Book Review: “Every Moment Holy: The Work Of The People”

On Saturday, November 4, the authors and illustrators behind the critically acclaimed Every Moment Holy devotional series gathered at Providence Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, to celebrate the release of the third volume of their praiseworthy and highly successful liturgical series. Author Douglas McKelvey was joined on stage by popular songwriters Andrew Peterson and Jon Lowry, in addition to many of the co-authors, to perform live readings of the cooperative effort that had become The Work Of The People.

I previously had the opportunity to interview McKelvey back in August. He told me extensively about the background that has inspired the project, which has gone on to sell over 350,000 copies in the past six years. As a practicing Anglican and a professional writer, he successfully transformed his insecurities and frustrations outward and turned them into a massive collection of original prayers—drawing on many of the same anxieties that drove the Biblical David to compose the Psalms and point them towards Christ. 

The philosophy behind Every Moment Holy is just that—that “every moment is holy.” The pseudo-gnostic tendency in modern life of leaving religious matters entirely to church and daily devotion distracts us from the reality that Christ walks with us in every moment of life, and that our sanctification in faith must come equally in the mundane as it does in the highest moments of our daily lives. 

The three volumes of the collection now consist of liturgies of varying lengths that cover everyday moments in life, from the mundane of “planting flowers” and “beekeeping,” to more serious occurrences like loss and failure. The entire second volume is dedicated just to liturgies for death and grief, while the first volume offers more generally whimsical fair like “Liturgies for the Ritual of Morning Coffee.” 

“Meet me, O Christ, in the stillness of the morning. Move me, O Spirit, to quiet my heart. Mend me, O Father, from yesterday’s harms. From the discords of yesterday, resurrect my peace. From the discouragements of yesterday, resurrect my hope. From the doubts of yesterday, resurrect my faith. From the wounds of yesterday, resurrect my love. Let me enter this new day, aware of my need, and awake to your grace, O Lord. Amen.” (Vol. 1, Page 139). 

The newest volume—set for release on November 10—continues in the path of the first two volumes but comes with the interesting snag that McKelvey is no long the central author but now one of dozens, as this third volume brings in dozens of new authors to write new liturgies. 

The third volume is divided into six subcategories that loosely organize all of the liturgies under common themes—”Labor and Vocation,” “Creation and Recreation,” “Blessing and Celebration,” “Petition and Provision,” “Sorrow and Lament,” and “Liturgies of the Moment.” The new liturgies cover much of the same emotional and thematic ground of the first two volumes, with eclectic prayers for “Lonely Holidays,” “Mechanical Repairs,” “Wrapping Christmas Presents,” and “Dropping Of A Child At School.” 

The challenge of such a liturgy collection comes from how much you want to invest into it. A collection like Every Moment Holy is best used as a book to be returned to day after day, a resource for daily worship similar to The Book of Common Prayer. It is a book best used repeatedly and pulled off the shelf in regular intervals of doubt, stress, frustration, or boredom. 

Naturally, though, these new collects may not all be common prayers. The sheer specificity of some of them makes them more or less applicable to the individual reader. I’m not a parent, nor in debt, nor a mechanic, nor grieving a loss, nor a beekeeper. But I am awkward at social gatherings—and McKelvey’s liturgy for “Those Who Feel Awkward At Social Gatherings” is a tear-jerkingly honest description of that particular form of anxiety. When these liturgies feel applicable, they hit hard. 

“I know this about myself, O Lord: In a room full of people, I would rather retreat into a quiet corner and flip through the pages of a book than step beyond the walls of myself to engage another person in conversation. And this desire, in and of itself, is neither a sin nor a virtue, but simply a description of my feelings—and yet it presents me with a choice. For you have not called me to insulate my heart from others or from discomfort I might feel in the presence of aquantances and strangers. You have called me instead to learn to love by small actions and choices, those whose paths I cross, moment to moment, in all settings.” (Vol. 1, Page 175). 

The introduction of new authors into the equation certainly added a level of chaos into the equation that had me somewhat worried going into the new volume. Upon initial reading, I felt a bit vindicated in that fear. The original volumes already feel just this side of goofy as is, and the new voices all have different prose that gives the overall volume a sense of clunkiness and unevenness at times—even though many of their liturgies are very good. The character of the writing at times comes off awkward, and like the Psalms before them, they can feel emotionally off-kilter if you don’t approach them in the correct mindset. 

Many of the liturgies have even been adapted from prayers by historical figures from church history like St. Augustine, St. Francis, John Donne, Thomas Cramner, and Thomas Kempis, which can’t help but add an element of discontinuity between the depth of their spiritual reflections and those of the (very talented) lyricists who are inspired by them to write their own liturgies. Who among us can fully compare to Kempis or Cramner in our talent for the written word? 

Thankfully, hearing many of the liturgies performed live by their initial authors alleviated some of the clunkiness of the liturgies on the page. Some of the prayers felt a bit melodramatic and over-the-top on paper, like “For Baking Bread.” Hearing Andrew Peterson read his own prayer “For Planting A Tree” live allowed the Psalm-ish energy and wordiness to sound as it was intended as spoken word. Many of these liturgies are intended to be spoken and recited as a group, and others in private devotion—so hearing them as intended can make a difference in how they affect you. 

It helps that there is already plenty to recommend about the series that a third volume is very much continuing the good work of the first two. Among the unique features of the volume is that the book actually contains a handful of unpublished prayers written by Anglican author and lay-theologian Dorothy Sayers, which the authors actually discovered while researching in the archives of the Wade Center at Wheaton College—although the book’s lack of an index makes finding these prayers challenging. 

“Victorious Christ, whom we these many years have crucified and with sweet spices laid in the strong bonds of the grave: Appear thou risen from the dead, and come, and go before us. Thou of our fragrant memorials, hast no need: thou are alive, thy wounded feet are swift upon the ways of the world, thy smitten hands outstretched for the healing of the nations. Startle us awake, immortal Splendour; open our eyes to see what already the stone is rolled away from teh sepulcher. Quicken our ears to hear the proclamation of thine angel. Fill us with they Holy Ghost that is the breath of life, for our false gods are sick and dying, and for them is no resurrection. Thee only the tomb cannot hold; in all the earth none liveth but only thou, that with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.” (Dorothy Sayer’s A Liturgy for the Resurrection Of Faith, Vol. 3, Page 225). 

Again though, a series like Every Moment Holy is only as useful as you choose to let it be. In an age when new liturgical works like Be Thou My Vision, Word On Fire’s Liturgy Of The Hours, and The Anglican Office Book competing for eyeballs, we have no lack of excellent devotional texts. As it stands, it is hard to see many of Every Moment Holy’s mundane prayers being adopted in church services given their specificity. But the power of many of the prayers in all three volumes—when recited by a crowd or repeated regularly—shows that the exercise is more than a mere curiosity.

Tyler Hummel

Tyler Hummel is a freelance writer and was the Fall 2021 College Fix Fellow at Main Street Nashville. He has been published at Leaders Media, Geeks Under Grace, The New York Sun, The Tennessee Register, The College Fix, Law and Liberty, Angelus News, and Hollywood in Toto. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics Association.

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