It can be said that two major movements are happening in the Protestant world at this time as mainline denominations continue to deteriorate — a rapid expansion of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism across the world, and a small but growing group of traditionalists coming together to revive traditional liturgies and rites. The latter movement is small — mostly consisting of displaced Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox adherents — but its emergence has reflected a growing fascination with the depths and beauties of traditional Christian worship practices.
Because of this, many attempts have been made to try and introduce structured prayer into mainline Protestantism. Just in the past decade, we’ve seen works like Be Thou My Vision, Every Moment Holy, Making Room In Advent, and Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals, which offer structured devotional texts and lectionaries to help Christians guide their daily prayers and Bible readings. But these texts do not compare in complexity to historic multi-volume monastic missals, with strict directions and prayers for every day of the year.
This demand spurred one Georgia-based layperson to start his own project to reconstruct one of those classic prayer books for the modern age. His efforts produced the Anglican Office Book, which has sold nearly 2,000 copies since first released in Spring 2021 and built a dedicated fanbase of users from multiple faith traditions.
The second edition, released this summer, is a one-book devotional bound with the Daily Offices of the Anglican Book Of Common Prayer (BCP) and a copy of the King James Bible with the Apocrypha and marks the first time an Anglican missal of its size and complexity has been published since the 1930s. The book is still small enough to be carried in public, with a very small font, and lined with leather skin to match the quality of historic religious printings.
The book’s editor, Lance Davis, is a busy man. He is a full-time church organist and music director who has spent his career performing in Episcopal and Latin-Catholic parishes across the country. He also recently entered formation for Holy Orders to become an Anglican Deaconite and potentially a priest. He spoke recently with Geeks Under Grace to discuss the book’s development and reception.
What Is The Anglican Office Book?
“I would describe it differently depending on who I am talking to. If I’m talking to a run-of-the-mill Anglo-Catholic Anglican, I would say that it offers for the traditional BCP Morning and Evening Prayers what the missals do for Holy Communion. It takes the traditional Thomas Cramner offices as the base and restores to them the variable and devotional elements that characterize liturgies — hymns, antiphons, collects, etc. To put it boldly, it is the Daily Office of the BCP restored to its fullness.
“For Catholics, it is similar to the Latin Breviary or the Liturgy Of The Hours, but simpler and more coherent — reduced from multiple volumes down to one for a manageable way for laypeople to use.
“To anybody else, it’s a prayer book — with morning and evening prayer ordered with hymnody, devotional offices like the Litany, prayers for all of the Saints Days, etc. All it does is take material that would be supplemental to multiple volumes and put it in one place, with the scripture lessons. It also adds back the Little Hours, which were customary to the Medieval Church and later Anglican tradition. It is a way to have the prayer book tradition in a fuller form.”
What Is Your Religious Background? When Did You Discover Liturgy?
“I was not raised in this tradition at all, though. I grew up a Charismatic Evangelical and discovered liturgy and the old rites. Of course, I didn’t have any skin in the game at the time. I wasn’t aware of post-Vatican II changes and turmoil of the 1960s, and just happened to come across a copy of the old Latin missal in a school library and assumed it was the normative liturgy among Catholics, but was sad to learn it wasn’t.
“I began collecting old liturgical books that were out of print. I was fascinated by them and their effects on culture, formation, parish life, and the church at large — and how liturgical changes have affected it in the past 50 years. Mostly negatively. As part of that interest, I came across publications that were being done in the early 20th century by Anglo-Catholic Anglicans attempting to bring the fullness of Medieval liturgy through things like the English Office Book and Fr. Paul Hartzell’s Prayer Book Office.
“I’ve obtained copies of many of these out-of-print texts, but you have this issue when you find an old and rare book — such as when I won a bidding war in Long Island for an English Office Book that sat on a late priest’s shelf for decades unopened for more than $200 — where you never want to use them because you’ll never get a replacement.”
When Did You Begin Working On The Anglican Office Book?
“The Anglican Office Book project began in earnest during COVID. I left New York and came down to Georgia because everything shut down, including my work. I was friends with a priest who hired me to play music for him and spent three months there. During that time, I brought my rare books and spent a good amount of time combing through them seriously, piecing together where they harmonize and how they reflected the Anglo-Catholic movement of the 1950s.
“I was sitting on a swing in the backyard and thought, ‘Since there’s an increasing desire for access to traditional liturgy, wouldn’t it be great to recreate those kinds of books?’ There’s limited availability of such books and missals in both modern Anglicanism and Catholicism, and modern texts aren’t sufficient for people who want a deeper liturgical tradition. I went on the computer and started copy-and-pasting content from the Book Of Common Prayer and Coverdale Bible, and it quickly turned into a rabbit trail of formatting and structure. I became obsessed with it. I used Fr. Hartzell’s book as the basis — being the most robustly designed out of that time period — but it wasn’t particularly user-friendly. It was a bulky unwieldy book, even though the content was great.
“I worked for four months, for ten hours per day, with all of my breviaries and office books open, comparing each of them and putting something together true to the tradition that was also usable and approachable. I came to a point where I realized I was finishing the first edition of the project, even though it was amateurish and I wasn’t happy with it. I had a good friend who is a priest in California, and he mentioned to me that he wanted to start a publishing company for producing new good Anglican works or rereleasing old ones. So I told him about the project and he jumped on it, offering to fund printing the book. In December 2020, we sent it off to the publishers.”
What Was The Initial Reaction To The First Edition?
“When I first announced the project online, the response overwhelmed me. I assumed it would be a niche project for a couple of disgruntled Anglo-Catholics. But immediately, all across the spectrum, Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans in all forms of communion embraced it. When we released it in spring 2021, we immediately sold roughly 70% of our first print of 1,000 books. And that’s when we began discussing a second edition. We realized the response called for an improved second edition, so I decided to redo the entire thing from scratch with more professional editing software and a new typeset. It started a month after the first edition shipped, and it took about a year to complete.”
When Did The Second Edition Start Taking Shape?
“I began posting photos of the second edition in January, and then we announced preorders in April. By then, the book was done and I was sufficiently happy with it. It went through significant alterations, corrections, and clarifications from the first edition. I have no intention of reprinting the first edition, although we do recognize some people like it. We were hoping to begin shipping the second edition in June, but we were particular about how it was printed and it took longer. They didn’t even put the finished books on a boat until the end of June. It took two weeks to arrive, and then the boat sat at port for a month. And we got dozens of emails per day asking what happened. But it finally started shipping out in August. We printed 1,500 copies for this print run and will likely do another printing of the second edition soon.”
Why Was It Printed In South Korea?
“We intend to keep printing them as long as people are buying. Unfortunately, with books like this, they are increasingly cost-prohibitive. We had to print it in Korea with a company that only prints Bibles and Christian works. They’ve also done a number of Anglican works with Lancelot Andrews Press, the Anglican Breviary, the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Hymnal, etc. If we had gone to presses in Italy or England, the costs would have quadrupled. A goatskin leather edition of the AOB would cost $400 per copy. Nobody prints small print leather books on Bible paper anymore.”
Why Do You Think The AOB’s Success Is Significant?
“This reaction shows there is a real need for books like that. It’s been curious watching people on Facebook doing unboxing videos for their books, which is strange for a liturgical text. But some people are itching to get their hands on it. I’ve even had clergy in the Anglican Ordinariate reach out and say this was something they’ve petitioned the Catholic Church for for a while, which it didn’t allow. Many of them aren’t happy with what they’ve got, and their parishioners are even asking if they can use the AOB.”
Has It Been Surprising To See Non-Anglicans Embrace The Book?
“The thing that has struck me the most about this was that I expected to produce a book that a small group of people in a niche form of Anglicanism would like. We expected to have spare copies of the first edition for a decade. What I have found to my surprise is that it has turned into quite an ecumenical book, surprising given that it is unabashedly Anglican. We’ve got Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Orthodox, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and all varieties praying it. It’s amazing that it has sort of formed a strange liturgical bridge, particularly given how much liturgy has been a form of division in the past century. My greatest takeaway is that the liturgy has the ability to heal divisions.”
Name A Weird Fact About The Book
“The King James Bible is public domain in America, but oddly enough if we printed it in the UK we would have to petition the crown to publish it in our edition [because it is the authorized translation of scripture for the Church of England], and they generally approve. But I would have loved to have said the AOB has royal endorsement, but we didn’t need that to print it in South Korea.”