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Anglican worship chaos

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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21 thoughts on “Anglican worship chaos”

  1. Milly Hopkins

    We spend 3 months every other year in the Christchurch area (fortunate for us, this was our year to stay home so we missed the earthquake). We regularly attend 2 different churches — one being St. Luke’s in the City. We were most comfortable there & felt it followed more closely the services to which we are accustomed. The other Anglican church (in one of the suburbs) felt more like an American fundamentalist church. They had no Ash Wednesday service nor a Christmas eve Service. We are very involved with Integrity (making LGBT people feel welcome in church), and St. Luke’s conformed more to our feelings concerning “Welcoming Churches”, while the other church did not. The differences between the two have been quite noticeable. Sadly, St. Luke’s was destroyed by the Quake. The other church is still closed, and its fate is unknown. Thanks for a good article to help us understand why there are these differences.

    1. Thanks very much, Milly. I am OK about some specifics, but I also hope that other commentors will continue to be cautious about being too specific so that we are looking at general trends. Your picture illustrates the trend I am describing. Blessings.

  2. Peter Carrell

    With respect Bosco, I think you are conveying a false impression of life in our church when you use terms such as ‘chaotic, anarchic.’

    I would argue that a Martian with special time-and-space travelling facilities undertaking a whistle stop tour of all our services on any given Sunday would find the majority of them faithfully following an NZPB service, including one of the provided therein eucharistic prayer and using the lectionary readings.

    So you found six nearby church websites displaying evidence of not following the lectionary? I suggest if you went further afield you would find, say, another four parishes not using the lectionary. That would leave some 60/71 parishes following the lectionary. Hardly chaotic or anarchic.

    On the question of anarchy, I would understand that to be intentional refusal to observe relevant authority. On the one hand your post recognises that huge variation and flexibility is permitted in our church: it would be interesting to prove in an ecclesiastical court which of our ministers, in exercising their legal freedom, was also acting anarchically. On the other hand I suggest that authority in our church is not simply the words of our canons and formularies, but also the guidance and direction of our bishops. As far as I know the only way a legal requirement re the lectionary use is enacted on us is through the words ‘the appointed readings follow.’ That could be subject to interpretation and thus could use the reinforcement of episcopal guidance and direction to make clear that “appointed” is the lectionary. How many of our bishops, besides our own, have clearly, explicitly, and regularly given that guidance to their licensed clergy?

    If you were to use other terms such as ‘messy’ or ‘often confusing’ I could go further in agreeing with you!

    I am intrigued about your reference to the allegation of CMS mission work being at the root of our contemporary liturgical messiness. That does seem surprising inasmuch as (in my view) the least prone to flexibility in liturgy part of our church is Tikanga Maori.

    A final point: services in Holy Week may or may not be motivated by a desire to draw people to them in some kind of competition with neigbouring churches. My own experience has been of a battle simply to draw people to the services in competition with many secular alternatives for activity through Easter holidays. In any case, our church provides no specific rites for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday: I am not sure why it would be a point of criticism of our colleagues if we find them doing their best before God to create relevant, attractive (in the best sense of that word in relation to worship) and reverent services.

    Indeed, in general terms, I make a plea for greater empathy with our colleagues as they work out parish ministry in our islands. We could all do better, sure; but we all struggle with maintaining, if not growing our congregations. The fact is that very few Anglican parishes in NZ have large congregations worshipping in services absolutely faithful to NZPB text and lectionary. When many faithful congregations have small numbers and high average ages, it is hard to persuade vicars of larger churches to change what has become for them a ‘successful formula.’ (Note I am not saying we should not try to work for change to lessen the mess etc; just that it is very hard).

    1. Thanks, Peter, for your helpful comments. The post, as I said, results from discussions online and offline, including messages and emails, and requests to bring these points together.

      As a blogger yourself, you will be aware of oversimplifying and possibly overstating; I’m quite happy for your to substitute your ‘messy’ or ‘often confusing’.

      That it is unclear that the “appointed readings” refers to the lectionary reinforces my points about issues of governance (why are our formularies so unclear), training, and formation.

      The CMS observation, as I indicated, was not mine – you point is much more akin to my own understanding, but I’d be interested in observations from, say, CMS-influenced provinces in Africa currently.

      I think this point of yours very important in this discussion: “The fact is that very few Anglican parishes in NZ have large congregations worshipping in services absolutely faithful to NZPB text and lectionary. When many faithful congregations have small numbers and high average ages, it is hard to persuade vicars of larger churches to change what has become for them a ‘successful formula.’” Placed alongside your other point, “on any given Sunday would find the majority of them faithfully following an NZPB service, including one of the provided therein eucharistic prayer and using the lectionary readings.” Taken together this means that generally worship following NZPB does not lead to flourishing. Is this a fault of NZPB, of the way that NZPB is used (formation & training, or is there something problematic with this style of worship generally? If the last, why does it flourish in, eg, the RC context (maybe the response will be that it doesn’t)? Is there something unique about our NZ context, or are your points equally valid internationally?

      You conclude your second comment, “I think a starting point is greater understanding for how we have gotten to where we are today.” Absolutely: it is one of the reasons, clearly, why I started this discussion. It would be of interest, for example, how the thriving communities you mention departed from NZPB and found themselves thriving. My contention would be that, with good formation and training, the same could have been achieved following, eg, the lectionary. It would be interesting to find examples that affirm my contention – but possibly I am wrong.

      Easter Season blessings


  3. Peter Carrell

    Another note: re your use of the word “liquid” to cover the usage of non-wine in some parishes.

    Yes, there are stories of Ribena and Coca-cola being used, so I get the point of using “liquid!” I suggest, however, that those instances are rare. The real issue here is the use of grapejuice and the use of small cups as alternative to or in addition to a common chalice, which is not rare, and would certainly be noticed by the visiting Martian of my other comment.

    Even here, I make a plea for some empathy here for our colleagues. Not empathy for breaking the law of the church (though in some cases I would think some would not be aware they were doing so). But empathy for the pastoral pressures of parish ministry today in which many Anglican parishes have drawn into their midst Christians whose eucharistic background is in grapejuice, small glasses, etc. When that background is mixed with pastoral concern re alcoholics imbibing wine and the spread of swine flu, bird flu and general flu, it is a brave vicar who stands against the flow and immediate past tradition/custom of the parish and says ‘henceforth, wine in the common cup only.’

    We can reverse the tide. But I think a starting point is greater understanding for how we have gotten to where we are today.

  4. Bosco,

    I read your linked article, but I’m not sure (as an American Catholic) what you mean by “cathedral-style worship” – or by “CMS”. (“CMS” has a specific meaning to me as a web developer, but I hardly think you’re talking about “content management systems”.)

    1. Thanks, Matt, for your questions of clarification. To translate this into RC concepts as you request, I would understand cathedral-style worship to tend to be formal (including robes, etc.), following a predetermined text with known congregational responses and participation. In general Sunday Mass in RC churches would fit into my understanding of such a category. CMS is the Church Missionary Society. “The overseas mission work of CMS began in Sierra Leone in 1804 but spread rapidly to India, Canada, New Zealand and the area around the Mediterranean. Its main areas of work in Africa have been in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Sudan; in Asia, CMS’s involvement has principally been in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China and Japan; and in the Middle East, it has worked in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt.” (source) CMS was more influential in the establishment of some Anglican provinces than in others. I hope that clarifies things somewhat. Blessings.

  5. Peter Carrell

    Hi Bosco,
    Thanks for a wonderful reply!
    On the one hand it is a puzzle why RC congregations sticking to their book flourish and (for the most part) ours do not. On the other hand, there are (to me) some obvious differences which (I would argue) we Anglicans could learn from. Just to name one: RC masses in NZ incorporate relevant, contemporary music to help the mass flow along. We seem to be stuck in two modes: full choral eucharist (great for “Concert programme” Anglicans, not so good for “Katy Perry” or “Dave Dobbyn” Anglicans) or long songs and lots of them (great songs, often, but the love of singing them puts pressure on the eucharist so bits get chopped out). (Yes, to NZ readers out there, I know we can name exceptions to every trend and tendency I mention here).

    As for how we have gotten to where we are today. I wonder if it is an incomplete account to point to governance and education/training as responsible. My sense is that somewhere in the 1980s, both as the NZPB was nearing completion and as we began to realise that secularization really was affecting us (along with people leaving, cheesed off with our stance on the 1981 tour etc), we collectively lost our nerve re ‘common worship.’ It wasn’t just General Synod, it was the leadership of the then bishops; it wasn’t just education and training (then, largely at St John’s College, but also in emerging dio programmes), it was choices vicars and vestries made; it wasn’t just dio ministry committees, it was also fashions of the day in theology and liturgy which we (willingly) were seduced by and carried on an affair with, in some cases long after the first love had died away!

    The Romans held their nerve (well, I think so; some of their conservatives are very critical of post Vatican II developments!!). Our question is whether we can refind it.

    By the way, I acknowledge my complicity in how our church has developed – being ordained at the end of 1986; a member of General Synod for eight years; involved in education for 10+ years.

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      In relation to your RC points, I also wonder if their commitment to RC schooling as a norm is significant in community formation.

      I think your highlighting of music extremely important. I know other provinces placed music central in liturgical renewal. We did not. Our liturgical reform focused almost totally on the creation of new texts – gesture, vesture, architecture, music, etc. received little or scant attention.

      Models/examples of incorporating different musical styles without graunching of gears in a single Eucharistic liturgy rather than the two modes which never meet that you describe would have moved us much more into a liturgical dexterity (and “fidelity”) IMO.

      Thanks for adding other dynamics to the list. I think your mention of the Tour very interesting – and a particularly NZ dynamic. I would add charismatic renewal and how we engaged with that.

  6. A few months ago a recently-elected deputy to TEC’s General Convention posted on HOB/D, a listserv (I think that’s the right term) for GC deputies, about her experiences during a visit to her diocese’s companion diocese in the Sudan. She said that in that locality, the people used a hibiscus tea instead of wine for communion. I think she said it had something to do with a real problem with alcoholism in the area (although concern for Muslim sensativities may have also been a factor). Ten years ago that would have scandalized me. Nowadays, not so much. That said, I still think wine in a common cup should be the norm unless there’s a really good reason not to use it (and ideally the substitute would have the bishop’s approval at the very least).

    I’m puzzled by your use of the word “faculty.” Is this some sort of Kiwi rhyming slang?

    1. Thanks Paul

      On alcoholism and the wine at communion: I have seen different approaches from alcoholics. I know of alcoholics who find that taking a little communion wine is fine. Others I know take the cup give thanks that they are sober and return the cup to the person administering without receiving from the cup – others may not even be aware of what is happening, and this option should be part of the training of those administering the cup. There is the option of wine from which the alcohol has been removed, allowable even in the RC Church. That parallels gluten-free bread.

      There are parts of the symbolism of wine that are lost in hibiscus tea.

      A faculty: the formal permission that a bishop gives here to a community to make a permanent alteration in the worship space. Our ecclesiology is primarily diocesan – the particular gathering of people & priest in a worship space changes. Hence, in NZ, the introduction of, say, an organ as a permanent fixture in a church building has a process which includes the current community and its leadership but receives the final formal written approval from our bishop.


      1. Thanks for clarifying “faculty.” I was guessing that it was something like “reproach” or “rebuke.”

        I agree that at places like here in the U.S. and in NZ, wine or grape juice (I guess that’s what you call wine with the alcohol removed) should be the norm. However, if a group of Christians gather together for communion in a place where wine or grape juice is unavailable or culturally objectionable, I really don’t have a problem with them substituting another beverage.

        I do have a problem with individuals taking it upon themselves to re-write the liturgy.

    2. During several centuries, sharia-ed Egypt forbade not only the wine, but even the cultivation of grapevine.

      Thus, the Coptic Christians weren’t able to use real wine, or even grape juice. What did they do?

      They imported dried raisins, and, through maceration in a dash of water, used to obtain a dash of “liquid” they would use for the Eucharist. As the small quantity of such “liquid” cost a lot, they introduced the communion by intinction, rather than the former method of drinking from the chalice.

      The moral of the story:

      1. They dared not use tea, orange juice…
      2. In spite of the conditions, they dared not introduce communion under the “one kind of bread only”.

  7. Hi Bosco,
    I won’t comment on the NZ scene, but will give you a perspective from the Australian scene. Going by your description, you would find a similar level of diversity in liturgy and worship in Australian Anglican churches. Sometimes, this is even within the same parish, which may have an 8am prayer book and hymmns service, a 10am prayer book and choruses family service, and an evening youth/young adults service which has elements of the prayer book service (confession, praise, petition, etc) but doesn’t follow the prescribed liturgy.
    I guess my question would be does “common worship” have to be uniform worship? I would rather have diverse worship forms which enable diverse people to worship within the same body of Christ, than to insist on uniformity that would alienate some of them.
    On the influence of CMS, our experience in Australia is that Anglo-Catholics, liberals and evangelicals (CMS or otherwise) all add their own flourishes beyond the approved liturgies. Sydney diocese did not accept the most recent prayer book, APBA, but publish their own approved liturgies. We don’t use liturgies from other Anglican provinces.
    On the common cup issue, there are a number of people who for various reasons do not drink alcohol. I prefer to keep the Lord’s Supper as close as possible to the original (ie no wafers, no grape juice). But, I think the key issue is remembering the Lord and celebrating his death until he returns, rather than the exact manner of consuming the elements. I would point out that some who advocate for the common cup seem happy to have 2,3 or even more common cups at large services.

    1. Thanks, Andrew, for all these very helpful points. I especially think your question, essentially: what is common prayer? is an important one; one we have discussed here at that link. Diversity also happens here within parishes. Eg. 8am 1662ish Communion; 10am informal, with or without communion. Thanks for the Ausy situation – one difference, I guess, is that there isn’t an anti NZ Prayer Book group/diocese. Blessings.

  8. Here in America the Episcopal Church once characterized as “High, Broad, or Low” has pretty much become dominated by two opposing factions: The Holy Roller wing and the Heathen wing.

    The Holy Rollers use contemporary services and “praise” music and jump around a lot and hug people and wave their hands during services.

    The Heathens focus on undermining traditional beliefs and electing bishops who don’t believe in anything or conversely, bishops who believe in everything.

    We traditional Episcopalians who loved beauty, dignity, and poetry don’t go to church anymore.

    1. Thanks, Kelso, for providing that picture. From your description, more options are provided here. It does bring up the question, is that what we are providing/should provide: different styles for different tastes? Blessings.

  9. Cranmer’s ideal was that the reformed liturgy would teach Reformed doctrine (very clear in the Holy Communion service) and that praying in certain ways would be formative of Christians’ own prayer life. Jim Packer is very clear on this: the whole structure of Cranmer’s service is intended to teach the Reforemd doctrine of justification by faith, demonstrating in turn God’s glory, our sinfulness and Christ’s atoning death, with the invitation to participate in the benefits of that death for us.
    The Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Grace from 2 Cor 13, the Gloria and other Scripture-inspired prayers ought to be the common inheritance of all Christians.

  10. Your situation does not sound so different from that of The United Methodist Church in the USA. We’ve got official liturgies for the sacraments and rites of the faith and the General Church has urged congregations to use them – for example we should move towards using the Word and Table liturgy (as printed in the worship book) each Sunday. Yet even when the bishop gathers us all together for retreats or conferences, it is often some “creative” ad hoc service that we use. The official daily prayer/hours services are almost universally neglected.

    I believe the use of the proper liturgy in ordination services is a bit more stable and widespread.

    In a way your post is encouraging to me, though, since it is easy for us liturgical Methodists to idealize what the Anglican churches are doing in terms of liturgy. May we all make strides together toward a truly common reception of the ancient, orthodox and officially recieved liturgies.

    1. Thanks, Daniel. I think inside your comment is something that may often be forgotten: the liturgies of the churches have so much in common and also connect with the liturgies of our roots, Judaism. When we use these liturgies we are sharing a common prayer across the globe, across denominations, across time…

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