Saturday, July 22, 2023

The King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer: History and Application in the Universal Life Church


The King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer, an evolution of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, is an illustrious, vibrant part of the religious and cultural heritage of America. As it finds its roots in the Unitarian tradition, this rich liturgical collection provides an invaluable resource for Universal Life Church ministers conducting worship services. This essay will delve into the history of the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer and explore its potential application in the Universal Life Church context.

The History of The King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer

The history of the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer is a journey through the development of liturgical practices in the Anglican and Unitarian traditions. King's Chapel, located in Boston, Massachusetts, was originally an Anglican congregation established in 1686. During the 18th century, the church began to drift from its Anglican roots, moving towards a more liberal theological perspective. The transformation was catalyzed by their minister, James Freeman, who was appointed in 1782.

Freeman was deeply influenced by the theological debates of his time, particularly the burgeoning Unitarianism, which rejected the concept of the Holy Trinity and emphasized the singular nature of God. Gradually, Freeman began to introduce Unitarian ideas into the church's services, and by 1785, the congregation had largely embraced this theology.

Consequently, Freeman realized that the church's liturgy - the Book of Common Prayer, following the Anglican tradition - was no longer compatible with the church's beliefs. Therefore, he and the congregation undertook the task of revising the book to reflect their Unitarian ideals. The resultant work, completed in 1785, was the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer.

The King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer significantly altered the traditional language of the Anglican liturgy. For instance, it replaced Trinitarian language with a more Unitarian expression, emphasizing the unity of God rather than the three-fold nature of the Divine. It was a monumental move that symbolized the congregation's departure from Anglican tradition and its embracement of Unitarian theology.

As a historical note, the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer was the first Unitarian prayer book in the United States and served as a milestone in the development of American Unitarian liturgy. Its versions were revised multiple times over the subsequent centuries, reflecting the evolution of Unitarian beliefs and the societal context in which the church was situated.

The Use of King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer by Universal Life Church Ministers

The Universal Life Church (ULC) is a non-denominational religious organization that emphasizes universal acceptance, spiritual individuality, and the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Its primary mission is to allow anyone who feels so called to become an ordained minister and to perform religious ceremonies.

Given this open, inclusive theology, Universal Life Church ministers may find the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer a rich resource for conducting worship services. This stems from a few key aspects of the book and its potential compatibility with the ULC's mission and values.

Firstly, the Unitarian nature of the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer can resonate well with ULC ministers. The emphasis on the unity of God, as opposed to a specific theological understanding of the Divine, can be congruent with ULC's inclusive and non-dogmatic approach to spirituality. The book can thus serve as a flexible, adaptable liturgical resource that aligns with the diverse beliefs of ULC congregations.

Secondly, the historical significance of the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer can be valuable to ULC ministers. By utilizing this liturgy, they can tap into a rich tradition of progressive Christianity and American religious history. The book can serve as a bridge between past and present, allowing ministers to draw upon centuries of spiritual wisdom while contextualizing it within contemporary worship.

Lastly, the structure of the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer can provide a useful framework for ULC ministers. The book's organization - which typically includes sections for morning and evening prayer, the liturgy for the Eucharist, and other rites and ceremonies - can offer a sense of rhythm and flow to ULC services. Additionally, the language and content of the prayers can be easily modified to suit the specific needs and beliefs of the congregation, demonstrating the book's versatility.


The King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer is a significant artifact of religious history, reflecting the development and transformation of a congregation's beliefs over time. Its Unitarian principles, historical importance, and structured format offer valuable resources for Universal Life Church ministers in conducting worship services. By engaging with this historical text, ULC ministers can create an inclusive, individualized spiritual experience that is rooted in tradition yet adaptable to the unique needs and beliefs of their congregation. 

In this light, the King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer stands not just as a relic of the past, but also as a tool for present and future spiritual exploration and expression, bridging the gap between diverse theological perspectives, and fostering an environment of universal acceptance and spiritual growth. You can pick up a copy for yourself online for $52.50

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