In the latest Anglican Taonga magazine (the wonderful quarterly magazine of NZ Anglicanism) my friend and colleague, Peter Carrell, writes an article in which he argues for simplification and clarification of our NZ liturgical resources. I am arguing for the same in the motion passed by our synod. I didn’t know he was writing the article. He didn’t know I was moving this motion.

The whole article (it is not long) is worth (necessary?) reading here.

There is one part that I keep coming back to (the bold part of the quote is my emphasis):

Here is a law of worship participation which, with a very few exceptions, I propose holds true throughout our church today: the closer a service adheres to our liturgical history, the older and the smaller will be the congregation; the converse being the younger and larger the congregation in an Anglican parish, the further will be the service from that liturgical history. Our risk is that pressing for greater adherence to liturgical history as central to our identity could lead to the demise of our church. But there is a risk which runs in an opposite direction: if less and less holds new generations of Anglicans together liturgically in the 21st century, what will form the real content of the word Anglican? I do not deem it sufficient in the long run that by Anglican we mean that the bishop turns up once a year to wave the Anglican flag and once a year a few clerical and lay reps leave the parish to attend a mysterious gathering known as ‘synod’!

Sadly, I think “Peter Carrell’s law of lessening liturgy and liturgy lessens” may hold true. In this country. But Peter and I are both mathematicians, and we both know that the non-mathematician’s tendency is to see the correlation as causative. Many/most look at the reality and go: it is liturgy that causes the shrinking and ageing of a community – so let’s lessen liturgy in order to grow our community.

But it is not liturgy that is causing the shrinking. It was only yesterday that Peter noted that in our country the only historic denomination that is not in decline is the Roman Catholic one. And if any denomination does liturgy – it’s Roman Catholicism.

If it is not liturgy per se that causes ageing and shrinking congregations, perhaps it is the way that liturgy is done? Two differences to RCs spring to mind:

  • NZ Anglicanism is used to an enormous variety in liturgical responses – the same cue may even have different people’s responses! Hence, liturgy can feel quite “artificial” and contrived – not “by heart” but with everything read from sheets or books or even addressing screens off to the side.
  • Roman Catholicism pays great attention to training and formation of its clergy. Including systematic, intentional training and formation in liturgical leadership. There is also a deep formation in liturgy and spirituality of the laity – in Roman Catholic schools (and there is still a strong anticipation that many/most Roman Catholic children will attend; and the bishops have just increased the class time required for Religious Education study to all years of education); and for those who join the Roman Catholic Church (preparation for reception, RCIA, is very clear and intentional).

What do you think? Can you tell us exceptions to Peter Carrell’s rule (I can certainly think of some)? What do you think some of the dynamics are at work? Do you agree or disagree with my points? How might we move forward positively? Anything else?…

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