The fluff exploration starts with the imagination of Bishop John Bluck when he wrote a Taonga blog recently about the state of the liturgical nation (also known as ACANZP). A man of pure motives but writing mixed metaphors, the title is 'Tiger Country at a Church Near You' while the most memorable image is in the last lines of this citation:
"In 25 short years, we’ve shifted from being a church that prescribes forms of worship to one that lets a hundred flowers bloom and a few weeds as well.
This new-found freedom assumes a minimum level of literary and poetic skill, theological literacy and aesthetic judgement.
The latter quality is especially tricky. Without it, you end up offending, distracting and worst of all boring a congregation silly. Liturgy that trivialises and indulges ends up giving worth to ourselves rather than God. Worship ends up as therapy.
In recent months I’ve been invited in liturgies to think of God as creeping around like an undercover cop, acting like a blatant burglar, hiding in the compost under pregnant forests, cavorting happily with whales.
I’ve been encouraged to confess grave global crimes and silly misdemeanours, driven by motives that I’d never thought of. And I’ve been offered communion with words I’m more accustomed to hearing in pop song lyrics.No doubt all this is good for broadening my tastes and testing my tolerance, but I still come away feeling I’ve been asked to wear Chloe’s pink fluffy slippers rather than don anything resembling the armour of faith. "
Bosco Peters comments on the post with yet another metaphor in his title, New Container for The Genie. I urge you to read that post for important issues issuing from or related to +Bluck's interesting reflections and observations.
Here I want to take another tack, trying to get inside the mood and mode our church has been in since 1989 (the year of publication of A New Zealand Prayer Book) which happens to be quite near the beginning of my journey as liturgical leader in ordained mode (1987 onwards), a journey which has included nearly 14 years of being a trainer of ministers (a role in this context not praised by Bosco!).
My role in fluffing Chloe's slippers
Let me start with a confession, noting a point Bosco makes re the 1998 General Synod: I was part of the voting majority at that Synod in favour of the decisive change to the rubric at the top of p. 511 of NZPB.
Why did I vote that way then? Would I still vote this way now? Where do I think we need to go as a liturgical church into the middle of the 21st century? I am going to need a few posts to unpack answers to those questions!
Why did I vote that way then?
In 1998 I was the Vicar of Blenheim South. When I began there in September 1995 I inherited a recently changed morning worship pattern which had transformed 8 am and 10 am prayer book services to a 9 am NZPB service (largely attended by people aged 60+ years) and a 10.30 am informal service (mostly attended by families with young children).
Our 10.30 am service used no prayer books. We had an OHP on which we placed transparencies for songs and prayers. We followed an 'identifiable' Anglican pattern re prayers (confession, absolution, the Lord's Prayer, eucharist) but the confession was drawn from a medley of prayers in a file box, only a few of which were copied from NZPB, and the eucharistic prayer I redacted downwards (though not by much!) in order to fit on an A5 sheet of paper, distributed to each person with weekly newsheets as they arrived.
For a creed we would sometimes use the Apostles or Nicene creeds but mostly we sung a creedal statement as per the good office of a songster such as Graham Kendrick. Intercessions were largely led on an informal basis.
In short, prior to 1998 General Synods, we were acting strictly illegally, though with the support of our bishop as we and most other Nelson parishes sought to find a service medium which fitted with the changing culture of our time. To vote in 1998 for the legality of what we were doing was as easy as turkeys voting against an early Christmas!
I was not voting, of course, just so I could escape arrest by the church police!
My concern then, shared across the Diocese of Nelson and through many other parishes in our church, was that we who were proudly Anglican, appreciative of our liturgical heritage and committed to the Anglican church having a future, could explore ways of being missionally relevant and pastorally supportive of worshippers who found holding a prayer book and saying the same thing week after week uncongenial.
Some of those worshippers felt that way because they came to our parishes from other Christian traditions. But some were like me, lifelong Anglicans. Guess what? During those lifetimes, things were changing about how we felt Anglican worship should be conducted.
The 1990s were a decade in which we realised we did not need books. OHPs were in every church and even beginning to be phased out in favour of Powerpoint/projector combos. The irony of publishing NZPB in 1989 was that we could deem that to be the Year of the Begining of the End of Books Made of Paper!
Our lifetimes to the 1990s had included the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 80s. Through that renewal we realised that the Holy Spirit was as much present among Anglicans when space was given for spontaneous, unplanned, unstructured moments as when space was confined to ordered, planned, structured moments, charted by the sequence of prayers written on the pages of services composed years, if not centuries beforehand!
Our lifetimes to the 1990s also included new ecumenical appreciation of the liturgical treasures to be found in the liturgical offerings of other churches.
My vote in 1998, then, was a vote for the liturgical rules of our church to provide for and support the flexibility and informality I and my congregation needed as we charted a way forward for our worshipping community in an environment which (in my view) was already different to that which existed in 1989 and certainly was very different to the 1960s and 1970s when I, as a child then teenager, worshipped in services geared for family attendance.
Would I still vote the same way today? Where do I think we need to go as a liturgical church into the middle of the 21st century?
I will attempt to answer the first of those questions in my next post in this series.