Common Worship | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Common Worship

This resource guide is designed to orient researchers to materials held at the society that can inform and document a study of the historic forms of common worship in American Presbyterian churches. Related resource guides cover Presbyterian hymnody and sacraments and occasional services. These guides are not intended to cover the theology and forms of worship used in contemporary churches. For information about current PC(USA) doctrine and practice, contact the PC(USA) Presbyterian Mission Agency, Office of Theology and Worship.


For a good general survey of this topic, see:

Melton, Julius W. Presbyterian Worship in America: Changing Patterns Since 1787. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1967.
Call number: JKPRESS 1967-26

Journal articles
Daniels, Harold M. “Service Books Among American Presbyterians.” American Presbyterians 71:3 (1993): 185–196. 
Call number: Ref BX 8905 .J8
Hall, Stanley R. “American Presbyterians and the Directory for Worship, 1645–1989.” American Presbyterians 72:2 (1994): 71–85.
Call number: Ref BX 8905 .J8
Melton, Julius. “A View from the Pew: Nineteenth Century Elders and Presbyterian Worship.” American Presbyterians 71:3 (1993): 161–174.
Call number: Ref BX 8905 .J8
Dictionary and encyclopedia articles
Davies, John G., ed. The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.
Call number: Ref BV 173 .N49 1986
Entries:“Presbyterian Worship,” “Books, Liturgical. 14, Reformed,” “Liturgies. 14. Reformed.”

McKim, Donald K., ed. Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.
Call number: Ref BX 9406 .E56 1992
Entries: “Common Worship, Book of,” “Worship.”
Cameron, Nigel, ed. Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Call number: Ref BR 782 .D43 1993
Entries: “Book of Common Order (modern editions),” “Westminster Assembly and Documents,” “Worship.”
Primary Sources
Personal Papers

Hugh Thomson Kerr (1871–1950) Papers, 1897–1951
5 cubic feet
Call number: RG 1

Kerr was minister of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, from 1913 until he retired in 1946. He served as president of the PCUSA Board of Christian Education from 1923 to 1941. During the early 1940s, he was a member, and at one point chairman, of the PCUSA Special Committee on the Book of Common Worship (see RG 66 below). RG 1 contains Dr. Kerr’s correspondence, notebooks and diaries, writings, and scrapbooks which deal, in part, with the BCW revision of 1932. 


Denominational Records

Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
Special Committee on Forms and Services Records, 1902–1910 (bulk, 1903–1906)
0.5 cubic feet
Call number: RG 65

The committee was appointed by the 1902 General Assembly (PCUSA) to prepare a standardized manual of forms for worship services. The committee produced a manual entitled The Book of Common Worship in 1906. RG 65 contains minutes, reports, publications, correspondence, and manuscripts relating to the work of the committee. 

Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
Special Committee on the Revision of the Book of Common Worship. Records, 1928–1933 
1 cubic foot
RG 66

The 1928 General Assembly (PCUSA) appointed a special committee to consider and, if necessary, to undertake revision of the Book of Common Worship, which had been in use since 1906. The revised Book of Common Worship was published in 1932. RG 66 contains minutes, reports, correspondence, and manuscripts relating to the work of the committee and the publication of the revised book. 

Please note that PHS holds a number of unprocessed archival collections that are not described in the publicly accessible catalogs and indexes listed here. Access to these materials may be restricted. Please contact the reference staff for more information.


Congregation Records*
The “session” of a Presbyterian church is the governing body of the local church that has overall responsibility for the administration of its worship. Matters relating to church property, such as pew rents, organs, and building funds are usually (depending on state law and local custom) found in the minutes of the trustees—usually a separate board with separate records. Local church records are cataloged solely by the city which served as the church’s post office location. You may use CALVIN, our online catalog, to locate church records, or contact  the reference staff for assistance. 
*Access note: It is the policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to restrict access to all official records at the national level on deposit at the Presbyterian Historical Society that are less than 20 years old. The restriction period for denominational records at the congregation, presbytery, and synod level is 50 years. If you wish to access official records that fall under these restrictions, you must secure written permission from the records' owners. Please consult with the reference staff for further details.
Contemporary Publications
Texts of the Directories

Presbyterian worship is governed by the Directory for Worship, a part of its Constitution. Prior to 1788, American Presbyterians looked to the Westminster Directory (1643). In 1789, the new General Assembly adopted a revision of Westminster as its directory. For the texts:

Leishman, Thomas, ed., The Westminster Directory, Edited with an Introduction and Notes. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1901.
Call number: BX 9185 .S36 W4 1901

Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Published in many editions. PHS earliest edition: 1801.
Call number: BX 8955 .A3 1801

Daniels, Harold M. To God Alone Be the Glory : The Story and Sources of the Book of Common Worship.  Louisville, KY : Geneva Press, 2003 
Call number: WESTPR 2003-2


Some nineteenth-century Presbyterian “books of forms” (in chronological order)
Baird, Charles W. A Book of Public Prayer: Compiled from the Authorized Formularies of Worship of the Presbyterian Church as Prepared by the Reformers Calvin, Knox, Bucer, and Others, with Supplementary Forms. New York: Scribner, 1857.
Call number: BX 8955.A25 1857
Shields, Charles W. Presbyterian Church Union Service, or, Union Book of Worship. New York: [s.n.], 1868.
Call number: BX 9185 .P73 U6 1868
Hodge, Archibald A. Manual of Forms…Conformed to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, [1877].
Call number: WESTPR 1182.1
Comegys, Benjamin B. A Presbyterian Prayer Book for Public Worship. Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1895.
Call number: BX 9187 .C66 1895
Johnson, Herrick. Forms for Special Occasions, Revised Version. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1889.
Call number: BX 9185 .P73 .J66 1889


Twentieth-Century Liturgies (in chronological order)
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly. The Book of Common Worship. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work, 1906.
Call number: WESTPR 1906-6
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly. The Book of Common Worship (Revised). Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1932.
Call number; BX 9185 .A4 1932b
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly. The Book of Common Worship. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1943.
Call number: BX 9185 .P73 B66 1943
Joint Committee on Worship. The Worshipbook: Services. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970.
Call number: WESTPR 4132
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Book of Common Worship. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
Call number: WESTPR 5367

Thompson, Bard, ed. Liturgies of the Western Church. Cleveland: World, 1961.
Call number: BV 186.5 .T5 1961

Nichols, James H. Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968.
Call number: WESTPR 3912

Old, Hughes Oliphant. Worship that is Reformed According to Scripture. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984.
Call number: BX 9427 .O425 1984

Smith, Elwyn A. The Presbyterian Ministry in American Culture: A Study in Changing Concepts, 1700–1900. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962.
Call number: WESTPR 3428

Bynum, William B. “‘The Genuine Presbyterian Whine’: Presbyterian Worship in the Eighteenth Century.” American Presbyterians: Journal of Presbyterian History 74:3 (1996): 157–170.
Call number: Ref BX 8905 .J8

Searching PHS Holdings

Researchers are encouraged to consult the society’s online and card catalogs and confer with reference staff to locate additional resources pertinent to their topics of interest. Please note that we hold a number of unprocessed archival collections that are not described in the publicly accessible catalogs and indexes listed here.

Guides to Archival Collections

CALVIN, our electronic catalog

  • Holdings are cataloged using Library of Congress Subject, Name, and Geographic headings. The following Library of Congress subject and corporate headings may be useful in locating works on common worship:

    Common worship
    Public worship
    Worship programs

    Joint Committee on Worship
    Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. -- Liturgy
    Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. -- Worship
    Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. -- Book of Common Worship (1906)

Pearl, our online digital repository

Card Catalog: most published and manuscript materials cataloged by PHS prior to 1980 can be located using the card catalog in our reading room.