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9th October 2017

This autumn hundreds of schoolchildren across the country are busy memorising prayers and readings from church services in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in a bid to win a prize in a national competition.

They are taking part in regional heats which will determine whether or not they will be among finalists in the annual Cranmer Awards competition in Worcester in February. Winners aged between 11 and 18 are set to share £1,000 in prize money and receive a certificate with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.

Presenting the awards at The Old Palace in Worcester on Saturday, February 24, will be journalist, theatre critic and author Quentin Letts (pictured).

Commenting on the importance, significance and value of the award scheme for the young people who take part, he said: ‘The Cranmer Awards plug youngsters into something that is actually very cool – historic language forged in the heat of cultural revolution and words that glint as brightly today as when they were first cut by that master of liturgy, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.’

He added: ‘Some politically-correct ninnies in the Church of England claim that teenagers cannot understand the medieval prayers and are deterred by antiquity. That is patronising nonsense. They respond to the poetry with the freshness and open-mindedness of youth and they find the very antiquity of the Book of Common Prayer amazing and interesting.’

Prudence Dailey, chairman of the Prayer Book Society, said that the finalists will be required to demonstrate that prior to the award ceremony when they speak their memorised chosen passages in front of an audience of more than 100 comprising parents, teachers, clergy and members of the Prayer Book Society.

Asked how he would describe The Book of Common Prayer to members of Britain’s diverse community who are less familiar with it – or may never have read it – Quentin Letts said: ‘The Prayer Book is the precious text of English churchgoing. Its language, initially olde-worlde, has the deep polish of an antique table and if you gaze into it you will find reflections.

‘It has been handed down the generations and allows us, when contemplating death and destruction, or life’s brief Catherine wheels of fizzing joy, to use the same words as our grandparents, their grandparents, even their grandparents and beyond. Think about that. Think how long these questions about Heaven and Hell have troubled humanity.  

‘The sheer magnitude of this little book’s scope should stun you and make you realise that our troubles today about money or health or security are but grains of salt in God’s mighty order. Pick up an ancient prayer book. Turn its onion-skin pages. Speak the prayers. They exist today just as they did centuries ago, and they will long outlive us.’

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