Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fig-leaf Expressions

Giles Fraser, Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, London, and columnist for the Church Times, writes confidently about age-old Anglican divisions not separating even in their current 'fresh expressions'. But in the course of an otherwise agreeable [later: 'controversial'] column, he throws this remark away:

"Fresh Expressions is the latest fig-leaf for liturgical anything goes."

I think that remark is a pity because at best it is a quarter-truth. +Graham Cray, on his recent visit to Christchurch, gave plenty of evidence that Fresh Expressions includes liturgically sound Anglican services (the 'fresh' bit being in new contexts, with new congregations), and services led by Methodists, Baptists and the like (who are not bound by Anglican liturgical requirements). Further, it is not at all clear that a new congregation of new converts beginning with a flexible form of meeting together is not on the way towards something liturgically responsible. The least we can do in a brave new world of mission is to allow liturgy to emerge over time rather than impose it from the beginning.

Nevertheless I imagine that in the wilds of England somewhere some have worked out that their songs & sermon services now have the perfect riposte when the bishop's liturgical inquisitor comes investigating. "But it's a Fresh Expression." With tail between her legs, worrying about impending redundancy, the inquisitor heads back to the bishop muttering, "Oh, nothing to worry about then." A fig-leaf indeed, from Eden itself!

Naturally, if Giles were to visit New Zealand his sentence would never have entered his head! At least not until my tongue unplanted itself from my cheek.

Nor, for that matter, would his delightful previous sentence apply here:

"Some flap their hands towards an overhead projector; others throw incense at statues to the rhythms of the Roman missal."

We use Powerpoint. :)


Anonymous said...

Powerpoint is used everywhere, with the exception of St Paul's Cathedral, where a design flaw led to an absence of large white surfaces for projecting onto.
Fraser's other mistakes are more egregious:
"The Church of England is the original big tent. The idea was that those English Catholics who didn’t want to look to Rome would agree with the moderate Puritans to dis­agree about doctrine. They would concen­trate instead on worship, kneeling together in the parish church, united in common prayer. This peace treaty created the English distrust of doc­trine and -isms. These were the stuff of revolution and the Con­tinent. In our stolid empirical way, we would get on with prayer, and leave the doctrine to God."
This is complete nonsense and profoundly ignorant of history. The Church of England, as it emerged from the Edwardine (Cranmerian) and Elizabethan reforms, is liturgically and theologically Reformed (evangelical). I wonder if Fraser knows anything about Cranmer, Jewel, or Whitgift, to say nothing of the Caroline divines or the 39 Articles, or the 1662 ejections, or the creation (and persecution) of dissenters from the Established Church - something informed Americans could tell him about.
Doctrinal Latitudinarianism is a creature of the 18th century, when Elightenment ideas caught hold among some English clerics. Indeed, Deism, which became so fashionable Germany and was a root of Fraser's own theological liberalism and liberal biblical criticism, really began in 18th century England. But doctrinal indifferentism was *never* a feature of the Elizabethan settlement.
Al Mynors

Tim Harris said...

Well said Al. The historical nonsense one hears in this idealised version of Anglicanism as proudly 'theology-lite', complete with the pious sounding 'we ... get on with prayer and leave doctrine to God', is itself symptomatic of the pale imitation of church heralded by an ever increasing number of senior appointments.

liturgy said...

I am sure that in CofE there will be “plenty of evidence that Fresh Expressions includes liturgically sound Anglican services”. My fear, expressed in
is that in the NZ context, the now-already-very-trendy term “Fresh Expressions” will be used as yet another excuse to abandon our liturgical tradition. “Fresh Expressions” appears to be used as a very malleable word, meaning whatever the user wants it to mean. I will continue to contend that school chaplaincy & Tikanga Maori are “Fresh Expressions”. Peter, you will have to give local NZ examples before contending that “"Fresh Expressions is the latest fig-leaf for liturgical anything goes" is not true in our context.

I would love to be given even a single example in NZ of your “liturgical inquisitor” or of a bishop ever acting in relation to a liturgical irregularity. In NZ everything is possible. General Synod just passed a motion (number 5) that appears to alter the way we use the 200 pages in our prayer book for the lectionary. It has passed a complex bill now going to every diocese which if passed or lost will make no difference whatsoever to our liturgical life. Lots of paperwork, lots of debate, lots of words – no change.

General Synod met for the Eucharist on Ascension Day – without celebrating that Principal Feast! Only recently after General Synod had sent around a revised binding formulary which all the dioceses affirmed, that Ascension Day must be celebrated!

Fresh Expressions may not be a fig-leaf here, because we have not the slightest idea what it looks like when the fig-leaf is absent and common prayer is present. Please correct me, Peter – I struggle to think of any service where common prayer is present in our province. Maybe the confirmation component of a confirmation service might just squeak in – anyone think of anything else that would be a possible contender?



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
The general state of liturgical life in our church is one thing (which I think is not as bad as you make it out to be, involves a lot of use of "page 404" (so, really, quite a bit of 'common prayer'), and includes some good awareness by clergy of when they are and are not "using the book", so what is fig-leaf and what is not is understood). Much to be said here.

Fresh Expressions of church is another thing. For instance, I do not think that every informal liturgical service in an Anglican church which bears little resemblance to one of our prayer book services is simultaneously a claim to be a "Fresh Expression." Personally I do not see or hear of many claims that X or Y is a Fresh Expression of church: I think this is a movement which is getting going in the life of our church. The example I mentioned in the post above is actually an ecumenical endeavour so (I suggest) falls outside of arguments and counter-arguments about whether it is evidence for or against claims that Fresh Expressions of (Anglican) church is a fig-leaf for anything goes liturgically.

liturgy said...

I don’t know how bad you think I am making our liturgical life out to be – I’m similarly suspicious that your comment may be making it out to be better than it actually is :-) I know we daren’t keep statistics, but possibly this could be something for research: Of the 7 or 8 Anglican churches within about 2 km of my home, I would suggest that a couple might have a page 404 “ish” type service some time during their many Sunday services. About half probably follow the lectionary. In terms of numbers I suggest that the majority of the people would have no idea what you even mean by “page 404”, nor what I mean by “the lectionary”. So if that, for you, is a “lot” and “quite a bit” then, yes, there is “quite a bit of 'common prayer'”. I guess it depends whether you regard a third of a glass “quite a bit full”. From your original post, outsiders might get the impression that this in NZ would lead to reaction from a "bishop's liturgical inquisitor" - I'm just clarifying that the ironic tone of your original post is not clear.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I think it is more than 1/3 full!
Within 10 minutes radius of my home I could take you to twelve parish churches (plus one cathedral) where I am very confident that we would participate in at least one "page 404, or page 456, or page 476" [all authorised, canonically proper alternatives] service in at least eight of the churches. In six of those I am pretty confident we could participate in two "by the book" services in the morning. In some of the twelve parish churches the service we participated in which was not fully "by the book" might not be a eucharist service. In eight out of thirteen parish churches plus cathedral I am confident that we would find the lectionary being followed. I am not so confident about the other five following the lectionary but I am not saying they would not be ...

Now it is true that each and every one of the churches being referred to has its individual characteristics, and this one on some occasion might substitute a "foreign" eucharistic prayer for an ACANZP one, and that one might "mix 'n' match" prayers between those made available in our prayer book; thus, on any given Sunday, if we could gain a copy of all words used in each church, it might be a third or less which are saying the same thing, i.e. engaged in "common prayer".

But, overall, I am impressed by prayer book usage, and by following rather than not following the lectionary.

Peter Carrell said...

[This comment is from Bosco Peters. Unfortunately and accidentally in the moderation process I pushed the reject button instead of the publish button].

Bosco Peters writes:

“it might be a third or less which are saying the same thing, i.e. engaged in "common prayer".” Sounds like you are reinforcing, rather than disagreeing with my points.

* two thirds of your sample have “at least one "page 404, or page 456, or page 476" [all authorised, canonically proper alternatives] service”. This, already, is a shift from your original “page 404” point. But reinforces my point – our provinces authorises so many alternatives, working against common prayer. “Substituting a "foreign" eucharistic prayer for an ACANZP one” is a formulary of our church. It is an “authorised, canonically proper alternative” alongside "page 404, or page 456, or page 476". As is using any material from anywhere, or making up your own (excepting the Eucharistic Prayer has to be authorised somewhere in the Anglican Communion – of course, if it is not, and many aren’t, no “liturgical inquisitor” or bishop will ever or has ever done anything about this – still waiting for an example). Liturgical chaos is just now accepted as the way our province is. General Synod’s not celebrating Ascension Day is not even remarked upon or debated. I cannot imagine that would happen e.g. in CofE (with which this thread began) or TEC.

[to be cont'd.]

Peter Carrell said...

Bosco Peters writes [cont'd.]:

* about half of your sample “follow the lectionary”. Again, our NZ lectionary works against common prayer. eg. this coming Sunday we are provided with three completely different sets of readings: St James & St John, 17th Ordinary Sunday (with three different titles), Social Services Sunday, that’s if you are not celebrating St Christopher or using BCP or the authorized 2 year lectionary! There are only two liturgical colours suggested (sometimes the lectionary suggests 4!). So the half of your sample can all be “following the lectionary” but have totally different readings!

Peter Carrell said...

My reply to Bosco Peters comment above, in two parts, published under my name because I made a mistake when moderating :)

Hi Bosco,
Potentially our church could be liturgically chaotic, given the number of options for both services and lectionary readings available to us. In practice I wonder if we are chaotic?

My observation, more generalized than the dozen or so parishes I referred to above, is that:

most parishes when offering a prayer book service offer one of the three most popularly used alternatives (p. 404, 456, or 476);

most city parishes able to offer more than one service per Sunday morning are offering p. 404, 456, or 476 for one of those services, even if the other is a "non-prayer book" service;

most parishes follow 'the lectionary' which these days means, in practice, the RCL;

most parishes are sensible about possible alternatives re readings: I think we would find that churches named "St Christopher's" will follow the readings for that feast day, but churches not so named will not do so;

as for bishops exercising liturgical discipline: it is not the NZ way to wield the "big stick" so explicit, public examples will be hard to come by, but I think we could find examples of bishops having "a quiet word" in order to encourage liturgical order rather than chaos;

in short I am more confident than you that our church is not liturgically chaotic.

But I cannot explain why GS did not celebrate Ascension Day :)

liturgy said...

“most parishes follow 'the lectionary' which these days means, in practice, the RCL”

At the risk of sounding like a cracked record here (alluding to one of the 21 Old Testament readings offered for this Sunday in our lectionary, not counting the St Christopher’s option; ie. Gen 18:20-32) I am not as convinced as you are that most follow RCL.

It would be, again, interesting to research, but I suspect that St James & John (which comes first in our lectionary) and Social Services Sunday will get as much exposure as the RCL. Social Services Sunday is one of 38 Sundays our General Synod has authorized over RCL (not mentioning saints like James & John & Christopher). It is Social Services Sunday rather than RCL which has been pushed in our own diocese for three weeks of Anglican e-Life emails.

Like Abraham, I think I have now said enough.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I agree it would be good to have some further research ... you never know, TH might just undertake it!

Again, at risk of sounding like a cracked record, I do not think a parish choosing to observe Social Services Sunday this Sunday over the RCL contributes to "chaos". (But I agree that GS authorising 38 similar Sundays is quite unhelpful ...).

liturgy said...

“Oh do not be angry if I speak just once more” Gen 18:32

“I do not think a parish choosing to observe Social Services Sunday this Sunday over the RCL contributes to "chaos".”

Common prayer could have been maintained and enhanced in relation at least to RCL if General Synod had removed authorisation of the 2 Year Series, and the 3 Year Series (which does differ from RCL), decided that festivals like St James & John only take precedence over the RCL Sunday if that is the church’s title, otherwise they are transferred, the 38 theme Sundays like Social Services Sunday not have their own propers (readings etc) – anyone who cannot connect this Sunday’s (RCL) readings with Social Services should not be preaching – anyway Social Services can/should be another thread amongst other important ones in Sunday’s service. That way, as in TEC or ACC we would at least have some common prayer around shared scriptures.

Tell me what the collect is for this Sunday?

I wonder, Peter, whether your acceptance of our current situation as not being chaotic is based on having been immersed within it for so long that you do not have stronger expectations of common prayer. When at the seminar we attended, the American priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, mentioned arriving to preach at a NZ Anglican service to find that she was preaching on a text different from the set readings – that, here, is just a moment for laughter, not embarrassed laughter, just an “of course, what would make you think that you could know what was being read without checking beforehand” laughter. Whereas she comes from a church where the assumption is that you could. Where clergy meet weekly, across denominations, to pray and discuss the readings together. Where online commentaries, and books, and other resources are geared to enable enriching encounters with the scriptures. Where those sick and housebound can still share in the community’s hearing what the Spirit is saying to the church. Where people can be encouraged to prepare ahead in their devotional life, for what will be the readings on Sunday…

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
If we move away from chaos theory and whether I am too submersed in the life of our church then you will not find me disagreeing with "Common prayer could have been maintained and enhanced etc."