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Worship Is Like A Braided River

Aotearoa New Zealand is well-known for our braided rivers (rare on our planet). They are a very good image for worship in New Zealand’s Anglicanism – including how worship could be.

A braided river does not have a clearly-defined channel. There are approximate banks to the river, and between these sides, the streams are always moving across the wide river’s bed. If the edges, the banks, become too ill defined, the danger is, of course, that the river simply becomes a swamp.

NZ Anglicanism, the Anglican Church of Or, allows for so many options that it is akin to a braided river.

Most liturgical traditions provide for options, so the braided river image can apply to liturgy generally, but in New Zealand, not only do we win on the number of options available, our worship agreements (formularies) – where the options occur – are confused and confusing. Our agreements are often difficult to find, and then, furthermore, difficult to understand once found. The banks of our braided-river NZ Anglican worship are unclear. The danger is that we can become a swamp.

Part of my ministry, including through this site (and associated social media), has been a passion for keeping our edges as clear as possible, so that we continue to have a braided river and not sink into being a swamp. Fewer and fewer people (including leaders) seem to be picking up this enthusiasm (reminder: literally, enthusiasm = “God in it”). The dearth of study, training, and formation in worship leadership and liturgy is not helping.

An example: someone who is relatively recently ordained let me know that in all their years at St John’s College (our national NZ Anglican theological college/seminary) our Prayer Book’s Variations to the Great Thanksgiving (also called “Proper Prefaces”) were never used, nor were they ever explained.

I recently noted that in my travels in Australia, one would struggle to find a community not using 3 readings and a psalm of the Revised Common Lectionary on Sunday, whereas in NZ Anglicanism, one would struggle to find a community using 3 readings and a psalm on Sunday. In Australia, clergy and other groups getting together would pray together the Daily Office either from the physical Prayer Book and/or the Prayer Book app on their phones. In NZ, Theological-College/Seminary-trained Anglican clergy struggle to comfortably pray the Daily Office (which should feel like well-worn, comfortable slippers).

I noted that a highly-regarded international liturgical scholar recently contacted me after researching NZ rites (yes – placing one’s services online has an unintended consequence for international study) and decided the best word for NZ Anglicanism’s worship they could come up with, at least from this overview, was “anarchy”. Not only are there a baffling number of variants allowed, but many church leaders (from baptism, through eucharist, to ordination, and weddings…) simply choose from overseas or other rites, or make up stuff, including on the spot. The Anglican NZ Prayer Book is merely one lovely resource amongst others.

Are clergy in danger of turning liturgy into a personal vanity project?

The confusion has increased since the 2020 publication of a book called A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Whilst previously, different editions of this book with this same title was a collection of formularies – this 2020 includes resources which are not formularies:

In addition to new formularies this edition includes the 2010 Schema, updated in 2019 for this publication, of sentences, collects and readings, along with approved Te Reo translations. Also included are new Fijian, Tongan, Samoan, and Hindi approved translations of some of the Eucharistic Liturgies.

Foreword A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa 2020

As a sidenote, office bearers of our Church sign up to our Constitution and A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa – it is now unclear whether this 2020 book can be understood as excluded from this term. The Christchurch Diocese at its last synod, in calling for new introductory material to be written for the Prayer Book, sought clarification – I hope we receive such clarification prior to this year’s synod meeting. My solution to this particular quandary is to put the non-formulary parts of the 2020 book through the formulary process.

In conclusion to this post, I want to offer another insight. Common Prayer is not primarily about the rules, the agreements, the formularies. People so often think that it is. People too often think that what people who are interested in liturgy are obsessed with is the rules. That is like thinking that the purpose of driving is the keeping of the Road Rules!!! The purpose of driving is to get from A to B. And to enjoy getting from A to B. The rules are there to help us to do this together.

There may be parts of our formularies that are never used. Those parts are not common prayer. If you are the only one keeping to one of the rules, that is not common prayer. Common Prayer is descriptive more than prescriptive. If lots of communities follow the same particular practice, use the same particular words – authorised or not; agreed to or not – that is common prayer.

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2 thoughts on “Worship Is Like A Braided River”

  1. Braided rivers are also shallow and the result of erosion.
    I have long believed that every mature/maturing Christian should know by heart:
    – the Lord’s Prayer
    – the Ten Commandments
    – the Beatitudes
    – the Summary of the Law
    – the Gloria
    – the Apostles’ Creed
    – the Aaronic Blessing
    – Psalm 23
    – 1 John 1.8-9.
    I think Cranmer would agree! Memorisation plays a bigger formative role in one’s prayer life than is often realised.

    1. Thanks, James.
      From my huge experience with young people, the key is singing – we remember what we sing.
      Chanting is a much bigger part of the Judeo-Christian tradition than most people (including most Christians) realise.
      Easter blessings.

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