Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is General Synod messing with our liturgical heads?

The question of what we may, must, or may not use in worship as licensed clergy of the church in these islands is not a debate between liturgical theoreticians who are looking for something more abstract to get their teeth into than how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Our church has canons pertaining to the ordering of worship and to the maintenance of standards of ministry by its licensed officers. Infringement of those canons makes licensed ministers liable for discipline, the consequences of which can be quite serious if one were to lose one's position as a result.

Of special relevance to the question of what services of worship clergy may, must or may not lead are the following sections in our regulation on ministry standards (Title D). Bear with me. Especially if you want to avoid the tribunal!

Title D Canon 1 Section A Subsection 4 (hereafter such references will be styled 'D.1.A.4') says this:

It is the responsibility of Ordained Ministers to lead God’s people in praise and thanksgiving to God, to ensure reverent, regular and carefully prepared divine service using the forms authorised by this Church."
Then D.1.A.11.4 reinforces the point:
"11.4 Use duly authorised forms of public worship;"
If things are not clear by now, then Title D spells out offences for which one may be disciplined. Most clergy I know manage successfully to avoid offences such as adultery, drug-taking and abusing our spouses and children. It is not clear to me however that we successfully manage to avoid tripping up here at D.1.C2.3.4:
"3.4 Refusal or neglect by an Ordained Minister to use either A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa or The Book of Common Prayer 1662 (as modified by the General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui under authority of the Constitution / te Pouhere) or any other services as are duly authorised by the Canons of this Church in the public services of this Church or to administer the sacraments in such order and form as are set forth in the said Books or other authorised services; or to use on any occasion in public Ministry except so far as shall be otherwise ordered by lawful authority the orders and forms of common prayer or such rites and ceremonies as are mentioned and set forth in the said Books or in other authorised services and therein directed to be used for such purpose on such occasion."

All of this liturgical discipline is set in train by the declarations we make when we receive our licences, the wording for which re liturgy is specified as:

"In public prayer and administration of the sacraments I will use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by lawful authority." (from Title A Canon 2).
That is, licensed clergypersons vow that they will use certain forms of service and not use other forms.* Given that these forms include two accessible prayer books (BCP, NZPB), various other services accessible from our church's website, and that within these services considerable flexibility is permitted, it would be quite a legal feat for anyone to successfully complain about a clergyperson failing to fulfil his or her vow in respect of liturgy to the point where a tribunal found against the clergyperson. Nevertheless some of us would prefer not to run the risk of a successful complaint, so seek to be liturgically law-abiding; and all of us want to honour and respect our bishops as a matter of personal integrity and our vows of canonical obedience are to them personally as our ecclesial superiors, as much as to General Synod as a somewhat impersonal corporate body.
But the observation above re two prayer books, many other forms of worship, and quite a lot of flexibility implies that we have allowed ourselves, via General Synod, to grow our collection of authorised forms of worship (to say nothing of forms which have been received, reported and even approved (should this be something different to "authorised") to a point where far from it being helpful to have lots of material available to us it is now unhelpful.

If I want to plan and perform liturgy faithfully, in accordance with the discipline of the church and in fulfilment of my vows, it is messing with my head to offer as many options as we currently have (and more are in the GS pipeline).

Further, if part of the point of Anglican liturgical life is that we pray in common as the continuing people of the Book of Common Prayer, then there is nothing 'common' about the worship of the church of a thousand options.

My final grizzle (for today). 'Common worship' in Anglican terms is the worship we have agreed across our diversity is common to us, accessible to both evangelical, broad and anglo-catholic contexts of our life. Our current processes of developing our liturgical life are geared to the commonality we share across three tikanga. That is good. But when it leads to 'authorised forms of worship', let alone material which is incorporated into our formularies (that is, the deepest level of embedding our written worship as expressing our doctrine), I think we need a different process to ensure that the breadth of Anglican theology is written into our liturgies. In my understanding we do not have that at this time.

General Synod: you mean well with all you set out to do liturgically, but I think you have agreed to too many things through the past couple of decades and are now messing with our liturgical heads.

My next post will offer the Czar's recipe for de-messification of the situation.

*What are those forms?

Recently a convenient listing was posted on our church's website (here) but also it can now be obtained @Liturgy (here or here). But Bosco Peters' has pointed out that this list for our guidance omits all reference to the Book of Common Prayer which is, as the citation above makes clear, an authorised prayer book (albeit with a few modifications) of our church. Further, this list has a major flaw when it gathers up into one section resources which have been "received by/approved by/reported to the General Synod". Our discipline is about authorised services and allowed by lawful authority services, not services which have been received or reported, and maybe not even "approved" services, though I have not time or energy right now to pursue the question whether "approved" in this context is a synonym for "authorised" or "allowed by lawful authority".


Anonymous said...

Is it two prayer books or three. The canons refer to the 1662 book -but one finds the 1928 book in use. This of course offers alternatives for the confession. The Bishops themselves led the charge to ignore the proper constitutional authorisation of the 1928 book. This to me points to the fact that the context we live in cannot be met simply by the book.

I think you are creating a problem out of a non-problem Peter. The provisions of the canons are quite adequate for reining in someone who is really going off the Anglican tracks - there is power to require conformity or else. But beyond that individual Bishops are likely to create their own ethos or more or less flexibility around liturgy. I'm quite used to a degree of liturgical experimentation by Bishops at minstry schools, often on theological or liturgical principles that do not appeal much to me.

Common prayer is all very well in highly structured and prdictable societies; but the commonality is ging to have to become more and more flexible while our society is in its present phase.

Rhys Lewis

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys,
I may be making a problem out of a non-problem ... and your bishops may be disregarding the canons they are meant to uphold!

I suggest however that there is a problem (even if it is not as big as I am making it out to be).

(1) If bishops are key to setting liturgical standards, then how helpful is that to clergy who move from one diocese to another and get a shock when moving from (say) a laissez-faire diocese to a 'by the book' diocese?

(2) Are bishops chosen on the basis of their liturgical expertise? (!!)

(3) Is it just and fair if we use the canons to constrain some liturgical experimenters and not all? If we are not going to use them to constrain anyone, should we have any canons fullstop? (That would be one definite simplification GS could make!)

Perhaps I should clarify one thought of mine: I accept that these days 'common worship' will involve some choices (e.g. the several eucharists available in NZPB) rather than the BCP's one communion service. But at least as we make those choices re NZPB we are referring to one common book. The situation we are heading towards (arguably) loosens even our shared adherence to NZPB.

Final thought: how long can Anglicanism in our islands hold together if each may do in his or her own parish what they think is right?

liturgy said...

I am so pleased, Peter, to see you embarking on this series of posts.

The liturgical “rules”, and the integrity of making promises and keeping them are, I agree with you, important – as you indicate.

I hope you will also write about the values that lead to these rules. You bring up one important value our Prayer Book is very conscious of in its development – that all of us, “evangelical, broad and anglo-catholic” can say “Amen” to worship; that all of us can pray together and declare together what is presented. This sort of rationale may help those who see no value in common prayer, and the reasons for having “rules”. There are other reasons. They are not rules for their own sake.

Christ is risen


liturgy said...

I’m not at all sure what Rhys is referring to. Can he clarify please?

In New Zealand the authorisation of parts of BCP 1928 proceeded very carefully, with a proper process. Could Rhys actually name a single NZ bishop who “led the charge to ignore the proper constitutional authorisation of the 1928 book.” Having done my thesis on this history – this is certainly news to me.

Bishops are under the authority of our agreed processes, liturgy, and rules as much as anyone else.

Peter is certainly not creating a problem – he is describing it.



Anonymous said...

Happy to clarify Bosco and on the understanding that we are all contributing with the hope of being corrected. My reference was to the English reception of the prayer book which I think wasn't authorised until 1966. The implication of my point I think however stands - that Anglican history shows that the forces within the church driving us away from narrow conformity are stronger than the desire for common prayer in the very narrow sense.
My second point is that providing solutions to some problems always carries the danger of creating other problems; do we want to be problem focussed?
My question however has not been answered. Two books or three?
Best wishes

Peter Carrell said...

Two, Rhys. BCP and NZPB. If using the "old" form and content, then BCP; if not, then we should go with what we have approved for ourselves in modern times, i.e. 1989 NZPB.

liturgy said...

Rhys, the CofE situation is atypical for Anglicanism in that it is the established church under the monarch, parliament, etc. This is the case nowhere else.

Neither Peter nor I, clearly, are talking about “narrow conformity … common prayer in the very narrow sense”. It tires me that liturgy is so easily categorised in that manner – the next step, often, is the discarding of our Christian tradition of worship.

Peter is not creating a new problem. Follow the series and the links and you will see that NZ Anglicanism formally claims that our NZ liturgy rules are “transparent, simple, and clear”. I assure you – they are not.

Let’s have some honesty and acknowledge that.

Then we can have your discussion, if you like: is this chaos the appropriate, God-willed response in our particular context, or might our worship be improved if, for example, we can address each other with a greeting without burying our heads in books or staring at a screen. Might our worship be improved if it was clear whether blessing a committed same-sex couple is as allowable as (Peter’s example today) blessing a new columbarium.