Arguably, the most important component of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is its emphasis on the centrality of Baptism seen most clearly in the baptismal liturgy itself (BCP page 299), the Baptismal Covenant (BCP page 304), and in the Catechism (BCP pages 854-859).
This “new” emphasis on Holy Baptism as “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church” has had enormous implications for us in mission and ministry, in ecumenical relations, in eucharistic hospitality, and in the way we order ourselves as “church.”
The regular recitation of the Baptismal Covenant by congregations gathered on Sunday mornings for baptisms, confirmations, and on other special occasions has, quite literally, formed the minds and hearts of Episcopalians, particularly around our commitment to “seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves…and…striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.”
I wish I could say that we were equally informed and formed by the promises to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” (i.e. by, for example, getting to church every Sunday) or “persevering in resisting evil…repenting…and returning to the Lord” (i.e. by using the sacrament of Reconciliation regularly) or “proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (i.e. by inviting people to church more than once a decade)!
I would also like sermons and references to this challenging Covenant to pay as much attention to the contents of the first three paragraphs — which rehearse the contents of our Faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed — as to the last five promises on the content of Christian living.
Nonetheless, the “baptismal ecclesiology” of the Prayer Book has transformed this church for good in many ways and, because it is not universally present in the Prayer Books of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, is one of the reasons we seem to “talk past” one another theologically in the midst of our “current difficulties” as Anglicans.
It is my prayer that the Lambeth Conference and many other Anglican gatherings in the future will provide opportunities for us to share some of these perspectives and learnings with our sisters and brothers even as we learn from them their own emphases and priorities for mission and ministry.