Practical Tips from a Longtime Church Pioneer
By Robin G. Jordan
If anyone has any doubts about the Anglo-Catholic leanings of the Anglican Church in North America’ Diocese of the South, I urge them to take a look at the diocesan website’s altar guild page, “Altar Guild Online.” On that page may be found the Diocesan Altar Guild Manual approved by the diocese’s ordinary, Archbishop Foley Beach, who since its adoption has become the Archbishop of the province.
The manual contains such instructions as “The Missal (Service Book) and Missal Stand should also be placed on the Altar Table.” It depicts as the standard vestments of the deacon, the priest and the bishop the vestments beloved by Anglo-Catholics. It gives as the colors of the feast days and seasons of the liturgical year those of the Roman Use. It makes no mention of the Anglican Use. It shows as the typical floor plan of a church building that of the Medieval Gothic cathedral also beloved by Anglo-Catholics and utterly ill-suited for the worship of a modern-day Anglican congregation.
While it may be argued that those who compiled the Diocesan Altar Guide Manual did not know any better, this argument cannot be used to explain away Archbishop Beach’s approval of the manual. He attended the School of Theology of the University of the South.
The manual was written for Episcopal parishes that existed in the 1950s when Anglo-Catholicism was still a major influence in the Episcopal Church. The illustrations and photos appeared to have been culled from the same period.
We are living in the twenty-first century. We have entered the second decade of millennium. The world is different from what it was in the 1950s, in the decade that followed World War II.
We live in a time that calls for a far more functional and intimate worship space than that of the Medieval Gothic cathedral with its choir and rood screen dividing the building into two worship spaces—the nave for the laity and the chancel for the clergy.
Those who gather around the Word of God on Sunday morning are not laity and clergy. They all are the people of God—the family of Christ—his brothers and sisters by adoption. Only a single room is needed to accommodate God’s royal priesthood, his holy nation.
Before the nineteenth century Cambridge Camden movement and its love affair with the Medieval Gothic cathedral the auditory church was the dominant form of church building constructed after the English Reformation. The auditory church was particularly suited to Prayer Book worship. It consisted of a single room and was fairly simple. The communion table and the pulpit were both visible to the congregation.
The auditory church was designed so that all could see and hear what was happening. Chancels were eliminated. Screens were viewed as unnecessary barriers. The seating was arranged on two or three sides of the communion table and pulpit. The pulpit was usually elevated and the communion table was often placed in front of the pulpit.
Galleries were used to increase the capacity of the building without increasing the distance between the minister and the congregation. The quire—local musicians and singers—occupied one of the galleries. A variety of instruments were played.
The communion table was covered with a “carpet”—large Jacobean type frontal that was made of the “best materials,” which fell to the ground on all sides, and which was typically crimson in color. The same frontal was used throughout the church year.
While candles were used to illuminate the building, they were not placed on communion table.
An unembroidered white linen runner was spread across the table on Communion Sundays and the minister stood or knelt at the north end of the table during the consecration of the bread and wine, only stepping briefly in front of the table to arrange the vessels containing the elements.
The auditory church gave priority to function over form. What form it took served its function—the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the gospel sacraments. A return to the functionality of the auditory church is warranted in the twenty-first century.
When the congregation is seated on two or three sides of the communion table and the pulpit, they not only can hear and see what is happening at these liturgical centers, they can also see each other. This creates and strengthens a sense of community.
Close proximity to these liturgical centers also increases the congregation’s participation in the liturgy.
Placing the music ministry team where it is not the focus of attention restores to the team its proper role of leading and supporting the congregational singing.
A substantial number of Anglican congregations will be worshiping in non-traditional settings for the foreseeable future. They will be gathering around God’s Word in living rooms, offices, community centers, fire stations, hotel conference rooms, storefronts, and school cafeterias. The following suggestions were put together with these congregations particularly in mind. They all have been field-tested.
The communion table should be light and portable. It should look like a table and not like a coffin or sarcophagus. It should be 39 inches in height. This is the best height for the congregation to see the liturgical action on the table—the minister’s taking of the bread and wine, his placing of his hands on the vessels, and his breaking of the bread.
Paraments for the communion table should be kept simple. A broad bright-colored runner that hangs down in front of the table and unembroidered white linen runner that hangs down at each side is all that is needed. The broad runner does not have to be centered in the exact middle of the table. It can be off center. Nor does a congregation need a different runner for every feast day and season of the liturgical years.
The Roman Use was never used in pre-Reformation English churches. Like English cathedrals, cathedrals on the Continent at one time had their own use which varied from the cathedral to cathedral. Pius V suppressed these uses in the fifteenth century as a part of the reforms of the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation and imposed the ultramontane uniformity of the Roman Use on the Roman Catholic Church. It was the use of the papal chapel.
Anglican congregations wishing to stay true to their heritage should adopt the Anglican Use, which is based upon the use of Salisbury Cathedral. Blue is used during Advent and Lenten Array—burlap or sack cloth—for Lent and Holy Week.
Before English cathedrals adopted their own distinctive uses, it was common practice to use best materials for major festivals and the Easter Season, second best materials for ordinary time, and Lenten Array for Lent and Holy Week. Small congregations with limited resources may opt to follow this practice or use only one runner.
For congregations that meet in non-traditional settings, a small metal folding table works well as a communion table. It can be elevated to the right height, using sections of ABS plastic pipe. A flowing Jacobean frontal that comes down to the floor can be used to conceal the pipe sections.
Nothing should be placed on the table beside the common cup, the vessel containing the wine, and the container or containers of bread, and a cushion for the Prayer Book. Additional cups may be brought to the table after the consecration of the elements.
Tall candles and candlesticks on the communion table are a distraction. They divert the eye upward to the ceiling and away from the liturgical action on the table. If lights are desired on the table, one or two glass ball oil lamps placed at one end of the table suffices. The oil in these lamps may be infused with frankincense oil so that the lamps when lit impart the fragrance of frankincense.
A simple lectern works well as a pulpit. It should be used for the reading of the lessons as well as the preaching of the sermon. Separate reading stands for the lessons and the sermon are totally unnecessary.
Accommodating traditionalists who wish to kneel for communion is a challenge in non-traditional worship settings. One option is portable kneeling benches on casters that may be locked once the benches are rolled into place. A communion station may be created for these communicants using a pair of the longer benches that will accommodate two or more people.
These benches are expensive and are difficult to store. Consequently a congregation may not want to purchase more than two.
Standing to receive communion is a far older practice than kneeling to receive communion. While Archbishop Cranmer retained the practice of kneeling, the addition of the Declaration on Kneeling to the 1552 Prayer Book was necessitated by the strong association of the practice with the adoration of the sacramental species.
If a congregation desires more color in its worship space, brightly-colored fabric can be stretched over rectangular wooden frames and hung at various points on the walls. Large panels of brightly-colored cloth may be hung from the ceiling. Solid colored wall hangings and ceiling banners may be interspersed with those with a large pattern on the same colored fabric.
Flowers may be placed in cylindrical baskets around the entire room—an acknowledgment that the entire space is sacred—not just the area around the communion table. It is where the people of God are gathered.
If vestments are worn, a good choice for the presiding minister and any assisting ministers is a loose-fitting, wide-sleeved monastic style cassock alb with no cincture. It approximates the “comely surplice with sleeves” of the 1604 canons. The minister wore street clothes under this surplice.
All liturgical ministers who wear vestments should wear the same type of vestment. There should be no distinction between those who are ordained and those who are not.
When St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Mandeville, was first launched, it had no altar guild. Rather the responsibility for preparing the Lord’s Table for services was assigned to the various families in rotation. The worship committee maintained a roster of participating families and notified each family when it was their turn. The worship committee also instructed the families in what they should do.
This system worked quite well. It was abandoned not because it did not work but because one segment of the congregation objected to the practice on the grounds that it was not “the way things are done in the Episcopal Church.”
This, of course, was not true. There is no reason that a congregation—Anglican or Episcopal—must have an altar guild.
The system that St. Michael’s used in its early days enabled children as well as adults to help make the necessary preparations for the services. It was one way to involve entire families in the life, ministry, and worship of the church.
The services themselves should be kept simple. Those who plan worship gatherings should strive for the “noble simplicity” that is characteristic of Anglican worship at its best. This entails the use of the minimum of the elements of a particular rite or service and the exercise of restraint in the use of ceremony and gesture. The liturgical principle of “less is more” should be applied in the planning of rites and services and their execution.
If Rite II of the 1979 Prayer Book is used for celebrations of the Holy Communion, the Collect for Purity may be omitted and a hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or a medley of simple worship songs sung in place of the Gloria. Singing an entrance hymn and the Gloria is too musically demanding for many small congregations. Omitting the prose Gloria and replacing it with a hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or a medley of simple worship songs is preferable to reciting it. When the Gloria is recited, it loses its power as a song of praise. It often recited in a mechanical, perfunctory manner.
The liturgical ministers should take their places unobtrusively before the Opening Acclamation. Or they may enter in procession to instrumental music before the Opening Acclamation. The instrumental music at the beginning of the service may be used to introduce new tunes to the congregation.
In a small congregation the liturgical ministers play a role in leading and supporting the congregational singing as well as the musical ministry team. Ideally they should practice the hymns, songs, and service music selected for a particular Sunday with the music ministry team. In some congregations they are the music ministry team. CDs, mp3s, and/or a digital organ provide the music accompaniment for the congregational singing. When the liturgical ministers lead and support the singing at a congregation’s worship gatherings, they should always practice the hymns, songs, and service music beforehand.
Rather than a hymn or a canticle to announce the gospel reading, a simple alleluia is recommended, for example, “Celtic Alleluia”; “Halle, Halle, Halle;” “Happy Land Alleluia;” “Honduran Alleluia;” “Heleluyan;” and “Taize Alleluia.” A simple worship song such as “Teach Us to Love Your Word, Lord” may be sung in place of the alleluia during Lent and Holy Week.
A hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or instrumental music is a good choice for gathering and presentation of the people’s offerings. It is also an appropriate time for special music. What music is used at this juncture in the service is best varied from week to week. It is a good point in the service to introduce a new tune in the form of instrumental music or a new hymn or worship song in the form of a solo or a small ensemble.
An easy-to-learn and durable setting of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Agnes Dei is Richard Proulx’s Land of Rest Acclamations, which are based on the American folk hymn tune LAND OF REST.
A medley of simple worship songs that have easy-to-remember words refrains, and repetitions is recommended for the communion time enabling the people to sing without their eyes glued to a hymn book, song sheet, or projection screen as they come forward to receive communion. The singing should not be broken off after everyone has received communion but should continue for a song or two. A final song may be selected to end the communion time with a crescendo of praise. It may be a hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or a worship song. This song may serve as the final song of the service or the final song may be sung before the Blessing and the Dismissal. The liturgical ministers may leave with the rest of the congregation after the Dismissal. Or they may exit in procession to instrumental music after the Blessing and the presiding minister or an assistant minister may dismiss the congregation from the back of the room or from its entrance. The instrumental music used at the conclusion of a service may be used to reinforce new tunes in the minds of the members of the congregation.
If a Service of the Word is a congregation’s principal service on Sundays or whenever it gathers to worship, I recommend the use of the format for Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services (1985), the format of a Service of the Word from the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), or one of the Services of the Word and Prayer from the Diocese of Sydney’s Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings. These formats are flexible and lend themselves to the use of metrical versions of the psalms and canticles and modern worship songs as well as hymns. I also recommend preaching the sermon immediately after the second reading if two readings are used or after the third reading is used. In the case of Morning and Evening Prayer or a Service of the Word, the second canticle or other song should follow the sermon and should form a part of the response to the sermon. The first canticle or other song would follow the first reading.
I do not recommend the two forms of Holy Communion in Texts for Common Prayer. They are long and wordy and lack the requisite flexibility needed for the mission field. They countenance teaching and practices that are inconsistent with the Holy Scriptures and the Anglican formularies.
I also do not recommend the orders for Morning and Evening Prayer from Texts for Common Prayer. They suffer from the same drawbacks as the 1979 Prayer Book’s orders for these offices, on which they are based. Among their drawbacks is that they are not designed for use as the principal service whenever a congregation gathers to worship. They do not permit the substitution of a form of general intercession for the Prayers and the conclusion of the office with the Lord’s Prayer, a final prayer, and the Grace. Rather it requires that if a general intercession is desired, it should be added to the Prayers, not only unnecessarily increasing their length but making various elements of the Prayers redundant.