Friday, May 25, 2012

Cleaning up the liturgical mess

A couple of posts ago I set out what I would do if I were the czar of liturgy in our church. Memo to self: you are not the czar. What then might we propose to General Synod as a corporate body to consider doing as a reaonable, modest and achievable possibility, given the messiness of decision-making which always accompanies corporate actions of such diverse bodies (unless voting for apple pie and motherhood)?

In point of fact, General Synod this July should have a proposal before it, from the Diocese of Christchurch, which it could take up as something not far removed from apple pie and motherhood, that is, a motion for GS to set in train a review of our liturgical regulations with a view to simplifying them and making them clearer for the liturgical ministers of our church. (In my experience the easiest decision for a synod to make is to not make a decision by calling for a review instead!

So what follows are some thoughts towards such a review taking place.

(1) We should take a big picture look at what kind of regime we want in place about liturgical rules. It is easy to under prescribe and to over prescribe. Generally speaking I vote for minimal prescription. The DNA of Christianity is freedom from rules while not being licentious in behaviour. Our liturgical life needs to know when it is being licentious, but does not need prescription for every eventuality. One question I am raising in this series of posts is whether we have unintentionally become over prescriptive with the decisions we have made since the publication of the 1989 prayer book (NZPB).

(2) We need to hold together two identities, Christian and Anglican. Great liturgy is not Anglican per se, but Christian, sitting within and flowing with the great liturgical tradition of global, historic Christianity. Yet we are an Anglican church with some distinctives, shaped by our English heritage and by the imprint of the Reformation, and our liturgies should give expression to those distinctives. It is my view that with our two prayer books, BCP and NZPB, we have both those identities covered, embedded down in our formularies. So a question I have is what in past twenty years or so has changed to either Christianity or Anglicanism which warrants further material being embedded down into the formularies as compared with material which is allowed for legal use?

(3) We need liturgical material which is accessible in ordinary parish life without being impractical. NZPB is a handy sized volume of material as it is. But if we published in one book all the authorised material from the years 1990 to date, would we have a handy sized book or un unweildy tome? If the answer is the latter then I think we need to take stock of what we have done!

All in all, I wonder if we should follow up a review with the following revision:

At the level of formularies we only have BCP and NZPB.

Everything else we have approved for use over the years (albeit with a little trimming like dispensing with the Template) sits in a category "approved for use", made available for downloading via the internet.

In short, we would have just two categories of material, formularies and approved for use, with the twist that we say to ourselves "and that's it for a long time to come because we have more than enough material on our books."

What about the bits and pieces of parish life where we want to dosomething and do not see where the formulary or approved for use service exists for it? Blessing a new columbarium or celebrating a new drum-kit ... that sort of thing! At some point we need to trust each other to live up to our Anglican character and identity within a clear sense of what being Christian means.

Funnily enough, this morning on Titus One Nine I came across the following words by John Paul II, from an apostolic constitution on education called Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

"“Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected. Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”"

With a little translation into Kiwi Anglican speak, this could be:

"Anglican teaching and discipline are to influence all liturgical activities, while the freedom of conscience of each liturgical minister is to be full respected. Any public service of worship of the parish or school or other ministry unit is to be in accord with its Anglican identity."

What could possibly go wrong if we lived liturgically by that?

 I suspect I have written some contestable things above ...


liturgy said...

I continue to encourage this discussion, Peter. And add a couple of points.

In speaking to significant leadership within our church I discovered there is an understanding that “NZPB/HKMA” refers not to the “handy sized book” as I had presumed, but to “all the authorised material”. The “handy sized book” is merely what has been selected by the Provincial Secretary to bind together out of “all the authorised material”. It is “all the authorised material” which technically is the formularies referred to as A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. As one long interested in liturgy this was totally news to me.

A second point: we need to intentionally train and form our clergy, worship leaders, congregations to much greater depth in liturgy. Because of the layout of the options in our liturgical resources a common way of worshipping is to recite one’s way through all the alternatives read just one after another. That is appalling! It is no wonder that “liturgical” worship is abandoned and denigrated! With such improved formation we can have greater confidence to allow the freedom you encourage.

Christ is risen!


Father Ron Smith said...

I do agree with Bosco's concern at the plethora of resources for the Celebration of the Eucharist in our N.Z. Prayer Book.

My own option has been to choose just one of the forms of service that the congregation can get to learn by heart - this is where true liturgy begins to take root. This is possibly why those who prefer the 1662 H.C. - or it's modern corollary - to 'hunting through' the various selections offered.

Seasonal variations to the 'Propers' is something different, adding sufficient variety to the celebration of Saints days and the Seasons of the Church's Year.

True liturgy needs consistency, and to hop from one to another option, on a weekly basis, is not the best way of celebrating our commonality in the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Common-Union.

Granted, each congregation may have their favourite(s), but commonality is all when we come together to rejoice in our membership of the 'One Bread, One Body, which is Christ himself.