New Zealand’s Anglican worship agreements are difficult to find – and when you find them there is disagreement about what we have agreed to. They are confused and confusing.
In A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare there’s A Form for Ordering the Eucharist (pages 511-514). It is a list of things that should be included and a framework for producing a Eucharistic Prayer – for the Eucharistic Prayer, there’s a few fixed words which we have agreed we will use, but the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer is in your local hands. The Form used to be “for particular occasions and not for the regular Sunday Celebration of the Eucharist”. But that changed – now you can use it whenever you like.
But that wasn’t flexible enough.
So General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) authorised An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist. It’s a confused and confusing template, badly misunderstanding and misexpressing international liturgical scholarship, but it allows more than the Form for Ordering the Eucharist. It allows any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion to be used here.
This year, GSTHW began the process of forbidding the use of such international Eucharistic Prayers. I struggle to understand what GSTHW thinks it is up to. The only thing that An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist added to our worship life was the agreement that we are allowed to use other Anglican Eucharistic Prayers. But GSTHW, in its wisdom, wants diocesan synods and hui amorangi to ratify that we remove that possibility but retain An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist (Statute 737). Please, members of GSTHW, explain to a slow learner like me why you didn’t simply rescind An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist? What does your suggested alternative An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist add to A Form for Ordering the Eucharist?! Other than even more confusion in our Church.
Some might think that GSTHW is beginning the process of trying to put the liturgical toothpaste back into the agreement tube – but GSTHW seems to think this is best done by increasing the number of empty unusable tubes around the sink so that we spend more time and energy trying to work out which tube is which than actually using the tube when we’ve found it. Some might think our worship pendulum has swung too far and needs to be drawn back in before it breaks off its anchor, but GSTHW seems to think that the best thing to do on our liturgical Titanic, with the iceberg in view, is to have us vote whether to bring the fork in with the course or have it already on the dining table…
Once upon a time we had one Eucharistic Prayer, memorised responses, and a single lectionary. We called it “common prayer”, and it was all found in one book, for everyone – regardless of whether they were lay or ordained. Unsurprisingly, this was called The Book of Common Prayer.
Then, we had some revision. We had one new Eucharistic Prayer, and one old one. And two lectionaries. We still called it “common prayer”. Soon there were more Eucharistic Prayers, more lectionaries, and different responses. We still referred to it as “common prayer”.
But it was not enough. Then we purposely made our responses different. But we had a limited number of options. The year was 1989.
But it was still not enough. Now we could make up everything, or borrow it from anywhere, except for, in the Eucharistic Prayer, a few words were fixed.
But it was still not enough. Now we could make up everything, or borrow it from anywhere, and use Eucharistic Prayers from anywhere else, including other frameworks for making up our own ones.
But still it was not enough. We changed our Constitution so that bishops could authorise anything that still couldn’t be done. But even then we could not agree whether
1) Bishops can authorise any rite except they must use the ordination rite as agreed
2) Bishops can only authorise rites for which no agreement (formulary) currently exists
3) Bishops can authorise any rite whatsoever, even if an agreement (formulary) currently exists. This includes bishops being able to ignore the agreed ordination rite and authorise their own rite to ordain.
And still, with a wry grin, and a bit of a grimace, we call it “common prayer”.
And, astute readers will notice, I haven’t even mentioned A Template for Anglican Worship (come in; do something; leave), nor our culture of ignoring with impunity (at every level) whatever we agree about worship at the highest levels.