The 1974 Book of Worship for US Forces

The Book of Worship for US Forces was  published in 1974 under the supervision of the Armed Forces Chaplain Board, and printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office. A compendium of (mostly) Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish hymns, prayers, readings and other worship resources, it had largely fallen out of favor by the time I entered active duty during the first Gulf War era.

The Catholics used their own missals and hymnals. Evangelicals, if they used hymnals at all, favored non-denominational hymnals that included more contemporary choruses and praise songs. Episcopalians used the Book of Common Prayer (1979) and Lutherans (both ELCA and LCMS), the Lutheran Book of Worship, also known as “the Green Book” (1978). For deployments, everybody preferred lightweight booklets that might only contain a few hymns or songs, but which could be stowed in the cargo pocket of the combat uniform or transported in bulk in the chaplain’s small “chaplain kit”.

Nowadays, the Book of Worship for US Forces has almost completely disappeared from both the chapel and the deployable “Chest, Hymnal” (well, those have disappeared, too).

In 25 years of attending military chapels and religious services, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the “longer form” of the 1974 Protestant order of worship used, especially not the whole thing. As I have increasingly identified with the (mainline) Protestant liturgical renewal that began in the mid 20th century, though, the more interesting the 1974 order of worship has become.

The primary text is from the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), Princeton, NJ, published in 1968 as An Order for Worship for the Proclamation of the Word of God and the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. COCU  was the failed attempt at bureaucratic union among mainline Protestant churches. Overall, I was not a fan of that process, but the allied Consultation on Common Texts (founded in 1969) did some important work.

The alternate form of the thanksgiving was originally published in Contemporary Worship – 2 in 1970 by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, Philadelphia, PA.

I like comparing Christian liturgies and seeing how they evolve over time. Here I see evidence of the liturgical renewal that began in the early 1960’s and its renewed emphasis on the so-called Apostolic Constitutions of Hippolytus. The process resulted in new orders of worship for my own denomination (the United Methodist Church, 1989 Hymnal, 1992 Book of Worship), Lutherans (1978 Green Book) and Episcopalians (1979 BCP).

You can read the text for yourself here: Book of Worship for US Forces, An Order for Worship, Protestant (Longer Form).

When I retire, I don’t think I want a retirement ceremony. I think I want a retirement worship service and I think I want to use this liturgical form as written.