The Book of Common Worship is the official ministry manual for the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). Although the manual’s subtitle has been dropped in more recent editions, the older subtitle very accurately describes the contents and purpose of the book: Presbyterian Book of Common Worship and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Ordinances and Rites of the Church. By following the order of service in this manual, a person with very little knowledge of the Bible or theology could conduct a service for any number of occasions following standard liturgical formulas.
The work is described as follows on the official website of the PCUSA: “The Book of Common Worship is a must-have for Presbyterian pastors, church musicians, liturgical leaders, and anyone who wants to know more about worship in the Reformed tradition. It includes everything church leaders need for Sunday worship, the Christian year, the sacraments, and pastoral and occasional services, such as ordinations, weddings, wholeness services, and funerals” (accessed 5/25/21).
The following abbreviated table of contents will provide a good summary of the types of services and occasions that are covered in the Book of Common Worship:
The Lord’s Day
The Christian Year
The Season of Advent
The Season of Christmas
The Time after Epiphany
The Season of Lent
The Season of Easter
The Time after Pentecost
Baptism and Reaffirmation
The Sacrament of Baptism
Profession of Faith (Confirmation)
Baptism and Profession of Faith Combined
Reception of New Members
Blessing of Departing Members
Reaffirmation of Baptism for a Congregation
Ministry in the Church
Ordination and Installation
Commissioning to Service
Conclusion of Service
Occasions in the Life of a Congregation
Mission in the World
Creation and Ecology
Justice and Reconciliation
Dedication of a Church
Dedication of Other Institutions
Dedication of a Home
Service of Marriage
Reaffirmation of Marriage Vows
Prayer at the End of a Marriage
Healing and Wholeness
Service of Wholeness for a Congregation
Service of Wholeness for an Individual
Extended Communion of the Church
Communion in the Home or Hospital
Ministry with the Sick
Death and Resurrection
Prayer at the Time of Death
Comforting the Bereaved
Funeral: Witness to the Resurrection
Vigil of the Resurrection
Services of Daily Prayer
Prayers at Mealtime
The Book of Common Worship was first produced in 1906 but has been revised and edited several times since then to keep abreast of the changing times and culture. The original work was a little over 200 pages, while the current edition is well over 1,000 pages. The most recent edition was produced in 2018. The PCUSA website describes the work that was done: “Over the last several years, more than 180 consultants and writers from across the denomination, representing today’s broad, diverse Presbyterian body, gathered for one of six regional consultations to edit existing resources and write new material for the latest edition of the Book of Common Worship. Responsive to the many changes in the church and world since the last revision in 1993, the new edition has been reimagined and redesigned to meet the needs of today’s church.
“This useful revision adds brief passages of practical commentary before each section and service, as well as more guidance for those who pray spontaneously or compose their own prayers. New sections on creation and ecology, justice and reconciliation, natural and human-caused disasters, and interreligious worship are included as well as revised marriage and funeral liturgies and updated song suggestions” (ibid., accessed 5/25/21).
One of the more significant changes, in keeping with the spirit of the age, is a change in the marriage service that uses more “inclusive language” to allow for same-sex weddings (www.christianpost.com/news/pcusa-updates-book-of-common-worship-inclusive-language-same-sex-marriage.html, accessed 5/25/21).
The Book of Common Worship may have many useful ideas for planning services in all sorts of denominations on many different occasions, and it is also provides insight into the practices and beliefs of the PCUSA today.