By Robin G. Jordan
The doctrine of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Book of Common Prayer is not its only shortcoming. It suffers from a number of other drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some of these drawbacks.
Among the various drawbacks of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book is that its rites and services contain a number of superfluous elements that should have been made optional or omitted entirely. These elements do not add to the solemnity of the rite or service but make it tediously lengthy. They suggest that the drafters of the rite or service were unfamiliar with the important liturgical principle that less is more.
One of the characteristics of the early Roman Rite was its leanness. It contained only what was essential. It was sparing in its use of language as well as ceremonial. It embodied what the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic liturgical documents characterize as a “noble simplicity.”
Its leanness and simplicity is what commended the Roman Rite to the Low German tribes that embraced Christianity after invading the British Isles and establishing what would be called England, or Land of the Angles. The Angles were one of the invading tribes, which included the Frisians, Jutes, and Saxons.
While the Low German tribes accepted Christianity largely through the efforts of the indigenous Celtic Church, they found its discipline far too austere and its liturgy far too florid and prolix for their taste. The worldliness of the Roman Church and the spareness of its liturgy and to a lesser extent the claims of the Bishop of Rome to be the successor to the chief apostle Peter would eventually lead them to switch their allegiance to the Church of Rome.
While the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy has made references to early Church models in its public statements, the influence that is discernible in the rites and services themselves is high Medieval and later. By the late Middle Ages the Roman Rite was had incorporated a number of features of the Gallican Rite and was much more complicated and elaborate than it had been in Anglo-Saxon times. The liturgical ideas of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Ritualists are also discernible. They would produce what is collectively known as the Anglican Missal and would influence the revision of a number of Prayer Books during the first half of the twentieth century. The influence of the post-Vatican II Roman Rite is discernible too. While the 1662 BCP has been cannibalized for texts for the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book, its doctrine and liturgical usages are not evident.
Since the nineteenth century the Anglican Church has, in some quarters, been marked by a proclivity for ostentatious display and spectacle. Recognizing the English people’s love of pageantry, the nineteenth century Ritualists sought to capitalize upon it, turning the gatherings of the Church into sensory extravaganzas—incense, colorful vestments, banners, processions, and torches—what the nineteenth English evangelical bishop J.C. Ryle describes as “sensory worship.” While the Ritualists claimed that this style of worship attracted the poorer classes to their churches, the accuracy of this claim is debatable. In some parishes it may have but in most parishes it attracted the privileged and the wealthy.
In churches in which the clergy have been influenced by this style of worship, the services are apt to be overloaded with extraneous elements not only on church festivals but also on ordinary Sundays. As a result they tend to be quite long. Visitors who are unaccustomed to lengthy Prayer Book services experience them as tedious and boring. They may also have the same effect upon the younger member of the congregation. They did when I was a teenager and the attention spans of today’s youth are much shorter than my generation.
The way that the rites and services of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book are constructed, not only reflects the influence of this style of worship but also caters to the clerical tendency to adorn the rite or service with unnecessary devotions.
In his article “Easter Checklist: Helping People Feel Welcome” Rick Warren offers these two pieces of advice for Easter services.
Look for ways to save time during the service. Most of your guests have short attention spans. Have the components of your Easter service written down for your team, with an expected time for each element. Trim that time as much as you can.This is good advice not just for Easter services but also ordinary services. However, it is difficult advice for churches using the rites and services of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book to follow. Its rites and services were not constructed with much thought to who might be visiting on a particular Sunday or occasion. The form of the Holy Communion, for example, contains several lengthy blocks of unrelieved text during which the congregation is expected to kneel, one of the worst features of the older Anglican service books. This points to another drawback of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book. It was designed not for the twenty-first century but for an earlier time.
Keep your public prayers short. Unchurched people can’t handle long prayers. Their minds wander.
The style of worship which the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book promotes is one that only cathedrals and large churches which have ample resources are able to pull off. Their style of worship historically has tended to be seen as the standard for all churches in the province and the diocese irrespective of their size. The result is a standard of worship that is impracticable for all but the larger churches.
Churchgoers who have acquired a taste for this style of worship develop unrealistic expectations about how a church should worship. This in turn has a detrimental effect upon churches that cannot meet these expectations and offer them the “sensual worship” to which they have become accustomed. Their attachment to this style of worship has what may be described as an addictive quality. They may experience actual psychological discomfort when their expectations are not met. They may visit but after one or two visits decide to go elsewhere.
To this day I recall the apology an elderly lady offered me after church almost thirty years ago. I was the senior lay reader of a storefront Episcopal mission. “You all are very nice people,” she told me, “But the service today just didn’t feel like church.” After exploring with her what she meant, I referred her to my former parish where she would find what she missed. We did not offer the kind of worship that she had become accustomed to as a lifelong Episcopalian. I must point out that we were a growing church and were attracting people by the droves. But we lacked the ambiance that she associated with “church.”
What makes matters worse is that this particular style of worship is not an essential element of the Christian faith and is, as I have already noted, an acquired taste. It can create a barrier to hearing the gospel for unchurched guests since they may be unused to it and as a consequence put off by it. It also can have negative associations in the minds of these guests.
When a church adopts a particular worship style because it is the church members’ preference rather than consider what would be best style of worship to reach its ministry target group, the church is putting ecclesial preferences before missionary engagement. The 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book in favoring not only a particular form of doctrine and practices but also a particular style of worship encourages this tendency. The use of the book may prove to be a significant obstacle to reaching the unchurched population of a large area of North America.
The combination of an impracticable standard of worship and the unrealistic expectations of churchgoers can greatly tax the limited resources of small churches. They do not have the people, the worship setting, the ecclesial paraphernalia, and the other resources to pull it off this particular style of worship. The result is what Bishop Michael Marshall describes in his book Renewal in Worship as “a kind of Monty Python version of worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminister Abbey, or The National Cathedral in Washington!” It is not the kind of worship experience that leads visitors to conclude that a church takes the worship of God seriously. This conclusion is one of the reasons that formerly unchurched people have given for starting to attend a church.
One of the reasons that a church may be small is that it adopted the wrong style of worship for the community or neighborhood in which it is located. This happened to a number of Anglican churches that were started in the 1970s. They were wed to an older Anglican service book—the 1928 Prayer Book—and to a particular style of worship. In some communities and neighborhoods this combination resonated with the local population. They were able to attract other residents of the community or neighborhood beside disaffected Episcopalians like themselves. In other communities and neighborhoods it did not. The only people that they were able to attract were disaffected Episcopalians who shared their preferences.
Episcopalians who have fled the Episcopal Church since 1970s have exhibited different preferences. Some had an affectionate regard for the 1928 Prayer Book, others have never used the book and do not have the sentimental attachment to the book that older Episcopalians do. The latter have tended to form new congregations of their own rather than join the older congregations. For a variety of reasons they do not feel an affinity with these congregations. They may not be attracted to the often rigid traditionalism of the older former Episcopalians. They may have been influenced by the charismatic and Third Wave (or Vineyard) movements that had an impact on segments of the Episcopal Church from the 1960s on. They may have a different view of the ordination of women.
The lack of interest that these later Episcopalians have shown in the older Anglican service book has been the sounding of the death knell for these older congregations. As the number of disaffected Episcopalians who formed their base has shrunk so have these older congregations. They have not come to terms with the harsh realities of the twenty-first century.
Except for a few literary and theater majors at the local university, most young people do not understand the language of the 1928 Prayer Book or the King James Bible, which is also used in these older churches. Moreover, except for those whom I have mentioned, they show no interest in learning it. Like Latin, it is a dead language to them. The foreign exchange students who take English literature classes struggle with its archaic vocabulary and grammar. They do not see the connection with modern English, which for them is challenging enough to learn.
Those Episcopalians who broke with the Episcopal Church in the opening decades of this century and who adopted the 1928 Prayer Book and the style of worship under discussion tend to blame the community for their own shortsightedness. They are not willing to admit that they should have sized up the community before they settled on a service book and a style of worship. If they had taken the time to exegete the community and to tailor their worship to the local population, they might be enjoying greater success at reaching the unchurched in the community. They might have pared down the Prayer Book services, used a modern translation of the Bible, and made greater use of music that resonates with the local population. They might have foregone the high altar against the east wall and settled for a freestanding communion table. However, they put their own preferences first and are experiencing the consequences of this self-indulgence.
I do not remember where I read the following observation but it is one that North American Anglicans should take to heart. The mission of the Christ’s Church is not to propagate a particular style of worship, a particular service book, or a particular set of practices. It is to spread the gospel, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them what Christ has commanded. If our style of worship, our service book, or our practices do not genuinely serve that mission, we need to replace them. The Church’s mission comes first. Our preferences are secondary.
The same combination of an impracticable standard of worship and the unrealistic expectations of churchgoers to which I referred earlier can create all kinds of problems for new church plants. This is one of the reasons why planting a new church with a core group or nucleus form an existing church may be one of the more difficult methods of planting a new church. The members of the core group or nucleus have pre-conceived ideas of “church” These ideas, however, may be “more of a missionary liability than a gospel-engaging asset.” Rather allowing conditions on the ground to inform how the church worships, they will want put their own worship preferences first. In doing so, they may erect barriers between the new church and the ministry target group that the new church was ostensibly planted to reach.
The 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book feeds into this dynamic. Its underlying philosophy reflects the kind of thinking associated with what Jeff Christopherson describes as “the self-indulgent church” which prioritize “ecclesial practice” over “missional engagement.”
The rites and services in the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book are far more elaborate than they need to be. As I noted earlier, this may be attributed to a lack of appreciation for the important liturgical principle that less is more. However, another contributing factor appears to have been a desire to elevate the role of the clergy as ministers of the sacraments and dispensers of sacramental grace in the eyes of the congregation. This is done at the expense of those whom the churches using the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer might have reached with the gospel if its rites and services were simpler and shorter.
The same rites and services do not appear to be constructed with much attention to the needs of smaller congregations, particularly those meeting in non-traditional worship settings. As well as lacking simplicity and brevity, they lack flexibility and adaptability. The commissions that compiled 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books to some extent recognized this need when preparing those two service books. However, the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force appears to have been solely interested in developing rites and services that are impressive more than they are practicable.
Along with the need for doctrinal continuity with the Articles of Religion of 1571 and The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Archbishop of Sydney’s Liturgical Panel was attentive to the need for simplicity, brevity, flexibility, and adaptability when they prepared Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings (2012), a development and expansion of the Liturgical Panel’s earlier work, Sunday Services (2001). Both Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings and Sunday Services were developed for use alongside the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book (1978), and A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). The 1662 Prayer Book is the official Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Australia and An Australian Prayer Book and A Prayer Book for Australia are collections of authorized alternative services to the 1662 Prayer Book services. Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings is a modification of the last two service books allowed under the provisions of the canons authorizing the two books. It is presented to the churches as a resource for gospel-shaped gatherings in the evangelical Anglican tradition.
I have reviewed the final revised draft and the hardback edition of Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings and while the final revised draft and the hardback edition have some minor differences, my overall impression of the book is that it is an excellent resource for North American Anglicans committed to remaining faithful to the Holy Scriptures and historic Anglican beliefs and practices and serious about fulfilling the mission of the Church. The final revised draft is online. The hardbound edition can be purchased from Christian Education Publications and Koorong.Com. The e-book edition can be purchased from Itunes, Apple,Inc. While developed for use on the Australian mission field, Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings is exceptionally suited for use on the North American mission field, in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately it has not been translated into Spanish, Nahuatl, Yucatec Maya, or Mixtec; otherwise I would recommend its use in Mexico.
Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings is not a complete service book. It does not include a catechism, ministration to the sick section, a psalter, or ordination services. Modern English versions of the Prayer Book Catechism are found in An Australian Prayer Book and A Prayer Book for Australia along with prayers for the sick, forms for confession and absolution, forms for communion of the sick, psalters, and ordination services. bettergatherings.com provides additional resources for use with Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings The website also explains the theology of Christian Assembly behind Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings
While Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings is described as a resource for gospel-shaped gatherings in the evangelical Anglican tradition, its church services and other gospel-shaped gathering are not wed to any particular style of worship. While Sydney Anglicans might cringe at the idea, they can be used with a charismatic style of worship—uplifted hands, body movement, spontaneous praise, and that sort of thing. One sees that style of worship in a restrained form in non-charismatic churches in the United States as well in a more exuberant form in charismatic and Pentecostal churches. They can also be used with a style of worship which, while it is not Catholic in doctrine, incorporates a number of practices which are historically associated with Catholicism but which have found their way into a number of mainline Protestant churches. These practices include simple, unadorned eucharistic vestments; freestanding altar tables, seasonal altar and lectern paraments, candles, and restrained ceremonial.
In any event the primary factor in determining what style of worship should be used with its church services and other gospel-shaped gatherings should be the specific ministry target group that the church is seeking to reach with the gospel and not the preferences of the congregation. I learned that lesson over 30 years ago: Taylor the worship of a church to its circumstances. This particularly includes the local population.
Jesus calls us to be fishers of men. As every fisherman knows, if you want to catch fish, you must use the right tackle and the right bait. You must fish at the right time of day and in the right place. Most of all you must know the habits of the fish that you are trying to catch. It also does not hurt to have a measure of good luck.
In southeast Louisiana where I spent a good part of my adult life it was not an uncommon sight to see someone fishing with a cane pole wherever there was a river, a pond, a lake, a creek, a canal, or a bayou. People of all ages went fishing—little kids to old grandmas. Those who fished a lot picked their spot, their bait, and the time of day they went fishing. They would go home with a bucketful of fish.
Surprisingly you can sometimes catch more fish with a cane pole than a fancy rod and reel. It depends upon what you are fishing for.
Those who did not know any better would plump down at any old spot and fish with any old bait at any old time of day. They might, if they were lucky, go home with a fish or two in their bucket. They also might go home with a bad case of sunburn and covered with mosquito bites. But they would figure that they had done the right thing because of the tiddly little fish swimming around in their bucket.
Unless they were absolutely heartless, their friends who fished at the right spot with the right bait at the right time of day and went home with a bucket full of fish would say nothing. Their friends might compliment them on their catch and offer them something for their sunburn and skeeter bites and maybe a cold beer.
However, if these poor fellows were ever going to learn how to catch fish, someone eventually decided to sit them down and put them straight. They might not have wanted to hear it. They might not have listened. But someone took the trouble to explain the right way to catch fish to them. Now if they didn’t catch fish, it was their own fault.
To my mind congregations that use the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book are like these poor fellows. They are heading for the wrong spot with the wrong tackle and the wrong bait at the wrong time of day. But they are going to think that they have done everything right because they catch a fish or two by a stroke of good luck. They will never realize that they could have caught many more fish if they had used different tackle and bait and picked a different spot and time of day.
They may not appreciate me yelling after them, “That aint the right tackle and bait for the fish you’re tryin’to catch. You’re goin’ to the wrong spot at the wrong time of day.” But if they don’t catch anything, it won’t be my fault. It’ll be their own. I tried to tell them but they wouldn’t listen.
The different working groups of the Prayer Book and Common Worship Task Force may have devoted a lot of time and energy to the various sections of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book. But it is still the wrong tackle and the wrong bait for most of the fish swimming in the waters of the North American mission field. It makes no sense to use the book when the right tackle and the right bait is available.
The mission of the Anglican Church in North America is not to please its leaders. It is to obey the Lord Jesus Christ and fulfill the great commission. For the task of fishing for men to which our Lord calls his disciples, clergy and congregations must use what is best for the task and not what denomination leaders, for reasons unrelated to that task, want them to use. It is to the Lord that they must give a final accounting and not to these leaders. The leaders will have to explain to the Lord why they did not ensure that the clergy and congregations under their care were provided with what was best for the task.