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Anglican Primates at Evensong

Liturgy Is A Show

Anglican Primates at Evensong

We can learn a lot about liturgy from one of the discussed tweets about last week’s meeting of Anglican Primates. The tweet was:

Easily 10+ Primates missing from Evensong. ++Canterbury spent large parts of service in prayer. Clearly something has happened.

At first, I couldn’t get my head around it. Surely we spend the whole of Evensong in prayer? Isn’t that what Evensong is? What would one expect to be doing in “large parts of service”? From an archbishop?!

Someone explained, “The Abp always prays during the Anthem…he is v unmusical.” A friend expanded the explanation: he took the tweet to mean that when the rest of us are staring into space, listening to the Magnificat with heads up admiring the choir, Archbishop Justin Welby was on his knees.

From this I had three connected reflections:

1) Many Christians, including many Anglicans see liturgy as being a show. There is irritation if the quality of the choir is questionable, the verger doesn’t verge well, the robes are creasy, or the procession sloppy. There might be a moment or moments of and for prayer in Evensong, but the thought that the whole of Evensong is an act of prayer might be something that people say but in practice it is not an experienced reality. Spending “large parts of a service in prayer” is so unusual it is tweetworthy.

2) For many Christians, including many Anglicans, prayer happens when we kneel. “Let us pray” is often an Anglican cue – polite Englishness for “please kneel”. Sitting doesn’t work for these people to pray – unless possibly you bow your head. I don’t know what these people think we are doing when we all stand during the Eucharistic Prayer – certainly it is not that we are all praying. I guess we are standing so we can all see the show better.

3) For many Christians, including many Anglicans, we only pray when “clearly something has happened”. We don’t just pray to pray. We don’t just pray because that is our discipline. We don’t just pray to grow in our relationship with God. We only pray when something has happened.

For the archbishop to be seen to pray at Evening Prayer means he is on his knees, and he is doing this because clearly something has happened.


But wait, there’s more! In connection with the first sentence in the tweet, Jim Naughton said it succinctly:

The big news from the first day of the Anglican Primates meeting was which primates put on vestments for evensong [and who processed]. The big news on the second day was which ones attended evensong. I can’t for the life of me understand why the world doesn’t take us more seriously.

On the third day, of course, “the news is that all of the primates ARE BACK in evensong.”

And it doesn’t seem to be improving. The Episcopal Cafe explains:

Church Times reports Archbp Foley of ACNA says he voted during ‪#‎Primates2016‬ (except on No. 7 of the communiqué); the director of communications of CofE says it was made clear Foley should not vote; #Primates2016 affirms; CT says ACNA says CT reporting is accurate. Confused yet?

And that is helpfully clarified by the Rev. Susan Russell:

So now the story becomes did the guy who had no standing to be in the meeting in the first place get to vote in the decision to censure the Episcopal Church they had no authority to make? And we wonder why the church appears more and more hypocritical and irrelevant to the world God has called it to serve.


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8 thoughts on “Liturgy Is A Show”

  1. Margot Fernandez

    In the American media there have been several announcements from Anglican churches in America to the effect that they reject the Primates’ sanctions and extend their support and welcome to American Episcopalians. The fallout from this stupid and un-Christian resolution is going to hurt the Anglican Communion and provide only more reason to abandon the Church of England. Not that I would ever even consider attending an Anglican church in Africa.

    1. Thanks, Margot. I think you are possibly responding to this post rather than the current one? When you refer to “Anglican churches in America” do you mean ACNA? I think people would be interested, if that is the case, to references (links) to such media announcements you mention. As for churches in Africa – that’s a HUGE continent. I think you might be surprised at the welcome you receive in many places there, and the vibrancy. Blessings.

  2. Robert Voorwinde

    This is in response to #1.
    I guess you are referring to ‘Traditional’ church, which has all the pomp and splendor Many parishioners, including myself crave for the ‘traditions’ during the service. Our minister, does not robe up and conducts the 9:30 service in a suit. He has done away with the ‘frills’ and presents a more style of the Hillsong Church. He is desperately aiming the service format to draw in the younger families that live in our area.

    1. Thanks, Robert. I have seen no study to correlate suiting or robing with drawing younger families and fruitfully living as a Christian community. As a regular here, you will know that growing churches, evangelism, and connecting with younger people are passions of mine. Blessings.

  3. Our parish is large and growing, with lots of new young families drawn by the progressive values and attracted to rhythm of traditional liturgy. (One joke is that the liturgy gets higher as the politics gets left-er). Incense, traditional vestments, classical music is not for all, but is certainly valued by many.

    1. Thanks for your comment, It. For a positive culture here, to help remind people that we are talking to real people through these screens, we use our ordinary name here. If “It” is your ordinary name – that’s fine; if not, please use your ordinary name. One of the statistical quirks is the growing numbers at traditional CofE cathedral Evensong. Blessings.

  4. I think that one of the ideas around not robing and doing away with the ‘frills’ is that some people don’t understand or have never been taught about liturgy and thus might feel uncomfortable. But IMHO good liturgy engages our senses helps us enter into worship at a far deeper level. There is a sense of ‘otherness’ which is very attractive and perhaps is what many people crave in their spiritual search.

    1. Thanks, Caro. I am absolutely with you on worship being with our whole being – engaging all senses, as you indicate. Part of the problem is with some of the “frills”. Some people have frilled up worship to the point of silliness. And then there is the forgetting that the purpose of liturgy is deepening our union with God together. I think teaching about liturgy is important, don’t get me wrong, but I also think that good liturgy catches us at a deep human level all can connect with. It is the leaders of liturgy that need better teaching – and better formation. I would struggle to think of a human society that does not robe or use uniforms – so that, surely, is not the issue. But I think sometimes our robing just gets to the silly – throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the way forward. Have you read my (free) book Celebrating Eucharist? Especially early in that book deals with this sort of thing – as does much on this site. Blessings.

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