Threefold Pattern of Prayer


Daily Prayer 

Written by Bishop Poulson

Reflections On the Threefold Pattern of Prayer

Lent 2021

To the seventeenth – or indeed nineteen-century lay [person] the Prayer Book was not a shiny volume to be borrowed from a church shelf on entering and carefully replaced on leaving. It was a beloved and battered personal possession, a life-long companion and guide, to be carried from the church to kitchen, to parlor, to bedside table; equally adaptable for liturgy, personal devotion, and family prayer: the symbol of a domestic spirituality.” (Martin Thornton “The Anglican Spiritual Tradition”) 


The Habits of Discipleship 


One simple way to describe basic Christian practice is: Pray, Learn, Serve, Connect. This isn’t my original insight, but a model that’s been around, in various forms, for centuries. 

Christians who take discipleship (patterning our lives after Jesus and his teachings) seriously pray and worship regularly. They are always learning more about the faith, especially through immersing themselves in the Bible. They serve and advocate for the vulnerable, both through various ministries of the Church, and in daily life in their families, workplaces, and communities. And they connect with others: with fellow Christians, the vulnerable, and all people, wherever they may be.

This basic pattern of faith can get expanded upon in a whole range of ways to include other essential practices. For example, proportional giving (tithing) I would fit under “Serve,” confession and repentance under “Pray,” and evangelism under “Connect.” But I like how memorable and succinct the model is: Pray, Learn, Serve, Connect.

We all tend to gravitate to some practices over others. Learning may come easily, but serving less so, for example. But my sense is that, if individual Christians and congregations consistently cultivate ways to Pray, Learn, Serve, and Connect, we will be more likely to love God and our neighbor, and open our hearts to God’s abundant grace in our lives.

Our Grounding in Prayer in the Anglican Tradition


It all starts with prayer (in which, for these purposes, I include worship). Prayer is what grounds the Christian life. It is the core habit through which God forms us, over time, and encourages us daily to do the work God calls us to do, as the baptized. For example, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, amidst his draining and dangerous struggle for justice, was known always to keep his discipline of daily prayer, of the Daily Office and Eucharist, no matter how busy he was.

To understand how Episcopalians pray, we look to our Book of Common Prayer. There are many liturgies for special occasions in our prayer book. But the basic, most frequent pattern is clear, and takes up a large portion of the book, including the Psalter: (at least) weekly Eucharist, and the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. In the 1979 Prayer Book’s emphasis on the Eucharist, though, it sometimes seems as if we have, in many congregations, lost the pattern of the Daily Office, which was always intended (going back to the first Book of Common Prayer) to be a regular pattern for lay people and clergy alike.

Are the Eucharist and the Daily Office the only ways to pray? Of course not, but they are our ways, at the center of our devotional practice in the Anglican tradition. There has always been plenty of room for other, additional practices of prayer to go alongside the other two: the rosary, centering prayer, lectio divina, stations of the cross, icon prayer, walking prayer, journaling and so many more. And indeed, our prayer book itself gives us other, brief prayers from the monastic tradition that we can also incorporate into our daily routine: Noonday prayer, and Compline.

Taken together, this, then, is the ancient Threefold Pattern of Prayer: Eucharist, the Daily Office, and Personal Devotions. It’s a very old idea, found in our Book of Common Prayer, and yet not often taught or emphasized.


The Threefold Pattern of Prayer: Eucharist, the Daily Office, and Personal Devotions


Of the three aspects, the Daily Office is usually the most challenging to pursue. Most Episcopal congregations offer (at least) weekly Eucharist. And our personal devotions are enormously varied and flexible both in what we choose, and in how and when we use them.  But it is the rare Episcopal congregation that offers daily Morning and Evening Prayer (or even one or the other, on a few days each week).

In many provinces of the Anglican Communion, at least the clergy are required to pray the Daily Office. But in the Episcopal Church, these days, it is barely encouraged in many dioceses. That is a shame, because, if the priest or deacon is praying the Daily Office, it is easy enough to invite others to join, and to make it a regular part of the public worship schedule, in person and/or online.

It has been said, wisely, that to pray and to teach others to pray is the most important duty of the clergy, for from that prayer practice, by God’s grace, everything else will follow. Even if our Daily Office prayers are, by necessity, said on our own, whether with a book or on a mobile app or with a prayer podcast, we are never alone. For we are joining in the prayers of the Church around the Anglican Communion, in many other denominations, and down the ages in the communion of saints.

In my experience, the Daily Office is rarely exciting. Often it feels like work, like any other discipline. But its daily and seasonal rhythms have shaped me more, perhaps, even than the Eucharist. This habit pulls me out of my own selfish concerns, anxieties, and thoughts. As Eleanor McLaughlin writes, “Why the Office? For all the old reasons. It is the Church’s prayer; it ensures that every form of prayer will be part one’s daily life – thanksgiving when there is apparently nothing to be thankful for, adoration and praise when the circumstances of life at the natural level invite only tears.”

The Daily Office, through its extensive two-year lectionary, also guarantees an immersion in the Scriptures far beyond what the shorter Eucharistic readings provide. We read something like 80% of the Bible in the Daily Office, with the Gospels more frequently, and all the psalms monthly (in the 30 day cycle, which I prefer). Praying the Daily Office is its own Bible reading plan.

And so, my invitation is for every priest, deacon, and lay person in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma to consider taking up the Threefold Pattern of Prayer. Commit to not less than weekly Eucharist. Rotate through a variety of personal devotions. And pray the Daily Office. It takes about 45 minutes total to pray Morning and Evening Prayer daily in their complete form. Less if you need to abbreviate them. The shortest form, Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, can be done in under ten minutes, in a pinch.
Pray with others, if possible. Do what you can, prioritize it in your daily schedule. And if something comes up, and it’s impossible, don’t be hard on yourself. Find what works for you. And if you’re able to follow this threefold pattern, the chances are good that God will use it to change your life, as God has used it to change mine.

+Bishop Poulson, OA




In much of my thinking about the Threefold Pattern of Prayer, I am indebted to the work of the Reverend Martin Thornton, and especially to that of the Reverend Robert Gallagher, OA.   For more, click here. 


“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”: Reflections On the Perseverance of Prayer 

Spring 2022

Click below for a new prayer teaching from Bishop Poulson. 

“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”



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