The Anglican Church of Canada, one of the largest Protestant denominations, is considering replacing a prayer for the conversion of the Jews with a new one calling for “reconciliation” with the Jewish people.
Right Rev. Bruce Myers, Bishop of the Quebec diocese, has proposed that the last vestige of anti-Semitism in the traditional Anglican prayerbook be removed. He was tasked by the church’s leadership to draft a motion to that effect, leading up to the triennial General Synod, the church’s highest governing body, which meets in July in Vancouver.
Inexplicably, the Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews remains in the 1962 edition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), more than 25 years after another, more harshly worded prayer that was recited on Good Friday was expunged.
The prayer now in question, which is found on page 41 of the BCP, is apparently not often recited nowadays, largely because the 1985 Book of Alternative Services is often used instead. In addition, unlike the Good Friday prayer, which had roots in 16th-century England and was part of an annual service, the Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews is among about 50 prayers that are used discretionally, Rev. Myers explained.
Nevertheless, he believes the Anglican Church must ensure that its liturgy is entirely in keeping with its official rejection of anti-Semitism and desire for respectful relations with Judaism.
The replacement prayer of reconciliation was suggested by the Prayer Book Society of Canada, an Anglican organization, and Rev. Myers agreed that it would be a good idea to add a positive message, rather than simply eliminate something objectionable. The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus (CRC), a group with representation from all streams of Judaism that advises the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, was consulted on the proposed prayer’s wording, which is repentant in tone. The CRC offered “constructive feedback” that resulted in some changes to the text.
The current conversion prayer beseeches God to “hasten the time when all Israel shall be saved,” and asks that his “ancient people … open their hearts that they may see and confess the Lord Jesus to be thy Son and their true Messiah.”
The proposed reconciliation prayer reads: “O God, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Have mercy upon us and forgive us for violence and wickedness against our brother Jacob; the arrogance of our hearts and minds hath deceived us, and shame hath covered our face. Take away all pride and prejudice in us, and grant that we, together with the people whom thou didst first make thine own, may attain to the fullness of redemption which thou has promised; to the honour and glory of thy most holy Name.”
Rev. Myers, who is responsible for all of Quebec except Montreal, said the proposal will be brought to the House of Bishops’ meeting this month and then to the Council of the General Synod in March, before being put before the General Synod in July.
Under church procedure, liturgical changes require two readings at consecutive General Synods before a final vote. After this year, the General Synod will not meet again until 2022.
However, Rev. Myers said precedent exists for the Synod, if it passes the amendment in July, to request that dioceses refrain from using a prayer that’s still on the books.
At the 2016 General Synod, a motion for the conversion prayer’s removal failed by the narrowest margin, falling just short of the required two-thirds majority. Rev. Myers thinks that was because his motion was not presented with sufficient context.
Since he launched a formal consultation on the issue in November 2017 at the behest of the Council of the General Synod, Rev. Myers said he has not met with any opposition to the change on theological grounds, just some “good questions.”
This is not surprising, he said, because the revision is in-keeping with the direction of Anglican thinking in regard to relations with the Jews for at least a generation.
In 2013, the church reaffirmed its commitment to opposing anti-Semitism – a stance it has taken since the 1930s.
In an article he published in December in the Anglican Journal, the church’s in-house publication, Rev. Myers wrote that, “Whether we have been conscious of it or not, the prayer entitled For the Conversion of the Jews continues to reflect an attitude that views Judaism as fundamentally insufficient. Such an attitude does not take into account our church’s renewed understanding of Christians as fellow heirs of God’s covenantal promise with the Jewish people.”
Rev. Myers argues that the proposed prayer does not stop the church from making the Christian message known, but does “ask us … to stop singling out Jews as a target for our evangelistic efforts.”
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, a CRC co-chair, said the Anglican initiative is “an important and welcome development” that reflects “the desire of the Anglican Church to repent for historic anti-Semitism among Christians and to alter its replacement theology regarding Jews and Judaism.… The leadership of the church has persistently sought to advance this issue, and for that we are grateful.”
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl, the senior rabbi of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, added that, “We were pleased and humbled to have played a role in this transformation, which is the natural outcome of decades of growing Jewish-Anglican ties.”
He underlined that the church has “spoken out consistently and strongly against current manifestations of anti-Semitism.”
In practical terms, he hopes that, if the new prayer is adopted, it will enable the Jewish community “to engage on issues related to Israel in a deeper and more constructive manner.”