Monday, October 26, 2009

Godly Order: ACNA and Liturgy

The following is an edited version of an article published in Praiseworthy News, the newsletter of the Church of the Good Shepherd, St, Catharines, V. 4, #3, May 2009)

The upcoming provincial assembly meeting in Texas in June at which the ACNA constitution and canons will be ratified is a reminder that we are now inevitably entering a period of liturgical reform. We are no longer tied to the Book of Alternative Services. The Green Book had to be composed so as to be consistent with liberal theology. The result was a production symptomizing the ills that would lead to the disintegration of the Anglican Church of Canada. Those of you who attended the parish conference with Bishop Malcolm Harding may remember that he quoted and spoke often of the English writer and evangelist Michael Green. Green taught at Regent College in Canada for five years and led evangelical campaigns here. Speaking here, he distinguished two groups in the church those: who prefer old wine in old skins (Book of Common Prayer adherents) and those who prefer new wine in new wineskins (contemporary language services with modern music etc. especially to reach the unchurched). Green said:
The old wine skins have an integrity. And so does the new wine. But if you try to mix the two, as the Book of Alternative Services does, the danger of splitting both is considerable. The B.A.S. does not really speak to those outside the church. I hope it was designed for them but, frankly, I think we have to confess that it is largely a failure in that respect. It doesn't speak to the outsider.... The language is infelicitous and it lacks depth...
Actually, if you look at the whole family of revisions within the Anglican communion, I'm afraid we've been saddled with about the worst of those revisions... [W]e should contend for a competent, sensitive and spiritually profound revision of the alternative services when the time comes up towards the end of the century.
The end of the century has come and gone, but the time for revision still lies ahead. I can't imagine ANiC churches still using the BAS ten years from now.

The ACNA draft Constitution and Canons contain a fundamental declaration, described as essential for membership, relating to service books:

6. We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.
Some people reading this declarayion may be alarmed at first glance that they are going to be forced to give up their current liturgies for the 1662 BCP, a book which they have never heard of, written in three-century-old language. That won't happen. The recognition of the 1662 book stems from the high regard held for it by the African primates, who established it as the standard of GAFCON worship. The 1662 book is regarded as more faithful to evangelical standards than some of its successors, particularly the American 1928 BCP. However there are only a handful of North American parishes who use the 1662 rite just as is. The whole of ACNA is not going to be forced to adopt the 1662 BCP any time soon.

Numerous jurisdictions have adopted modern language versions of the 1662 book, and it would certainly be consistent with the principles of ACNA to use experimentally a 1662-style modern language service. I compiled a list of modernized 1662 services in the Anglican communion and looked forward to reviewing them. Alas, all of them were disappointing. They do not really seem modern. They seem to modernize language that should have been kept, while leaving in place that language that needs to be modernized. A sample of these versions, the communion rite of the Anglican Missions in America, may be found here.

The ACNA Constitution inclusion of "the Books which preceded it" as the standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline includes both the books of 1549 and 1552, which stand near the ends of the Anglican spectrum of churchmanship, meaning that any orthodox liturgy ever used in the Anglican communion can been deemed consistent with ACNA liturgical standards.


Dumping the BAS would mean that we enter a time of liturgical experimentation. For those who were Anglican worshippers seventies, the idea of liturgical experimentation may bring back unpleasant memories. Never knowing when opening the church door what manner of sloppily photocopied trial liturgy one was going to be handed when o And we worshippers resist changes in liturgy, whatever dissatisfaction they harbour with the liturgy they have. Such resistance should not be disdained as mere obstinate opposition to change. Familiarity is one of the main reasons for having a liturgy. As C. S. Lewis says in Letters to Malcolm
I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same....
To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications amd complications of the service.... Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude....
Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best -- if you like it "works" best--when through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance....The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
(There is of course a contrary argument, for spontaneity and ecstatic expression on worship, which in a church with a heavy charismatic influence must be recognized as well. I believe it is possible to have a liturgical service which combines the best of both approaches. That is an argument for being very thoughtful about what we are doing, because it implies that there must also be a manner of service that combines the worst of both approaches, and if we approach the problem lazily we are likely to get it.)

ACNA has a Prayer Book Committee which is working away behind the scenes even as we speak. I doubt that there will ever be an ACNA prayer book in the sense of a book containing the entire set of permissible services in ACNA. To respect the diversity of uses throughout North America, it would have to be a Heinz prayer book with 57 varieties of eucharistic rite. There is more likely to be a book which collects revised and reformed versions of various rites which are liked by significant parts of ACNA.

Worshippers at the early service need only decide whether they are satisfied with the doctored version of the BCP rite found in the Green Book, wish to return to the original, or consider any of the other traditional BCPs from around the world.

More experimental action is more likely to occur at the contemporary language service. In looking for a new liturgy that is worthy of trial, we seek something that 1) expresses orthodox, and in particular evangelical theology; 2) is written in modern language; 3) is written to the best standard of liturgical language, combining precision with beauty, elevated and dignified, the product of the offering of all our talents including those of the mind. Condition 3 is the hard one. Writing liturgically in modern language is difficult. It is a challenge to use a tone and style that evokes a sense of the numinous in the language of the marketplace. We can only rely on the observation of C. S. Lewis that the best liturgical language results not from artificial attempts to be lofty in tone and extravagant in metaphor, but from "the prose of men who are intent upon their matter and write only to be understood."

In doing this research I have found that many ANiC churches are not only using non-BAS liturgies, but are using rites that are originally drawn from other sources and then edited and changed by the parish (i.e., the rector) itself as it sees fit. I compiled a list of 6 suggested sources of evangelical modern language liturgy, from Australia, England, South Africa and the United States. Unfortunately there are none I could personally recommend. Those of them that attempt to use "lofty" liturgical language fail at it. God placed no Cranmers on the committees who compiled those books

Another liturgy to be considered is the currently very popular Kenyan Rite, mentioned favourably by Bishop Malcolm when he was here. (It may be seen on the Internet:here) Worshippers who are not liturgically inclined often them dull and cold. The Kenyan Rite is not dull or cold. The rite satisfies many worshippers who have picky standards of liturgical form, while expressing in vivid language sheer joy in worshipping God. The rite has been used by a number of ANiC parishes. If we decide to enter unto experimentation, the Kenyan rite should be one of the rites used

1 comment:

David said...

St. Hilda's uses the Kenyan Rite quite frequently.