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The Anglican Church of “or”

stephenI got an email from a worship leader whose community last Sunday used readings that included 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 and Matthew 23:34-39
This person was enquiring why my introductions referred to quite different readings.


The New Zealand Prayer Book provided kiwis the alternative opportunity for Good King Wenceslas to look out on August 3 as well as the normal December 26. The New Zealand Lectionary author has reversed this priority, and made August 3 the primary feast of St Stephen.


So on Sunday it could have been red or green, and 2 Chron 24:20-22 or Acts 7:51-60 or Gal 2:16b-20 or Gen 23:22-32 or Isa 55: 1-5 or Jer 26:12-15 or Sg of Sol 5:2-16 or 1 Macc 3:1-12 or…

I count no less than 17 different readings provided for the morning options. And if you don’t like those – you choose your own. Anglican parishes within a couple of kilometers of where I live did not use any of the provided options: one used 1 Peter 1:1-2:3, the other used Luke 12:22-34.


The New Zealand Prayer Book provides at least eight different morning greetings and responses, the NZ liturgical commission provides a resource of three and a half thousand collects to choose from – and if you don’t like one of those… you can write your own. The Prayer Book has six eucharistic prayers – all with different responses and acclamations, and General Synod is authorising another eight. The Form for Ordering the Eucharist in the Prayer Book provides a skeleton of essential elements for a eucharist “intended for particular occasions and (originally) not for the regular Sunday Celebration of the Eucharist”. Ten years ago General Synod decided that this could be used on Sundays – all that was left as fixed for a Sunday Anglican parish eucharist was three paragraphs of the eucharistic prayer framework. All else could be constructed locally or borrowed. That, apparently, was still not flexible enough! So General Synod passed “An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist” in which any eucharistic prayer authorised anywhere in worldwide Anglicanism was acceptable here.


But wait there’s more – General Synod authorised the Worship Template. Any service which has a beginning, a middle, and an end is thereby understood to be allowed.


Since 1984 the New Zealand Anglican Church has moved away from having one liturgy that unifies the church. In what sense is liturgy now the work of the (whole) church? That sense that wherever we are, from rural church, to school chapel, to cathedral, to hospital bedside – we are all praying the same, participating in the one worship. What are the advantages of allowing creativity? What are the restrictions to creativity? At which point are we in danger of being subjected to the current congregational leadership piety? Whereas once there was relative liturgical uniformity, is the current liturgical chaos at least in part the cause for a search for a confessional approach to Anglicanism around which to alternatively unite?

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