A Gallup poll reported this week that four of every five Episcopal clergy prefer the church's revised Book of Common Prayer but that nearly two-thirds of the lay members would rather use the old version.
The $20,000 survey of 1,166 Episcopalians was commissioned by the Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer, an unofficial organization within the church that is fighting to retain the church's traditional rituals.
At its general convention three years ago, the Episcopal Church tentatively approved adoption of the new prayer book. In order for the decision to become binding, a second affirmative vote would be required from the church's next general convention, scheduled in Denver for next month.
Opponents of the new book are fighting for a provision in church laws that would authorize each congregation to decide which version of the prayer book it would use.
George Gallup, himself an Episcopalian, said in reporting on the poll that the lay members who prefer the old book cite its familiarity, its beauty of language and theological soundness.
Clergy favoring the new version, he said, say they like its adaptability flexible forms and wider variety of prayers. He called the differences between laity and clergy on the issue a "healthy tension."
Although the Book of Common Prayer dates back to the origins of the Church of England under Henry Viii, the version preservationists are fighting for was adopted in 1928. Most of its formulations are included in the new prayer book, which features three styles of rites, from traditional to what both sides of the dispute have characterized as "far out."