Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Robed Anglican mission? (1)

Cricketers are not quite cricketers in my view when they dress in clothes not coloured white (with cream sweater permissible). However the T20 and 50 over games are still cricket so I tolerate the coloured "pyjamas" worn for such occasions.

Of course fine games of cricket are played with no uniform at all - beach cricket, backyard cricket, church picnic cricket, street cricket, school playground cricket. And all cricket is good! (I don't understand why Genesis did not tell us about its creation on the eighth day.)

The question of appropriate robes and proper "to robe or not to robe" church has been batted around a bit recently. Ian Paul urged mitres tossed overboard, Catholicity and Covenanted responded, as did Liturgy, then the CofE GS changed rules re robing, to which Liturgy responded (and related previous posts are here and here).

Here I do not want to engage directly with any of those posts/news and thus I may risk repeating fine points already made. But before going further I am delighted to share the following, apposite quote and wonder if you can guess about what period in modern Anglican life it was written [answer at bottom of post]:

""...Anglican clergy were spending more time and energy debating what robes they should wear than addressing the great issues of the day and their effect upon the church's ability to fulfill the Great Commission. This was largely due to the disturbing effects of the Oxford Movement, and the increasing defensiveness among evangelicals of all denominations, in the face of the new thinking that was threatening traditional interpretations of the Bible and the inerrancy of Scripture. Evangelicals generally retreated into an obdurate and non-academic literalism that was plainly indefensible and was a set-back to evangelism among the more educated classes.""

That is, any post about robes and Anglican life should not be about robes alone but about how we fulfill the Great Commission (and what role robes might play in that fulfillment).

A first observation then is that the Anglican church may involve robes but it is not constituted by them. We are constituted by the Great Commission - by Jesus gathering the disciples together who worshipped him and received instruction to convey his teaching into the world, baptising those who responded and wished to become disciples.

Of course this commission constitutes 'the church' and all churches which are part of the one church of Christ. Our specific distinction or charism as Anglicans is that we are a church of Word and Sacrament, expressed through liturgies which themselves are faithful words expressing the gospel of gracious salvation. Our liturgies, we implicitly if not explicitly claim, protect and safeguard the gospel which we preach. In particular they safeguard the gospel from the vagaries of individual interpretation.

When our liturgies are unfaithful to the gospel of grace, or, indeed, we ditch liturgies, we are less than Anglican. The role of Synods in setting liturgies is not to maintain some "fine Anglican liturgical" tradition (beautiful and wonderful though that may be) but to ensure that our liturgies express the good news of Jesus Christ. In the spirit of the Great Commission this includes liturgies which are accessible to as many people as possible.

In sum, from this first observation: as Anglicans we are committed to liturgical worship as part of our constitution in respect of the Great Commission.

The question of robes, then, is a question of whether robes are necessitated by our liturgical worship or not. (Here I raise the question in a general way. The rubrics of the agreed, common liturgy of ACANZP are clear: priests at eucharists are to be robed. In this canonical sense, a particular answer is given: robes are necessitated in some instances by our liturgical worship).

First, we can give a descriptive answer to the question - descriptive of actual Anglican practice. In my personal experience of Anglican liturgical worship, including eucharistic worship, in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the Church of England, robes are not necessary to liturgical worship. Across such churches we have robed leadership of worship accessed by many, including young people and we have unrobed leadership of worship accessed by many, including young people. (Though in the church I know best, here in these islands, my observation is that more under 40s attend non-robed led services than robed led services). Put another way, faithful, proper Anglican church life does not require robes when viewed from the most primary foundation for church life, more primary than the 39A, the Great Commission. They are bene esse not esse of the church (beneficial but not essential).

Secondly, we can give a theological answer to the question: robes are not required by any instruction of our Lord, or by his apostles, or by any implicit requirement from the essence of great liturgy (which is to offer words for worship which are faithful to the gospel).

I want to underline the point above by noting carefully that some aspects of robing seem to draw scriptural motivation from (say) Leviticus and the wonderful robing worn by priests and attendants in the ancient tabernacle and temple. But this has nothing to do with scriptural requirement. Read Hebrews, please, and recall the once and for all, final and complete sacrifice of Christ our Great High Priest. Nothing about our worship as people of the New Covenant requires any continuation of requirements of the Old Covenant.

What we can usefully ask is whether robing is beneficial and the answer to that is a resounding Yes.
But I am out of time and I shall try to find a moment of time to elaborate that answer.

The citation above is taken from the book by Clifford Hill - The Wilberforce Connection. It was emailed to me by a friend and I do not know which page number it is taken from.


Father Ron said...

Dear Peter, so much depends on the particular tradition into which you were schooled.
My own experience is that of the Anglo-catholic tradition, which consistently expresses confidence in signs and symbols, which are never substitutes for the truths they represent but become valuable reminders of those realities of faith memorabilia For instance when I am privileged to don the Eucharistic vestments, each item reminds me of the servanthood of the Christ that the Mass is meant to bring into our experience of His Presence among His sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ.. The prayer of preparation prompts our response: "I will go unto the altar of God; even unto the God of my joy and gladness..." - "Cloth me in your righteousness, O Lord, and so will I got to your altar".

craig Liken said...

Hi Peter, having worshipped at what one would call a "low" anglican church for all my life I can't see any benefits at all in robing, so my view woud be - neither beneficial nor essential. What are the benefits in your view?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Each tradition about robing is being invited by my post to consider the importance of robing not only as a past and valued tradition but as a continuing and useful or inhibitive aid in the mission of God. In my view Anglo-Catholicism in the 21st century lacks careful theological reflection on appropriate ways to be Anglo-Catholic in the peculiarities of post-modernist, secularist Western society and is in grave danger of becoming an increasingly eccentric footnote in the history of Anglicanism.

That fate should be contrasted with the popularity of Anglo-Catholicism in the 19th century and lead to asking what form Anglo-Catholicism should take in a different era.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Craig
See part (2), forthcoming ... but I cannot give you a date for it. Possibly Monday ...

BrianR said...

"Of course fine games of cricket are played with no uniform at all - beach cricket, backyard cricket, church picnic cricket, street cricket, school playground cricket. And all cricket is good! (I don't understand why Genesis did not tell us about its creation on the eighth day.)"

Because it was saved for the New Creation at Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2.14 'Peter stood up with the Eleven and was bowled'.

(W.G.) Grace be with you.

Peter Carrell said...


Jean said...

Actually I don't very much register either way vestments or none in a worship service, I do appreciate the artistry on some stoles.

The most interesting observations, mostly in respect to the clergy collar (does that count), from reactions to my Mother have been:

A) If you walk into a shop one day with no dog collar you can be treated one way and if you walk into the same shop the next day with a dog collar you are treated far more respectfully
B) If you accidentally leave your dog collar on after a while the penny drops when people start striking up heart to heart conversations that wouldn't be everyday fare (a tool for evangelism?)

And pitfalls if you are a Priest who doesn't usually robe and then does so when the Bishop is visiting, the child's voice in the congregation, "Mum what is ... wearing today?"

Is cricket the one with the big ball or the small one?

: )

Glen Young said...

In 2010, Adam Gilchrist accepted the invitation to captain Middlesex, provided they supported the Glenn Mcgrath Foundation.We have a photo of our son under the hallowed score board wearing his uniform pink shirt taken in the break of the Middlesex v. Kent game.

Having consumed her share of the alcohol, one is allowed to take into Lords,
my wife said; "Son,I never thought I would travel half way around the world to see you wearing a pink tee shirt."

Father Ron said...

Peter, in response to yours, may I say that some people prefer drawings to paintings in the art world. Thus, the accoutrements of Catholic/Orthodox worship - to those involved in its priestly, (sacerdotal) ministry - such symbols as vestments, the use of incense etc., are part and parcel of our spiritual offering to the Blessed Trinity, first evidenced (albeit, without full knowledge of the Trinitarian concept) in the record of the building of the First Temple in the O.T.

The evangelical disdain for such aides memoire in worship evokes memories of he Puritan desecration of religious shrines and artifacts in the Civil War era in England - a time of spiritual stagnation that still affects Evangelical pietists.
The present day revival of religious shrines and the discipline of spiritual pilgrimage is redolent of a renewal of the mysterium trendems that has survived the onset of puritannical religion. Deo Gratias.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
The definitive word on spiritual offerings to God should be drawn from that great Catholic epistle writer, the anonymous woman or man who wrote Hebrews, putting the worship of the first temple in its place for ever, or at least until people began to ignore its thesis!

In any case you are not actually responding to my comment which is not about whether Anglo-Catholic worship is a lovely painting relative to a spare drawing, but about whether Anglo-Catholicism is willing to look at its style and technique of painting in order to ask whether a different style and technique would better fit the 21st century. Whatever may be happening in, say, England, there is a desperate question concerning the flourishing of Anglo-Catholicism in these islands. Is it even being asked, apart from here? Let alone answered?

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, one's habitual worship tradition is precious to the believer. It has obviously informed and shaped one's attitude towards - and experience of - the God one worships. Some seem to worship words about God while others choose to worship the Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist. How one worships is precious to them, and not, generally, subject to the latest trends in 'presentation'. Also, a particular circumstance may require a unique presentation. Who decides on what is appropriate for everyone?