Anglican worship in NZ is chaotic, anarchic.

I have written previously about how in NZ Anglicanism there are so many options for worship there is little to no sense of there being “Common Prayer” here.

But allowed flexibility isn’t the subject of this post. The focus of this post is that, even with this enormous flexibility, people still produce services different from what is allowed.

This has come up more than once now in discussions with people overseas who cannot imagine the very different context here. This post, I hope, will help them, as well as ourselves, to reflect on the NZ situation (and possibly their own or others’).

My first example will clarify my point: any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion is allowed to be used in our province. Good luck counting the options we may use! But for some/many that does not provide sufficient “creativity”. Clergy use texts beyond this large, allowed collection in services with bread and liquid. Some of these texts are orthodox Eucharistic Prayers, others are little more than a recitation of Paul’s Last Supper story, or even a reflection addressed to the congregation on the meaning of food and drink.

I write “liquid” intentionally rather than “wine”, as some churches use juice rather than wine (explicitly forbidden). I know a church building where the provision of shot-glasses has been physically incorporated into the permanent fixtures (for this one should get a “faculty” from the bishop).

Having communion prior to the readings is a variant in some places.

But don’t think anarchy is limited to the Eucharist. Flicking through our Prayer Book to look at the formularies: Parishes regularly produce their own baptism rite. A minority of clergy would pray the Daily Office. Bishops play fast and loose with the ordinal. The funeral rite is mined as a “resource”. In marriage, writing one’s own vows is quite popular. Is there much in the Prayer Book I haven’t covered?

In preparation for this blog post I checked the website of a half a dozen nearby Anglican parishes that place online the reading(s) they are using. Not one of the ones I looked at was following the lectionary.

NZ stands in fascinating contradiction of Baumstark’s well-known liturgical law. Baumstark discovered that the more significant the celebration, the more ancient and stable the rite. Except in NZ. Holy Week, the central week of our church year, sees a burst of “creativity” so that it will be difficult to find Anglican parishes that have anything resembling their neighbouring parish. Numbers are very significant and if you’re just doing what your neighbour does, how will you attract? Because the decisions are made based on what feels right in the leader’s eyes rather than study and research, the fact that RCs (with their franchise-like liturgy) are far stronger and growing in NZ, and that cathedral-style worship is what is growing in UK, bears no influence on the choice to make this year different from last year, and to make one parish’s services different to its neighbour’s.

I would be extremely surprised if there is another Anglican province with the amount of “flexibility” of the NZ province (let us know if there is).

So what is the cause of the anarchy here? It has been suggested that it is related to our strong CMS foundation and that other provinces with a (similarly) strong CMS foundation will/may have similar worship chaos. I can hardly believe/imagine it – but I’ll be interested in the comments.

It is certainly true that there are so many options provided, authorised, and allowed here that few would have any idea where the actual edges are. Nowhere is there an easily accessible way for anyone to work out what is actually allowed and what isn’t. The governance of this centrally significant part of our church’s life has been atrocious.

General Synod’s authorisation of “The Worship Template” (essentially: come in, do something, leave) exacerbated the chaos and confusion.

Study, training, and formation has deteriorated generally, and for liturgy, specifically. This both feeds into and is a result of the governance issues. Communication, in an age in which communication can be so fast, easy, and free, appears to have deteriorated rather than improved. There are no standards for ordination and no examinations, as there used to be in the past.


Often very significant and useful public comments are made on this site’s facebook page. An example is a comment by Rev. Brian Dawson:

“any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion is allowed to be used in our province” I know this has been suggested but didn’t realise it was enacted? Can you tell me when Bosco? Thanks.

Brian’s comment is a very good illustration of my point that we don’t know and it is very difficult to find out, what is authorised and what is not. The authorisation is found in the Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist, a formulary of our church, which was passed twice in General Synod and confirmed at every diocesan synod and hui amorangi. Brian is a member of the Tikanga Pakeha Liturgical Working Group (akin to a provincial liturgical committee within one of our three Tikanga) and is responsible for Living Liturgy and We Pray. I add this to highlight that (not his fault!) even those very interested in and concerned about liturgy in our province have a hard time trying to navigate their way around our impossibly labyrinthine liturgical regulations.

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