crossThe liturgical agreements in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) are chaotic. It may be hard to imagine but decisions and assertions made at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) have left our church in an even worse situation.

It has now been acknowledged that our church has been acting illegally for decades. But it has also been declared that we do not need to use our formularies (formally-agreed services). So, just as one example, we do not need to use the baptism service in A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (ANZPBHKMA).

Agreed Common Prayer

As I begin this post I want to assert as clearly as possible that my interest is not primarily about legality. My primary interest in this post is that people cannot figure out what we supposedly have agreed to do. Anglicanism was united around common prayer. [I do not want to get distracted and put energy, in this particular post, explaining/debating the value of agreed common prayer.]

In ACANZP the liturgy of the regular Sunday morning parish Eucharist can be drawn completely from any authorised Anglican Prayer Book from anywhere in the world. Or you can make the liturgy up yourself. ANZPBHKMA is not required. Is there any other province which has such a lack of common prayer? We knew this bizarre situation before this meeting of GSTHW – now we realise this applies not just to the Eucharist, but other rites as well (I’m taking baptism just to offer one concrete example).

Until this meeting of GSTHW I would have said that if there wasn’t an agreed formulary (official service) then, yes, you could do pretty much what you liked. But, prior to this meeting, I would have said if there is a formulary then you must use that. Apparently I was wrong.

The question was asked Tuesday evening at GSTHW: if we make Ashes to Fire (services for Lent and Easter Seasons) a formulary, can we use other resources instead or must we from now on only use Ashes to Fire? No one could answer the question! The question went off for legal advice. When the answer came back, three days later, it was surprisingly: even though we have a formulary for something – we can still use any service produced by someone else; or you can create your own. All a service needs to satisfy is the incredibly broad requirements of either the Form for ordering the Eucharist, or the Alternative form for ordering the Eucharist, or the Form for Ordering a service of the Word.

Confusion Rules!

The confusion about our rules, our agreements, is chronic; notwithstanding our General Secretary stating that our liturgical rules are transparent, simple, and clear.

Recently the church had prepared a printing of a revised Prayer Book which had not even gone through the required lengthy decision-making processes. The rules for revising our Prayer Book are written in language too complicated for our church leadership to understand. I was the only one in our province to call attention to the illegality. Finally through this website, and by my convincing our diocesan synod, the printing did not go ahead.

The Common Life Liturgical Commission (CLLC) prepared a list of what is allowed liturgically. It was presented to the Bishops’ Meeting, placed on the church’s official website, and was to be presented at GSTHW. Not even CLLC working together with our bishops can give a complete list of what is allowed. The list does not even include the foundational Book of Common Prayer (and the authorised parts of its 1928 revision) used week by week throughout our province! There is no full report yet whether this was discussed at GSTHW as intended (but that is another story).

Don’t panic, as another example, if you have never understood the three different schedules (levels) of “authorising alternative services” (Title G Canon VI). It is now clear no one has. And those who thought they did – were wrong.

There was the late entry of motion 31 ostensibly to place Ashes to Fire into one of these three schedules/levels of authorisation. When I inquired why I had not seen anything like motion 31 previously, I was informed that previous GSTHWs had acted illegally in omitting this step. Then the General Secretary himself acknowledged that he has been confused about which of these three schedules he had been placing different services. Services that people intended to be tried experimentally, and reviewed and revised, have suddenly appeared to end up as formularies. Then came a bolt out of the blue at GSTHW: the whole system of experimental services, and these three schedules, are unconstitutional! Constitution trumps canons – the whole of Title G Canon VI has been ultra vires since GSTHW 1992, as the revised Constitution makes no reference to experimental use and therefore we are not in a position to make use of the Church of England Empowering Act 1928 provisions under Clause 4A of the Constitution. GSTHW quickly deleted the reference to Title G Canon VI from Bill 4 at its third reading.

The rules may matter

When everything is fine – rules don’t matter. People may be astonished, but it has not been clear, in my diocese, who actually owns a parish’s property. Until now that hasn’t mattered. But legal advice is now being sought, with the destruction of parish buildings through the quakes: does the insurance payout belong to the diocese – or to the parish? With the question of blessing/marrying committed same-sex couples now very current, and the overseas examples of controversies around property in connection with this, some people are beginning to realise it is paramount that we can be clear who the Anglican Church is when some will contend “it is not we who are leaving the Anglican Church – it is you”.

Now, at the very time when we should be less cavalier about playing fast and loose with liturgy (all the way to bishops), the message comes from GSTHW that we do not need to use our formularies.

What needs to happen

We need to know the actual present state of things. The tangled, knotted skein of liturgical agreements, rules, and laws needs to be documented by a group with real legal expertise in understanding old-style legal language. We are unable to start ex nihilo, de novo. There are decision-making processes we are bound by, including Acts of Parliament.

We need to end up with liturgical agreements in plain language. The verbose, convoluted language and jargon that currently riddles our rules must go. We need to end up with clarity

1) what is required,
2) what is allowed, and
3) what is forbidden.

This will require some real legal expertise. Standing Committee of GSTHW needs to make this review and process a priority. At the end of this process it should be a simple matter for everyone to know what we  have agreed to do.


This post is the fifth in a series of posts reflecting on General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2012 (GSTHW) of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. It is written from the perspective of one not present at that meeting.
The first post looked at the attempted revision of A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa.
The second post looked at the making of a collection of rites, for the Lent and Easter Seasons, a formulary of our church.
The third post looked at strategic planning for theological education.
The fourth post looked at how the information came out of the meeting.

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