RulesI’ve been writing about the place of agreements (“rules”) in our common prayer. This is the third post in that series, and if you haven’t read the previous two, I suggest you read here and here first.

Whose is the liturgy, our common prayer? To whom does it belong?

It does not belong to the priest. Keeping to our agreements (“rules”) protects the worshiping community from the eccentricities of the priest. Priests vow and sign that they will follow our agreed common prayer.

Screwtape, the senior devil, writing to his nephew, a junior devil named Wormwood, speaks of the advantage to their cause by having the priest abandon the lectionary, for example, to keep to the few favourite truths the priest holds.

A priest may hold eccentric beliefs, or yearn for different practices – there is an agreed process whereby we can alter doctrine and discipline. Discuss it in the appropriate forums, by all means, but don’t, as a priest, inflict your particular disagreement on others – especially not in our community worship.

Puhleez don’t misread this as barren legalism and some sort of rubrical fundamentalism. No one, but no one, suggests that woodenly adhering to the rubrics will breathe life and vitality into worship. Leading worship is a gift, a call, a ministry; it requires training, ongoing study and formation. And let’s also not forget that in the context where I am writing, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the agreements (“rules”) are so permissive that the discussion should be whether they are sufficient to genuinely speak of them as being the scaffolding or skeleton of common worship.

Not only do our agreements protect laity from clergy, keeping to our agreements (“rules”) protects the priest from the eccentricities of the worshiping community. Sometimes explaining the reason for a Christian practice is extremely complex, involving deep history, theology, etc. It is a helpful starting point, when strong members of a community want a certain practice that is contrary to our agreements (“rules”), to be able to start from, “this is what I have agreed to and vowed and signed to do”.

Keeping to our agreements (“rules”) is one way of living our claimed catholicity.
Certainly, spend any time on this site, and one would realise the last thing I am advocating is cloning worship from one context into a quite different one. Nor, just to be clear, am I encouraging ecclesiastical butterflies, flitting from one congregation to another. But. When we do move around from one community in communion with another, claiming to share “common prayer” together, should we not expect to see family resemblance? Not least when we claim that our primary community is the diocese. And also when we claim that dioceses have voluntarily agreed to join together in voluntary compact. And that primarily in the area expressed in “common prayer”.

This catholicity and protection is experienced strongly when a community needs to appoint a new priest. If a community’s worship has moved from our agreements (“rules”), how can a new priest arrive and fit in and lead…

Finally for this post, keeping to our agreements (“rules”) can help preserve us from the idol of incessant novelty and creativity. Worship is not entertainment. Worship is not a distraction. Worship is about going deeper and deeper into union with God…

Postscript: someone will be thinking that I am making a mountain out of a molehill again. This or that rubric is not really important. The thing is, one person’s molehill is another person’s mountain, and vise versa, and living together as a community means that we come to agreements about how we will live together.

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