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Liturgy as language (part 3)

This series “Liturgy as language” is going in a direction that will be relevant to other contexts (trust me – I know what I’m doing). But this particular post continues and completes the previous post in outlining briefly the New Zealand Anglican context that has brought us to this place. If you are not in New Zealand your context may have similarities – but if there are no similarities to the NZ context, and if you have no interest in this kiwi context go for a walk through a park, or telephone a friend, or contemplate for five minutes, and we’ll see you next time…

New Zealand Anglican Liturgy from 1984

The story so far to 1984 and beyond is of an increasing abandonment of the concept and experience of “common prayer.” Common prayer includes knowing what is coming, one can prepare in anticipation for the communal worship beforehand, during the service one can respond and participate at significant moments often “by heart”, worship has stability from week to week, from one congregation time-slot to another time, and there is a sense of sharing in a wider community – from community to community, locally, and even internationally and ecumenically. [Common prayer also spares us from everything being under the control of the pastor or particular worship leader.] All that changed around 1984 in New Zealand Anglicanism.

Since that post I have had people give example after example – including one of our larger communities where the response to even “The Lord be with you” varies from week to week, demanding one keeps one’s eyes on the pew sheet…

Some comments on the previous post highlighted that the loss of common prayer includes a disenfranchising of children who cannot read, of parents supervising children, and of older people. In other words the “target” of the worship is precisely towards the age-group regularly missing in NZ Anglicanism! A further reflection might be that this means that “targeting” this age-group in this particular manner is notably unsuccessful – and that is leaving to one side my opinion that the “target” of worship ought to be God…

A list of some further changes in the last 25 years

The trajectory of liturgical worship sketched in NZ Anglicanism after 1984 continued and accelerated. Some points include:

  • At the 1987/1988 General Synods, the requirement of at least those ordained to pray the Daily Office was removed from our formularies. This resulted in individualising prayer and daily devotion. Clergy of course (one would hope) continued a personal devotional life but more often did so because it enriched their own individual piety – not with a sense that they were “praying the prayer of the church.” Even those who continue praying the Daily Office now often (mostly?) do this as a way of individual piety rather than as the prayer of the church (which it now struggles to be so understood). Furthermore, a variety of different forms of daily devotions is now provided – so that there is no assurance that those committed to the Daily Office are in any sense “on the same page.”
  • Total Ministry/ Locally shared ministry/mutual ministry increasingly developed, both in rural and urban areas. This way of locally calling to ordination (and other ministries) may include having positive encouragement of the ministry of all the baptised, but in practice it also resulted in poor liturgical formation, training, and study by those being ordained. In some places the link between presiding, pastoring, and preaching was broken.
  • Having a lay person lead the “first part of the service” with the priest absolving and leading the Eucharistic Prayer often ended up re-cluttering the Gathering Rite (so that the lay leader would have something to do), increasing a magical understanding of priesthood, and breaking the sense that the Eucharist and any service is a single, unified rite with a dynamic sense of movement. [There are other issues with this: the quality of formation of such lay leadership and concomitantly its effect on the quality of worship, the clericalisation of lay ministry, the loss of the sense of the full participation of those in the pews, and the focusing of lay ministry into the sanctuary rather than into the world…]
  • The Education for Liturgy Kit (E.L. Kit), the only provincial liturgical formation resource (an undated 200 page ring-bound prepared by the Provincial Board of Christian Education) is now pretty well unknown and difficult to obtain. There appears nowhere one can obtain it. There are no references to it I can find online. New clergy, and those coming from overseas regularly have not even heard of it.
  • One of the best endowed seminaries in the Anglican Communion, the provincial St John’s College, handed over most of its academic training to Auckland University which has little energy for what it termed “parson’s papers” such as liturgy. The NZ Anglican Church keeps no statistics of the proportions of those training now at this national theological college, but I would be interested if any reader had any idea about this. I am guessing not more than a fifth of those training for ordination are training at St John’s, and even some of them are not there for a full course, but are there only for a year or so.
  • Curacy, traditionally four years formation under two different training vicars, often became not viable financially so that some of those recently ordained were immediately placed in charge of a parish with variable ongoing training and formation.
  • This province, small in worship numbers and stretched by vast distances, has increasingly put its energy into areas other than liturgy and not placed quality of worship as a primary strategy of its common life.
  • The 1996/1998 General Synods altered the Form for Ordering the Eucharist formulary so that it is now authorised for Sunday Eucharists also. Previously this highly flexible rite was explicitly for special occasions other than the Sunday Eucharist (as it is in TEC). From this time all that is required now, even for the Sunday Eucharist, is three paragraphs in a Eucharistic Prayer – all else may be sourced elsewhere or created locally. Prior to 1998 responses varied but there was a limit to the variation. That limiting ceased in 1998.
  • In 2002 General Synod passed the Worship Template which accepts any service that has the following structure: Gathering – Story – Going out; ie. a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • 2006 General Synod authorised the Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist as a formulary of our church. Even the highly flexible Form for Ordering the Eucharist clearly was not seen to be sufficiently flexible. Now all that is required is that the Eucharistic Prayer be authorised somewhere in the Anglican Communion.
  • The latest meeting of General Synod (2008) authorised another raft of Eucharistic Prayers. These are mostly not new ones, but reworking of other current Eucharistic Prayers in NZPB so that those who have one of those “by heart” find themselves stumbling over these revisions and in the congregation blurting out responses that are no longer there.

A church prior to 1984 held together by the shared discipline of common worship is now held together by everyone knowing everyone (extended whanau/family style). Understandably some are clamouring now for other forms of holding our unity.

For the New Zealand Anglican church the sense that liturgy is the work of the (whole) church wherever we are, from rural church, to school chapel, to cathedral, to hospital bedside – we are all praying the same, participating in the one worship, has been mostly lost.

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2 thoughts on “Liturgy as language (part 3)”

  1. Hi Bosco
    I have a quibble or two with your description of events!
    (1) The involvement of lay people in the leading of worship, including the first part of the eucharist: is it necessarily a loss with respect to ‘common’ prayer? I think such an argument needs more substance than you offer.
    (2) You describe some recent changes/new alternatives to our eucharistic prayers: “The latest meeting of General Synod (2008) authorised another raft of Eucharistic Prayers. These are mostly not new ones, but reworking of other current Eucharistic Prayers in NZPB so that those who have one of those “by heart” find themselves stumbling over these revisions and in the congregation blurting out responses that are no longer there.” This description is unfair in a post on the diminution of common prayer in this respect: some of those changes are precisely intended to restore one element of common prayer, by providing for the possibility that all responses are the same in a sequence of Sunday services, whichever eucharistic prayer is used.

    These quibbles do not demur from your overall argument, that currently our church is in a place in which we have no common prayer!

    1. Thanks Peter
      I think both your points helpfully complement the post and provide some good clarification.
      The list is an (incomplete) collection of some of the liturgical trends in our church in the last twenty-five years (with some trends clearly going back further).

      Our ordinal is very clear that the purpose of ordination is to enable the ministry of all the baptised – both within the worshipping community and “in the world” – so it is a duty and a joy for lay people to be fully involved in worship – including leadership (and a requirement for the ordained to enable that). Exactly how we do that without “clericalising” lay ministry, diminishing the contribution of others (in the pews), and losing the sense of primary mission and ministry “in the world” is a conversation that I think we have not really put much energy into yet. You are right, I think, that this need not lead to a loss of the sense of common prayer. (Common prayer, I think, includes the understanding that all in the community are equally participating in it – even when we have different functions/roles – how we do that may be a topic for another thread…)

      I am enthusiastic about the revisions of the eucharistic prayers giving them the standard responses for the very reason you give. What was not anticipated, I think, was my experience of being in a community and finding that some people had other responses, within those prayers as they previously were, by heart and were contributing acclamations no longer there. I think a helpful liturgical principle is that the same (or similar) cue always leads to the same response. With that in mind I think that those Eucharistic prayers should have had some more work in which the old cues were removed and so the old acclamations would not be missed or added.

      I think you are highlighting that summarising 25 years in a brief post and trying to draw some conclusions inevitably will have some oversimplifications. Your points helpfully clarify some of this. It is also helpful that you agree with the overall point being highlighted.

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