Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back to the Future on Liturgical Reform

I won't attempt to explain how messy, how flexible, and how far removed we are from a sound and sure notion of Anglicans being Christians who worship according to 'authorised forms of worship'. But I share here a brief paper I wrote concerning the state of things in our church.

Towards review of ACANZP’s approach to liturgy with reference to ‘common prayer’, ‘authorised forms of worship’, and theological and liturgical education of clerical and lay worship leaders:

In the mid to late 1990s our church through its ‘twice round’ procedure approved a change to the rubric on page 511 of NZPB. The effect of this was that a flexible, informal eucharistic service with minimal prescribed wording could be a regular Sunday worship service in any parish church within ACANZP without fear of incurring a charge that it was not an ‘authorised form of worship’. Later our church approved ‘the Template’ which embedded the authorisation of flexible, informal forms of worship more deeply in our legislation, notwithstanding a still later attempt by the General Synod to append some wording to the Template constraining this freedom towards conformity with the prayer book!

I was part of General Synod and a diocesan synod (Nelson) approving these changes. I welcomed the change to page 511’s rubric because at that time the Diocese of Nelson (along with many other parishes in ACANZP) was finding that a key strategy for congregational renewal (i.e. drawing in families, reducing the average age of worshippers) was the provision of a mid-morning service which was not confined to a set form of words, permitted more rather than less singing of modern songs, and enabled quick adaptation to needs of the moment (or, if you prefer, enabled worship leaders to respond to the leading of the Spirit).

Strictly speaking (in my view), especially where the mid-morning service was a eucharistic service, such services prior to the change to page 511 were not ‘authorised forms of worship’ save that they could have been considered ‘experimental forms’ approved by the diocesan. Thus the change offered a way for Anglican parishes to engage with life as it was rapidly changing in the 1990s according to canonical ordering rather than against it. (There were of course a variety of other kinds of regular services in the life of our church which were also helped in this way, e.g. the rising tide of regular Taize services).

While I cannot claim intimate knowledge of all that was going on with flexible, informal services in ACANZP in the mid to late 1990s, my knowledge of such services in the Diocese of Nelson suggested that these services were ‘responsible’ in various ways: e.g. main elements of Anglican services regularly used, including confession and absolution, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, a creedal statement or song, eucharistic prayer drawn from NZPB, and saying of the dismissal. In short, the structure and content of these services had some common, familiar elements across parishes.

Fast forward a decade: I suggest we could profitably engage in review of the present liturgical situation in ACANZP. Anecdotally, and from personal experience, I suggest that the following features of our liturgical life point to a need for review:

(1) There is less rather than more commonality across the flexible, informal services in our parishes. This has the effect of making the vicar or priest-in-charge the chief authorising agent of liturgy rather than the bishop.

(2) There is no guarantee that important Anglican liturgical elements such as a written confession prayed together by the congregation, or intercessions and thanksgivings will be part of the service. That is, taking the example of confession, flexibility has extended from using a few forms in ACANZP to using any one of a thousand forms available in print and electronic media to not having a confession at all.

(3) There is no guarantee that the content of the words used across a whole service conforms to ‘the doctrine of Christ’ as understood in ACANZP. Generally we seem to have arrived at a point where the average educational and training attainment of both clergy and laity is less high than formerly, thus where the content of words for a service are at the discretion of the clerical or lay leaders of the service (i.e. whether considering the content of prayers chosen, or self-composed, or the content of songs chosen) it is likely that the theological depth of a given service will be shallower than that invariably found in an NZPB service.

Nevertheless, there are other aspects to also weigh in review. Many parishes in our church have not followed the pathway to the ‘main’ Sunday service being flexible and informal in style and substance. They have persisted with adherence to NZPB. But here it is often observable that
(a) the congregation is generally older and over extensive periods of time fails to draw in younger families in sufficient numbers to give confidence that ‘congregational renewal’ will take place,
(b) on close inspection the content of the service bit by bit is drawn from NZPB, but such mixing and arranging of the bits has taken place that the service as a whole is not recognisable as ‘one of the services’ of NZPB, and, sometimes it is observable that
(c) the service mostly follows an NZPB service but at an important point, such as the eucharistic prayer, the presiding priest exercises the ‘right’ to substitute another prayer, perhaps drawn from another part of the Communion, or perhaps reflecting other traditions than Anglicanism! Thus I suggest also pointing to a need for review is:

(4) The general state of congregational life across our church, with special reference to aging congregations and to the prognosis for renewal of congregations.

(5) The expectations, or otherwise, that a formal service of our church will follow the order and content prescribed in NZPB for that service.

In summary: our church rightly (in my view) empowered clergy and lay worship leaders in the 1990s to respond to the needs of the time – a time which, paradoxically, began almost the moment NZPB was published – but in the process we created a situation in which the role of the bishop as authoriser of forms of worship has been greatly diminished, any sense that we might be flexible and informal according to an agreed pattern of common worship has rapidly fallen away, and any presumptions that the forms of worship composed would be to the highest Anglican doctrinal standards have been ill-founded.


liturgy said...

I am in general agreement with your paper, Peter, and would add the following comments:

You refer to “the role of the bishop as authoriser of forms of worship”. I do not think bishops have this role in our church. They may act as if they do, and even General Synod may act as if they do, but, as I understand it any departure from formularies is illegal. Our bishops do not have jus liturgicum. Certainly, explicitly, any change by a bishop to the ordinal (which I’m sure we’ve all observed) is directly contrary to the canons. The Worship Template, hence, is a significant error, illegal, and the church should have the humility to rescind it.

You make no mention of the Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist. This is a formulary of our church. It is another very poor piece of GS liturgical legislation, and we should have the humility to rescind it or amend it.

You may very well be right that those communities following NZPB are generally aging and shrinking. But that is certainly not universal. And hence, importantly, it is not causal!

Your correlating your issues with that “began almost the moment NZPB was published” deserves further exploration. The Prayer Book was launched on the church without anywhere near sufficient preparation, formation, instruction, or assistance. There is no commentary or guide book with the Prayer Book as there is in other similar provinces. You highlight clergy and worship leader training and formation has gone down hill since then. “Worship is a skill to be learned and a creative art to practise” (NZPB p. xv). It is hence to me perfectly understandable that the reform and renewal of NZPB failed in many places for lack of appropriate formation and training.

There are communities which use NZPB well and are growing and flourishing with a healthy cross-section of ages. The issue is, hence, not NZPB. I believe my book, Celebrating Eucharist, still provides many ways to think creatively through NZPB. I think the Anglican liturgical tradition has not been tried and shown to fail – I think in many places it hasn’t really been tried.

Whilst the last thing I would want people to do is approach liturgy in a pharisaic manner, legalistically, and as rubrical fundamentalists, I do note that many communities call themselves “Anglican” and their clergy draw a stipend from their diocese – but their services appear to have so little recognisably drawn from the Anglican liturgical tradition that one wonders, with perfectly good alternative denominations available, how they justify drawing an Anglican stipend and signing that they will follow the formularies. Being Anglican, surely, at the very least is an adherence to “common prayer”.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
(1) I could be sharper re'bishop as authoriser': they do not have the role of authorising forms of worship which constitute 'departures' from our formularies. I understand they do have a role in authorising (some) forms of experimental worship ... and even if I am wrong in terms of the precise wording of the relevant canon, I see bishops exercising a de facto role: 'Bishop, what do you think about this order for our Messy Church // young adults 7 pm // Taize-at-Easter-Convention service?' 'Looks good to me, but how about including an Absolution as well as Confession?'
(2) I wonder if you would agree with me that, for anything permitted and not expressly forbidden by the canons and constitution, we would prefer the bishop to be authoriser than individual clergy or lay worship leaders?
(3) Yes, did not mention the AFOE ... in part my paper is an argument for rescinding it.
(4) In my experience (limited though it is) your book has contributed greatly to what formation of clergy as liturgists which has taken place in our church!
(5) I agree that there are communities using NZPB which are flourishing across all generations.
(6) Personally I would be less robust (if I may so describe your last remarks) about clergy leading Anglican communities which barely conform to a notion of 'common prayer', while joining with you in generally working towards greater common prayer in our church. Being at our diocesan clergy conference this week has reminded me that, however we have arrived at the situation we are in, it is a complex situation! To briefly give just one "for instance": the lack of services conforming to 'common prayer' may be a less than Anglican aspect of the life of those communities and of the ministry leadership of those Anglican priests; but there are other ways in which our colleagues are vigorously and enthusiastically Anglican, not least in a willingness to join together collegially in working on a common mission led by their bishop.
(7) Final point (which will probably lead to a post down the track): a friend posed a question to me at the conclusion of the conference (which was steeped in prayer book usage: daily eucharist, MP, EP, Night prayer): 'what does 'contemporary Anglican worship' mean in relation to the prayer book?'

In the background to this question is the extraordinary nuance of our times (as I see it) whereby mid morning services in parishes (theoretically) can be judged as serious departures from the prayer book or praised as 'Fresh Expressions' of church in the 21st century!!

liturgy said...

Thanks for your response, Peter. As I said, I am essentially agreeing with you, and was adding points to what you wrote in your post. Similarly, I concur with the points you make in response to my comment. I also think there is much more work to be done on what constitutes “common prayer”. Being verbally identical constituted common prayer in the past – it no longer does so in any communion centred on the liturgy that I can think of.



Peter Carrell said...

One tiny idea comes to mind, Bosco, re common prayer in Anglican churches which are no longer common 'verbally': would we be able to develop a 'common liturgy' for the Communion(such as our page 404 with its great strength of incorporating so much from the liturgical tradition of the 'great church' through the ages) with encouragement to churches to use it at least once on Sundays ... thus our diversity might be expressed in our 10 am services, and our common prayer might be expressed at our 8 am services ...