St Paul's Anglican Cathedral Wellington

There’s been a lot of (sometimes heated) debate, recently, about who has the right to call themselves “Anglican”. The debate goes nowhere, in part because people are talking past each other: some are asking the question descriptively and others prescriptively. An example of being Anglican prescriptively would be: Anglicans are those who are recognised by and in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the other hand, talking about Anglicans descriptively could include that clergy wear this or that type of robes; they accept baptism at any age; they have bishops;…

I’ve highlighted this prescriptive/descriptive confusion in my own discussions around “liturgical rules”. I encourage people to understand liturgical rules more descriptively. But most people I encounter struggle to see them other than (restrictively) prescriptive. I have regularly made a parallel between liturgical rules and the grammar rules of a language: grammar rules begin as descriptive, but, particularly when learning a language, there needs to be an element of understanding them prescriptively.

Recently, I posted a reflection that, at least in my own church, there is a dramatic reduction in using the Psalms as prayer. This reduction in praying the Psalms is seen when, in services, a Psalm is treated as a reading rather than a prayer. It is evidenced in dropping the Psalms altogether from services. It is seen in the decline of the praying of the Daily Office, and in the absence of the Daily Office in clergy study, training, and formation. This church even went through the complex process of removing the clergy requirement to pray the Daily Office:

All Priests and Deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause.

The Book of Common Prayer

To make such a significant change needed tenacity and widespread determination to remove the commitment to pray the Daily Office: we are legally obliged to fulfil the “twice round” process (passed at General Synod; agreement by majority of all diocesan synods; 2/3 majority in each House of General Synod).

On social media, the reaction to my post was HUGE. Including outrage at my points: how dare I say anyone is in danger of losing anything; any individual is free to pick up the Psalms and pray them;… I cannot recall more discussion on my twitter feed about anything else.

This tweet stood out:

This is such a radical departure from the rule of the Prayer Book that I wonder whether such a church can meaningfully be called Anglican.

Prescriptively, sure, we satisfy the requirement to be allowed to be called “Anglican”. Descriptively, however, the tweet has a point. The systematic abandonment of Common Prayer, in particular deserting the discipline of praying the Psalms, including daily, means we are not recognisable as being within the historic Anglican stream.


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