The General Thanksgiving prayer:
ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; [*particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them.] We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
Once a staple of the daily offices of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, the General Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved prayers in the Prayer Book. The prayer was authored by Bishop Edward Reynolds (1599-1676), the only Puritan to accept a Bishopric at the time of the Restoration. His was an irenic soul assigned to run its course through a turbulent, violent age.
Recognized early in his career as a gifted preacher, he succeeded John Donne at Lincoln’s Inn when he was but 23. He was a conformist Puritan, a loyal churchman who accepted the legitimacy of the Established Church and Prayer Book. In the Civil War he threw his lot with the Roundheads, yet he was ever a moderating influence among them. He sat in the Westminster Assembly, which revised the Articles of Religion into the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechism, composed the Preface to the Directory of Public Worship, and opposed (though unsuccessfully) banning the use of the Book of Common Prayer. While he accepted the legitimacy of Presbyterian church government, as he had the Episcopacy, he never assented to the claim that it was the only divinely authorized model. As a faithful pastor, he was widely regarded as the greatest preacher of his day.
He was a member of the Parliamentary deputation sent to persuade Charles II to adopt a moderate policy upon his return. After the Restoration, Charles appointed Reynolds one of his chaplains and later Bishop of Norwich. He accepted the office only after making a public declaration that the Bishop is chief-presbyter and should govern the diocese with (rather than over) his fellow-presbyters. As bishop he was noted for his tolerance towards dissenters and his great generosity towards the poor.
The General Thanksgiving, which he composed, was included in the restored Prayer Book (1662) at the request of the Puritans, who felt the public liturgy lacked enough prayers of thanks. It is common, among Episcopalians in this country to use the General Thanksgiving on [the] Public Holiday of Thanksgiving, and it seems particularly apt on this national day that traces its origin to similar harvest festivals among the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England, to remember the Puritan Bishop who dressed in such memorable, beautiful language the spirit of gratitude that swells within our hearts.
-Drew Keane, St John’s Church in Savannah, GA