Monday, October 6, 2014

Chloe's pink slippers are very fluffy (3 of 3)

(The first two posts in this series are here (1) and here (2). This post makes much more sense if they are read first.)

What is the future of agreed, common prayer in the life of ACANZP?

This question, I suggest, is at the heart of synodical decisions made since the introduction of the NZPB in 1989 as well as present attempts to clarify confusions and reign in unchecked diversity (Chloe's fluffy pink slippers).

In support of continuing to work on agreed, common prayer and to conduct worship according to our agreement together are powerful arguments. These include:

- safeguarding faithful expression of our doctrine: we pray what we believe and believe what we pray. Licence to individual expressions of worship lead all too quickly to esoteric doctrines and eccentric practices;
- identifying who we are as a distinctive gathering of Christians: Anglicans follow an agreed, common liturgy.

In the extreme case of removing common liturgy from our worship services, why would we call ourselves 'Anglican'? There is a point in Anglican liturgical life where the service we offer, whether more Roman than Rome or blander than the blandest set of 'songs with a sermon', cries out for honest declaration, 'We are no longer Anglican!'

But there is a 'but'. Across many parishes in ACANZP there is a crisis which I describe in this way: with a few exceptions, fewer and fewer people under the age of 50 attend services which follow the prayer book.

This is not to say that under 50s attending popular Anglican-but-where-is-the-prayer-book? services are attending illegal services - the point has been well made previously here and @ Liturgy that our current rules not only allow a bendy bus to be driven through them but do not mind if the bus is a double-decker or has a troupe of contortionists for passengers. But it is to say that if we tightened our rules we might constrain ourselves to a liturgical place few younger people would choose to go to.

Picking up a well made comment to my previous Chloe post (by Simon, here), there are many possibilities for doing better what we currently do when we are following NZPB, so that tightening of our rules need not constrain ourselves to liturgical unpopularity with younger generations.

My personal 'top' suggestions are:

- train ourselves in following minimal requirements of p. 404 (remember, every 'may' is something we do not need to do) in order to maximise the 'service time' available for things which connect with younger generations (e.g. songs, testimony, sermons delivered collaboratively ... even, though personally it is not my 'thing', having a coffee break in the middle);
- (adjust our rubrics to) advance the shortest 'full' eucharistic prayer in NZPB (p. ) to the status of an alternative eucharistic prayer for use with p. 404;
- work on sermons ... is each sermon I (or you) preach worth a person coming to church in its own right (whatever is going on with the rite!)? If the sermon alone was worth coming to church for AND if the service (without sermon) was worth coming to church for I think we might see greater regularity in attendance. [Note for overseas readers, a common complaint of ministers across denominations here is the irregularity of attendance at Sunday worship: '3 out of 5 Sundays' is the new 'regular'].

The above comments, however, are largely about being faithfully Anglican in communities generally willing to be faithfully Anglican.

While I have not visited the congregations Bishop John Bluck visited and which catalysed his Chloe's pink slippers remarks, I wonder if some of what he experienced involved ministers exploring edges of worship in the missional reality of today's largely disinterested in traditional Christianity Kiwiland.

The crisis of our congregations being mostly older folks is not just a crisis of liturgical worship not keeping up with changing expectations of younger generation Anglicans. It is part of the crisis of Christianity, of the gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Are our current and possible future revised liturgical rules adequate for our mission?

In a day when we are talking 'Fresh Expressions', 'Pioneer ministry,' working on church plants for new housing developments, ways and means to reach new immigrants to our islands, we are arguably closer to the days of the apostles than we have been for a long time.

In apostolic times, let us remember, the apostles constantly developed new strategies for reaching unreached peoples, translating the gospel into new languages and making up liturgies as they went along (albeit anchored into the single command of Jesus, 'Do this ...').

If we are serious about mission in NZ today we need - IMHO - to reckon with the possibility that Anglicans in mission will change what 'Anglican' means in respect of liturgy.

In part that is because in the present crisis of the gospel we are being pressed to offer the gospel in a language (or languages) which bears no relation to the 'Anglican' dialect: to communicate the gospel in a mode which is heard today in many contexts is likely to involve jettisoning of Anglicana (which, let's face it, is well shaped for Christendom and struggling in a post-Christendom world).

Just as missionaries re-imagine the gospel and consequentially the church in cultures foreign to the missionaries, so Anglican missionaries to cultures 'foreign' to the culture of our upbringing may, even must require re-imagination in the 21st century.

If so, that raises the question what kinds of liturgical rules should govern mission pioneers developing fresh expressions of being church in rapidly changing cultures (and sub-cultures).

Perhaps there shouldn't be any rules!

But whether there should or shouldn't be rules to follow as new churches are developed, I suggest we desperately need to consider some formal means of saying, 'this is the shape of a new form of being Anglican in a post-Christendom world' alongside revising present liturgical rules to clearly articulate what being Anglican in close continuity with Anglican heritage means today (shaped in Christendom).

If this were 1998 and I were voting in General Synod again

I would vote for the change to the rubrics on p. 511 I voted for then. But my reasoning would be less focused on providing for flexibility in current Anglican worship and more focused on enabling the church to adapt to the coming day of 'new' churches.

What I am not saying!!

I am not saying that Anglican liturgists in Anglican settings (most services currently in most churches) should have complete flexibility to do what they see as right in their own eyes. Not at all.

In those settings we can and should not only obey current rules, but seek to honour God and God's people by doing liturgy well, faithful to our agreed, common prayer. We should do better than our current messy rules provide for!

Congregations should not be 'victims' of the individual whims of liturgists as they cross a word out here and add a phrase in their to suit their 'uncommon' disagreement with the common, agreed prayer of our church.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong at all with well led, well prepared liturgy according to Anglican custom and tradition when Christians gather intent on continuing to worship in the great tradition of the church.

What I am asking

In crossing new frontiers in mission (post modern, 21st century, Post Christendeom, secularist-yet-spiritual, etc), do Anglicans in ACANZP have the liturgical rules which serve that mission?


Jean said...

Sorry wrong link in last post:

liturgy said...

Thanks, Peter, for this series. We are very much on the same page – in the same paragraph even.

Starting planning a service from the skeleton of only the ‘musts’ (all the ‘mays’ removed) is the normal liturgical advice I give. Less is more. Non-verbose Eucharistic Prayers are allowed within the p404 context because of p511.

I think a collection of agreed essential texts is a positive thing. [If we are going to use a creed, for example, these are the options. Why should I, in the congregation, suddenly be required to affirm a statement the worship leader had constructed, or got from somewhere? I was recently at a service where the priest had adapted the Prayer Book absolution rather than using it straight. Rather than feeling absolved, I was distracted by what he had found personally so objectionable in our agreed text, which he vows and signs up to, that he would alter it in the manner printed in his leaflet. Etc]

We have inherited objects and practices that worked in another context and need rethinking context by context. When a vicar is proud to have finally replicated cathedral-style worship in his small, rural church building, I am not so convinced that this is what we should be aiming for. I think that is what springs to (too) many people’s minds when thinking of the word ‘liturgy’. When I think of the word ‘liturgy’ I think just as readily of a couple of people praying together in a flat in the morning sitting on a couch.

I would dig behind the word ‘Anglican’ and ‘liturgy’ (and ‘evangelical’). When two or more gather for prayer, we Christians say ‘Amen’ to another’s words. We sing words that someone has put together for us. Etc. That is what liturgy is – we tend to separate it off as something different, and when we do so we struggle to make liturgy worship.