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25th January 2017

The growing popularity of The Book of Common Prayer among young people is underlined this week with the news that a record number of school pupils have entered a national competition which introduces them to the Prayer Book created by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the Reformation.


The Cranmer Awards scheme, which has taken place annually since 1989, was the brainchild of Charles Moore, at that time editor of the Spectator and later of the Daily Telegraph. The scheme is run by the Prayer Book Society which encourages rediscovery and use of the majesty and spiritual depth of The Book of Common Prayer at the heart of the Church of England’s worship.


This year 332 young people competed for a place in the finals by reading or reciting a passage of their choice from the Prayer Book. Next month six winning finalists from schools and churches across the country will share £900 in prize money by memorising and reciting extracts from the Book of Common Prayer.

The finals and award ceremony on Saturday, February 25, will take place in the Old Palace in Deansway, Worcester. The 11th century Grade I Listed palace, the official residence of the Bishop of Worcester until 1842 is, with the city’s adjacent cathedral, the oldest building in Worcester.

The 26 finalists will be required to speak their chosen passages by heart in front of an audience of more than 100 comprising parents, teachers, clergy and members of the Prayer Book Society.  


‘The judges will be looking for competitors who are able to demonstrate that they understand the words they are speaking while communicating them with clarity and fluency, in a style similar to that of a well-conducted church service’, explains Prudence Dailey, chairman of the Prayer Book Society.   


Cash prizes of £200, £150 and £100 will be presented to three winners in each of two age groups (juniors aged 11 to 14 and seniors aged 15 to18) by zoologist Phoebe Griffith (23) who first competed in the nationwide contest in 2011. She won the Senior First Prize at the age of 18 while a pupil at Moreton Hall School in Shropshire.


Phoebe says that the experience of reciting a passage from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer from memory helped her gain the confidence required to address scientific audiences on subjects which involve complex terminology.

She was selected to present this year’s prizes  because, being closer to the ages of contestants than those who have done so in recent years, she can speak from personal experience about the contest and its long-term value in ways likely to inspire and encourage the young people who take part.    

‘Reading the beautiful language of the Prayer Book, and getting to understand it, led to an appreciation of the King James Bible,’ says Phoebe. ‘Learning about the history of the Prayer Book, created by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer during the Reformation, also opened up to me the language in the works of William Shakespeare which previously I had found difficult to appreciate. Now I am one of his biggest fans!’

Two panels of judges will decide this year’s winners. Judges of the senior group will be chaired by Lesley Cook, a former chief executive of the English Speaking Board which promotes clear, effective communication at all levels. Other members of the panel will be The Hon Mrs Mary Pearson – who has been a Cranmer Awards judge from the beginning – and the diocesan director of vocations and ordinands for the Diocese of Hereford and a former trustee of the Prayer Book Society, the Rev Neil Patterson.

Alexandra Daborn, who has taught oral communication skills for many years and is a former examiner for the English Speaking Board, will chair the junior group judges. Joining her will be Jenny Hazan, a former winner of the senior national finals of the Cranmer Awards in 2005, and the Rev Canon Eric Knowles, chaplain at Little Malvern Priory in Worcestershire.

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