Prayer Books

Diocesan Synods are meeting, and they are voting against supporting the direction General Synod Te Hinota Whanuia (GSTHW) is going in liturgy.

I was recently asked to write a chapter for a book on the future of the Prayer Book tradition (I will let you know when that book is out). In summary, that chapter explores development in NZ Anglicanism from essentially all using the same words, readings, and Eucharistic Prayer to now, if you are going to a particular Anglican service for the first time, you could have no idea what you will encounter.

I wrote the chapter after this year’s meeting of GSTHW. Some might think our worship pendulum has swung too far and needs to be drawn back in before it breaks off its anchor. GSTHW wants that pendulum of flexibility in this Anglican Church of Or to be reduced by just one “or”. I wrote the book’s chapter after that GSTHW decision, but the decision was in a formulary and so needs diocesan synods’ ratification. I wrote the chapter when it was unclear whether diocesan synods would ratify a swinging back of the pendulum away from increasing flexibility.

I am aware of two diocesan synods (Christchurch; Auckland) that have met and rejected GSTHW’s direction. Flexibility is in.

The background:

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) has two skeleton structures for the Eucharist.

A Form for Ordering the Eucharist (FFOE) (A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa pages 511 – 514) is a very loose list of ten bullet points:

  • Gather in the Lord’s Name
  • Proclaim and respond to the Word of God
    This need only be a Gospel reading
  • Pray for the world an the church
  • etc…

But, as it currently stands, you can only use 4 of the many Eucharistic Prayers authorised in our Church, or produce one yourself using a framework (given on pages 512-514).

An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist (AltForm) is a much more restricting structure than this FFOE. When using the AltForm, you must have two readings, a psalm, a Gospel reading, a Prayer over the gifts, etc., etc. What the AltForm requires is much more akin to the main Sunday Eucharist in a cathedral or parish with a high liturgical tradition. This AltForm allows the use of any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion. [But only, of course, within the framework of such a fulsome Eucharistic service].

GSTHW chose to expand the Eucharistic Prayers allowed for A Form for Ordering the Eucharist to include all those authorised by GSTHW. But GSTHW rejected the suggestion to expand that even further to include any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion. [It rejected Bill 11].

At the same time, GSTHW wanted to remove the allowance to use any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion from the AltForm. [It voted in favour of Bill 12].

It is pretty obvious that, once the FFOE allows for all Eucharistic Prayers authorised by GSTHW, having the AltForm that also only allows that becomes redundant. But no member of the Common Life Liturgical Commission (our Church’s highest level liturgical committee) nor any member of GSTHW has been able to explain to me why it didn’t simply propose removing the AltForm.

Both the Christchurch diocesan synod and the Auckland diocesan synod meeting last weekend accepted GSTHW’s expansion of A Form, and rejected GSTHW’s restricting the AltForm to limit it to Eucharistic Prayers from ACANZP.

The essence of the argument is that the 16 Eucharistic Prayers we have authorised (plus the framework for producing our own on pages 512-514) in a bullet-point service is not flexible enough for the new situation we find ourselves in.

From the speeches to synod, it was clear that the AltForm’s allowance for using international Eucharistic Prayers is used (all the way to our Church’s highest levels) but in the context of the far-less-restrictive Form for Ordering the Eucharist (which, remember, does not allow for this using of international Eucharistic Prayers).

Individual conversations with priests made clear that some are even going further beyond those edges. For example, they do not use any dialogue with the congregation but simply say a little prayer to bless the bread and wine. I have experienced not even having a prayer to consecrate, with priests simply reciting 1 Cor 11:23b-25 (or, on one occasion, a reflection on bread and wine).

In summary, then, the leadership of our Church (at GSTHW) may be wanting to see if they can get the pendulum of liturgical flexibility to turn back. But on the ground, clergy and people see no point in restrictions to what they think is the best for the actual situation they find themselves in. So locally, we are voting against GSTHW recommendations.

And even if GSTHW’s rule changes are fulfilled – in worship, the days of clergy following the GSTHW rules have gone.


Ps. In the speeches to synod, it became clear that clergy prefer simply using international prayers rather than adapting them to the Eucharistic Prayer framework provided (pages 512-514) in the FFOE. An example: they preferred simply using international prayers based on Hippolytus over adapting Hippolytus to the framework we are given (as I have done, for example, here).

Pps. In the speeches to synod, it became clear that there is widespread confusion about what makes a formulary (an agreement binding on our teaching and practice). Contrary to some suggestions, allowing a prayer to be used from beyond our shores does not make that prayer and the teaching it presents binding on us as members of this Church!

Ppps. Someone helpfully pointed out to me, in a conversation, that “not using the Prayer Book” is ambiguous. In some sentences, that phrase means that the content of the Prayer Book is being used, but the physical book is not being held in people’s hands (it may be on screens, on sheets, or by heart). At other times, “not using the Prayer Book” is a phrase which means that what we are enjoined to use is not being used.

Regulars here know that a lot of my own reflection has been around how (the concept of) “common prayer” has evolved (and what we might be able to retain, how we might now understand it) in a context where words vary from person to person and place to place. I will continue to develop that reflection on this site.


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No Prayer Books were harmed in the making of this blog post.

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