepts. It includes discussions for all three years of the Common Lectionary so in its way it's quite comprehensive. Each segment has readings, themes associated with the readings, "Phrases for highlighting and Memorization", Key words, ideas and concepts, stories to tell, practice and liturgical tradition and formation in baptismal discipleship. The Holy Days and seasons get special attention and somewhat fuller treatment. While this is not a complete educational program, and was never intended to be, it is a fairly comprehensive outline.

RESERVATIONS Coming into this looking for resources to use with young people I was really hoping for something much more accessible. It uses a lot of church jargon (which if it is intended to be used by "enquirers of all ages" is a huge mistake). Sure you can figure a lot of it out just from context (why not just call them "readings" or "scripture" rather than "lections"?) but I'm not sure why you'd want to make new comers work that hard. Even for use by an educator it presents problems. They'll say that a word like "transfiguration" is important for that Sunday but you're on your own to define it. This is certainly not a book for a new teacher.

RECOMMENDATION Boy, I wanted to like this book. I really wanted this book to be a great tool to bring our young people deeper into what I believe is the greatest creation of Anglican worship, the Book of Common Prayer. Instead I got a dry, academic outline written too often in theological education jargon. The real problem I think is that they tried to be all things to all people. The book that is needed by seminary trained clergy is very different than is needed by an enquirer or a youth. Inevitably they had to tip in one direction or the other and they (perhaps quite rightly) tipped in the direction of the more educated/advanced person of faith. For that audience it might be fine (I still have doubts there) but for direct use by teens it's a total flop. As a tool for a youth leader it would be a good reference but only a starting point. You can certainly get some wonderful framework for teaching here but you're going to have to flesh it out.

My hope would be that some or all of this might be addressed in the third edition. My other hope would be that we could create something much more approachable for direct use by teens.

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