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19 January 2014

Disobey the NZ Lectionary

19 January 2014
Let’s be clear about what Anglicans in NZ (the Anglican Church of Or) have agreed to: the Revised Common Lectionary [General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) 1998; confirmed GSTHW 2000].

Let’s be clear and honest about what we have not agreed to: we have not agreed to use For All the Saints (FAS – second column in the lectionary booklet); we have not agreed to use the Church of England Common Worship stuff that makes up the third and fourth column of the lectionary booklet; we have not agreed to use the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary (DEL)* that provides readings for weekday communion; we have not agreed to any particular liturgical colours.

Let’s be clear about confusion: we use the word “lectionary” for the binding, agreed readings system passed by GSTHW. We also use the word “lectionary” for the annual publication (PDF here; section shown in the snapshot above). For this second usage of the word “lectionary”, I tend to use terms like “lectionary booklet” to help unmuddy the water.

Our lectionary booklet calls this coming Sunday the “2nd Sunday of the Epiphany” and has the liturgical colour as White (see image above). Go on be an absolute rebel: use Green on Sunday, and call it the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The majority Christian liturgical colour used for this coming Sunday is Green. The majority Christian title for this coming Sunday is The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The lectionary booklet, in its introductory section How to use the Lectionary, itself correctly states “Liturgical colours… are not mandatory but reflect common practice in most parishes. Traditional or local uses may be followed where established.”

Whereas, for other Sundays, up to four liturgical colour options are provided in the lectionary booklet (one of the reasons this church is known as The Anglican Church of Or), this coming Sunday only has one: White. There is no explanation provided why, in this Anglican Church of Or, Green, the majority Christian colour for this Sunday, is not provided.

For the majority of our church’s history, right through until 2001, our church obviously followed majority Christian usage and used Green for this Sunday. Then the liturgical powers that run our church’s lectionary booklet surveyed all the parishes and found that “common practice in most parishes” had suddenly and magically gone from their practice a year before of  Green to White. And so, that is what our lectionary booklet now puts for this Sunday (and the rest of January’s Sundays). It must be such a HUGE common practice and such an UNPRECEDENTED change that (unlike in other parts of the lectionary booklet) no alternative is provided but White. [For those who do not know me well enough, I am printing some of the words that should be heard in a sarcastic tone in magenta. No, bishops, that is not purple – it is magenta.]

Now don’t forget – these colours in the lectionary booklet aren’t prescribed, or even agreed to. They describe the actual statistical norm in actual parish practice; as it says, colours indicated in the lectionary booklet merely “reflect common practice in most parishes.” What the lectionary booklet is asserting is that until 2001 Green was the “common practice in most parishes”. And then suddenly White became the “common practice in most parishes”. Amazing!!! [Those looking for a sociology doctoral topic take note].

Then there’s the title. In 2014 it suddenly, and for the first time here, is the “2nd Sunday of the Epiphany”. We have actually agreed to titles for our Sundays – and, yep you guessed it: this is not one of the titles we have agreed to! Last year the title was the “2nd Sunday after the Epiphany” (the title from 2011-2013; 2008-2010: “2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time”…). There isn’t even a footnote why the change from last year to this year! February 9, the Sunday after the “4th Sunday of the Epiphany” suddenly becomes “5th Sunday in Ordinary Time” – again, without so much as even a footnote to explain what happened to the other 4 Sundays in Ordinary Time.

Counting one’s way through Ordinary Time (“Ordinary” as in “counting”, just as one speaks of “ordinal numbers”) is, of course, perfectly acceptable. It is one of the options provided as a title in the Revised Common Lectionary (remember: our agreed formulary, see the first paragraph of this post), and, of course, the only title provided in the (binding/agreed) New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa when using the three year series of Sunday readings. It is the title used by the majority of Christians for Sunday.

So go on be a rebel: use Green on Sunday and call it the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. Actually, as I hope is clear, you aren’t such a rebel doing this. Sorry.  We haven’t agreed to using White; and while we’ve agreed we can call this Sunday the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, we cannot call it the “2nd Sunday of the Epiphany”. In that title the lectionary booklet is just out of line. It is the rebel. Novelty for novelty’s sake.

I suppose, if you like, you can take this post to be part of reflecting on this province’s situation in which it is all but impossible to agree on what it is that we have actually agreed on. Clergy vow and sign that we will only lead liturgy that we have agreed to, but the rules and regulations are such a patchwork of new patches on old cloths that the tears and holes increase week by week. Our liturgical powers that be cannot even be relied upon.

Our diocesan synod passed unanimously with acclamation my motion to ask GSTHW to set in motion a review on liturgical agreement. GSTHW could not agree to discuss it – so it has been left (one presumes) to be dealt with by the we-never-hear-from-them Standing Committee.

As no review of our liturgical agreements appears forthcoming, I have embarked on my own reviews:
NZ Anglican Eucharist Requirements
NZ Anglican Marriage Requirements

* ps. I have regularly advocated that if you are looking for one simple daily Bible reading discipline, use the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary. It reads through the Gospels every year and most of the rest of the Bible every two years. It is the most-used Bible reading scheme in the world – so you are prayerfully sharing with millions of other Christians in this daily discipline around the world. They are provided in the Chapel of this site as Today’s Eucharist Readings (NAB).

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24 thoughts on “Disobey the NZ Lectionary”

  1. If I follow you correctly here Bosco it would not be extraordinary to rebel in the way you suggest. Just another ordinary rebellion in the life of our church. 🙂

  2. Hi Bosco,

    I raised questions about the change of terminology and was just told they were ‘common use’ and agreed to. I would love you to follow this up, noting that one of the two lectionary editors is in your area and a friend of us both.
    I have tended to fluctuate between Ordinary Time and Sundays after Epiphany, but can’t go along with of or in (and have also ensured that terminogy isn’t used in the liturgical software I have some connection with).
    What I have seen in recent years is a clear and concerning move to being Church of England liturgical practice into NZ. This has been especially true with the lectionary (note weird colour shifts at various times of the year). I personally have no desire to follow this trend – nit having any affinity with CoE – but regardless believe that any such shifts should involve public debate and consultation. You and I know there is zero attempt to ascertain ‘common parish practice’ and there is nothing more kiwi than reveling against being told what to do without consultation.
    The issues you highlight may seem trivial to some, but they are indicators of a deeper problem, a lack of care and connection with our own Anglican taonga and the arrogance of a few who believe they know what’s best for all.
    I will wear white this Sunday (I like to let the Epiphany emphasis carry us through to Candlemass) but hope no one sees that as unthinking assent to what’s going on.
    End of rant!

    1. Thanks, Brian. Not a rant at all.

      We are very much on the same page – including this being yet another symptom/example of deeper issues.

      I am assisting in leadership at a service on Sunday, and will wear whatever colour is that community’s custom.

      Unlike you, I do not know who the editors of the lectionary are, did not know there are only two, do not know how they are chosen, whether this is voluntary work or remunerated with an honorarium, what leeway and instructions they have, and who oversees them. That is a symptom/example of another issue I regularly bring up: the lack of transparency/communication in/from our church in this “information age”. Where do ordinary people gather such information – let alone people who have an intense interest in a particular part of church life? You, of course, are welcome to email the two editors and send them the URL of this post [should I dare presume whoever is responsible for liturgy in our province might check this site from time to time 😉 ?]. They, of course, are welcome to comment here so readers here get the explanation from the horses’ mouthes.

      Ordinary Time blessings 😉

  3. Being serious: there is one advantage to Epiphany/’Epiphany’/the first ordinary Sundays being White – as I will find tomorrow in a church in which I am taking a wedding – there is no need in January to change colours between Saturday weddings and Sunday celebrations!!

        1. There is precedent, of course, for abstaining from weddings, say, in Lent, Peter. But good luck to you trying to prevent weddings even on Holy Saturday (the Saturday following Good Friday – certainly RCs would balk at getting married on that day). For Anglicans, most happy to incorrectly call that “Easter Saturday”, that is a prime day to get married… Blessings.

  4. Fascinating post!

    We often call ordinary time either Sundays AFTER Epiphany or AFTER Pentecost. And the colour this Sunday IS green, and green until Transfiguration.

    I see that the ‘Lectionary booklet’ doesn’t explain, but I am curious why this change was made? What is the rationale for this new, extended ‘season OF Epiphany?’

  5. …and over here on the other side of the mighty Pacific, in the upstart U.S. church, my calendar has the 19th in green and says, “The 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany” on it. I will rebel by referring to it as the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (b/c I’m an Ordinary Time kind of gal.)

  6. That’s odd. Is there any explanation offered? In the Episcopal Church, they call them sundays AFTER Epiphany, and there is some sense of the whole period from Jan 6 to Ash Wednesday as being “Epiphany,” but I’ve never heard of white being used, or any color but green. White is for Christmas Season, Easter Season and major feasts, not ordinary Sundays.

    1. No, Ignatz, as I said, no explanation. Also worth checking Rev. Brian Dawson’s comment. He is also well-versed in NZ Anglican liturgical stuff. Effectively the editors of the lectionary booklet are creating more seasons with increasingly incomprehensible names and numbers and adding in new colour coding. All without either much consultation (none that has been reported) or any explanation. Blessings.

  7. Thank you for this conversation!
    When one comment above says “I will wear white this Sunday (I like to let the Epiphany emphasis carry us through to Candlemass)” – is this what the NZ lectionary is suggesting too, following the Church of England? If Epiphany is regarded as a season in its own right, finishing forty days after Christmas on 2 February (Presentation/Candlemas) then that would explain the difference in labelling between 2 February and 9 February as well as the use of white. This produces a nice parallel with the forty days of Easter, although the later Sundays in January don’t have readings particularly related to Epiphany/God’s revelation. But as you say Bosco, the majority usage is Ordinary Sunday and green. I wonder what are the roots of these two approaches? Is one more ancient and the other a product of recent lectionaries?
    In Australia our lectionary gives this Sunday as “Second Sunday after Epiphany” and green.

    1. Thanks, Chris, for joining the conversation.

      Yes – we could start guessing what the intention of the (anonymous) editors of the NZ lectionary booklet. IMO that is not at all appropriate for liturgy.

      We can start guessing they are following CofE, but CofE, of course, does not continue with Ordinary Sundays as the NZ lectionary booklet does (starting at number 5!), but CofE then starts counting backwards to Lent starting in February.

      In Australia, your lectionary follows your agreements. There have been public, open possibilities for discussion, disagreement, asking questions, and finally voting. I expect no less from the church here across the ditch. Sadly, this is obviously not the case.


  8. That’s most interesting. I have a prayer book which probably belonged to my grandfather, listing common devotions in use in the RC Church in the UK, published some time in the late 1930s. It also includes the Sunday readings (one Lesson – an Epistle reading – and a Gospel); and it uses the “Sunday after Epiphany” reference. But I didn’t realize the editors of your lectionary have Epiphany in a “tide” all to itself.

  9. I can answer that one…

    In the British Isles, Epiphany has been developed into a four week season from 6 January to 2 February (the Presentation), completing the “Kingdom” time running from All Saints to the Presentation which I think may have originated in SSF practice and was expanded upon in “The Promise of his glory.” Ireland calls them Sundays after Epiphany, and England calls them Sundays of Epiphany, but I think both recommend White for the entire season.

    Ordinary Time therefore doesn’t begin until 3 February, at which point we start counting down up to five weeks before Lent.

    1. Yes, Andy, thanks. I am aware of all that and the need create 7 seasons so that one could be assigned to each of the 7 days of the week ordinarily. And seeking lesser-used liturgical colours to make the changes visible. That approach, of course, was abandoned in CofE’s Common Worship. As I’ve already noted, if the lectionary editors are fawning to mummy CofE, they abandon this flattery in February at which point they pick up the majority Christian usage rather than CofE’s latest novelty of counting backwards from “The Fifth Sunday before Lent”. CofE, of course, unlinks the titles of the Sundays from the readings – a practice that would freak out Kiwis who are forever searching for a “theme”, and so couldn’t cope with a collect that connected to the title of the Sunday, but was disconnected from the readings.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.


  10. In Canada we call it the season of Epiphany (leading up to Ash Wednesday) and we even call the Sunday after Ash Wednesday ‘The Last Sunday after Epiphany), hence we use ‘2nd Sunday after Epiphany’ etc. etch., but the colour is always green.

    I suspect that the Lord thinks it’s all rather hilarious.

    1. Yes, Tim. I’m sure the Lord is laughing all the way to pub. And you know me well enough by now to realise that I’m not lying awake at night concerned that in my lifetime the church here will not get its liturgical ducks even on the same paddock. But there are underlying issues that are not going away: consultation, communication, and common prayer are three that, with nice alliteration, spring to my mind. Blessings.

      1. Oh, I agree with you, Bosco; I sometimes suggest to my bishop that she has regular talks with our clergy about the meaning of the little phrase ‘and no other’ (as in ‘we will use the authorized forms and no other’.

  11. Felix Alexander

    England’s innovated in this respect, I gather from your comments. It looks like you’re critical of copying or adapting these changes, and that you’re also critical of losing common prayer within New Zealand. I hope I haven’t misread you; my question probably becomes useless if I have. (I know they aren’t your only points, and not even significant points in the original post.)

    But would you think it’s inappropriate for people in New Zealand to innovate? How would this be done? Can it only be done by taking advantage of the “Church of Or”—which you criticise—or can normative sources ever participate in it too?

    The liturgical booklet is apparently trying to be a normative source that gains some of its authority through retaining descriptions of its purpose that have passed their “used by” date. If it dropped the description you say is wrong (I don’t know—I’m not in NZ and your my sole source and witness to it), that is, if it stopped saying it was describing what actually happens, would that be enough for it to leave this in?


    1. Thanks, Felix for your thoughts.

      I think innovation is fine – not for the sake of it, of course, but it can produce wonderful results. The particular way of running a three year series of readings and the concept of Ordinary Time that picks up after Pentecost where we have stopped at Lent – all this is very recent innovation. I realise there were some losses, but in general I think it a wonderful innovation. CofE is welcome to innovate. It trialled certain things, and debated some, altered them, and made decisions together to go forward in a certain way. Great. I’m totally happy that we in NZ draw on these international and ecumenical resources. I would like us to do so openly, with explanation and discussion. If material is experimental or whatever – let’s also be clear what the status of such material is. I hope my points respond to what I think you were getting at, Felix. Blessings.

      1. Thanks. I hope your points to respond to what you think I was getting at too, Bosco, but they do respond to what I was getting at 😉

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