We pass on to consider the present usefulness of the Prayer Book and the possibility of extending that usefulness in the future. And now I shall speak wholly as an American to Americans, not because the destinies of the Prayer Book in the new world are the more important, though such may in the end turn out to be the fact, but simply because we are at home here and know our own wants and wishes, our own liabilities and opportunities, far better than we can possibly know those of other people. As a Church we have always tied ourselves too slavishly to English precedent. Our vine is greatly in danger of continuing merely a potted ivy, an indoor exotic. The past of the Common Prayer we cannot disconnect from England, but its present and its future belong in part at least to us, and it is in this light that we are bound as American Churchmen to study them. Let us agree then that the usefulness of [15/16] the book here and now lies largely in the moulding and formative influence which it is quietly exerting, not only on the religion of those who use it, but also largely on the religion of the far greater number who publicly use it not. It has interested me, as it would interest almost any one, to learn how many prayer books our booksellers supply to Christian people who are not Churchmen. Evidently the book is in use as a private manual with thousands, who own no open allegiance to the Protestant Episcopal Church. They keep it on the devotional shelf midway between Thomas a Kempis and the Pilgrim’s Progress, finding it a sort of interpreter of the one to the other, and possessed of a certain flavor differencing it from both. This is a happy augury for the future. Much latent heat is generating which shall yet warm up the chillness of the land. The seedgrain of the Common Prayer will not lie unproductive in those forgotten furrows. The fitness of such a system of worship as this to counteract some of the flagrant evils of our popular religion, can scarcely fail to commend it to the minds of those who thus unobserved and “ as it were in secret,” read and ponder. Much of our American piety, fervid as it is, shows confessedly a feverish, intermittent character which needs just such a tonic as the Prayer Book provides in what Keble happily called its “sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion.”
Then, too, there is the constantly increasing interest…which it is such a pleasure to observe among Christians of all names in the order of the ritual year, in Christmas and Easter, Lent and Good Friday””who can tell how much of this may not be due to the leavening influence of the Prayer Book, over and above what is effected by the public services of the Church? “I wonder,” said a famous revivalist to a friend, a clergyman of our Church, “I wonder if you Episcopalians know what a good thing you have in that year of yours. Why don’t you use it more?”
And true enough, why do we not?