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Posts Tagged ‘Anglicanism’

“Those who don’t read  have no advantage over those who can’t read.” — Mark Twain

For Anglican purposes, you could (less poignantly) restate Mark Twain’s quote by saying, “Those who don’t use their prayer books have no advantage over those who can’t.”  Myself and others could go on and on about the beauty of the language, the importance of communal worship and prayer, the strength of the Catholic & Patristic tradition, the wisdom of Benedictine/Monastic spirituality, the benefit of an aesetical approach to growth in holiness….

Yet, if people don’t understand their prayer books and how to use them, and further if they don’t actually use them, it is all for naught.  Dr. Derek Olsen has written something recently along similar lines.  Some of his more helpful thoughts include

So—in a nutshell, here’s how I’d go about doing it. First a big-picture, then attention to some of the actual parts.

  • Christianity has a variety of valid spiritualities—the BCP enshrines one of them: the liturgical system [and I’d add /sacramental] approach
  • The key logic operative here is the disciplined recollection of God with the intention that following these disciplines will lead to the habitual recollection of God.

The fundamental mechanisms for achieving this goal are threefold:

    • The kalendar which leads us to view time through a salvific lens
    • The Daily Office which is fundamentally catechetical in nature
    • The Eucharist which is fundamentally mystagogical in nature

I especially like his thoughts about the recollection of God.  It reminds me of Eastern Orthodox ideas about “mindfulness.”

So—here’s why this is important and the meat of how it relates to the issue at hand. The purpose of any spiritual system is to bring the practitioner and their community into a deeper relationship with God—to create a family of mature Christians. Through their increasing awareness of who God is, how much God loves them and all of creation, they translate that love they have been shown into concrete acts of love and mercy in the world around them. There are several different strategies that different spiritual systems use to accomplish this. One of the classic ones—referred to in St Paul’s direction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—is the recollection of God. The idea here is that if we can continually keep in mind the goodness of God, the constant presence of God, and an awareness of the mighty works of God on behalf of us and others, that we will more naturally and more completely act in accordance with God’s will and ways. Continual recollection is nearly impossible, but there are methods to help us in this habit.

A primary goal of liturgical spirituality is to create a disciplined recollection of God. Thus, if we specifically pause at central points of time—morning and evening; noon and night; Sundays and other Holy Days—to reorient ourselves towards God and the mighty acts of God, whether recalled to us through the Scriptures or experienced by us through direct encounters with the sacraments, then this discipline will lead us towards a habitual recollection of God.

In the liturgical round, the Book of Common Prayer gives us specific moments to stop and orient our time and ourselves around the recollection of God. As a result, one of the most important parts of the book is the Daily Office section that provides forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. These prayer offices are our fundamental tool for disciplined recollection; they provide the foundation for our spiritual practice. This foundation, then, is punctuated by the Eucharist on Holy Days (at the least). And, conceptually, this is how we should view Sundays—not the day of the week on which we go to church—but as a Holy Day which recurs on a weekly basis.

With all of that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for making the BCP part of your life and the life of your parish.

1. Create Prayer Book Studies similar to Bible studies.  Study the Church Kalendar.  Study the various liturgies.  Think about why various Scripture readings are chosen for certain occasions.  Try to discern what the Prayerbook teaches about ordination, baptism, creation, marriage, etc., etc.  Read commentaries on the prayer book(s).  And don’t forget to spend time in the “Historical Documents”, especially the 39 articles.  If done properly, study of the Prayer Book(s) can be a very rewarding, life-long process of not only learning but spiritual formation and growth.

2. Develop a lay “officers” program at your parish to encourage the public praying of the office daily.  If you can get 30 officer volunteers trained and licensed, then you can have the office said daily in your parish with only a once-a-month commitment from each volunteer.  If you can get 60 officers trained, then you can have morning and evening prayer daily in your parish without overburdening the clergy, without running your volunteers ragged, and all the while increasing lay involvement and public worship.  Ring the bell.  If you don’t have one, get one.

3. Make sure basic, but thorough Prayer Book education is part of the confirmation curriculum.  Shame on the parish whose confirmands have no idea how to navigate the office or the lectionary, or are lost if the whole service isn’t printed for them on Sunday.  Do more than tell them it was compiled by Cranmer, revised in 1979, that we now use the Revised Common Lectionary for xyz reasons, yada yada yada.  That information is important, but it isn’t vital.  Praying and worshiping is vital. Printing the Sunday liturgy is fine, but all Anglicans should learn to use the prayer book with their eyes closed.

4. Make sure the actual Book of Common Prayer is the foundation and de facto form of worship in your parish.  Books of alternative services, books of occasional services, and the like are fine, but they are exactly that: alternative and occasional.  They should never be the meat and potatoes of Anglican spiritual formation and worship.  If the liturgy you regularly use on Sunday (Eucharistic prayers, Prayers of the People, etc.) is not found in The Book of Common Prayer, don’t be surprised if the parishioners can’t articulate to their neighbors what it means to be an Anglican Christian, and don’t be surprised if they leave your parish when the next cool thing comes to town.  If you treat the church like a commodity on the religious marketplace, don’t be surprised if people respond in kind.

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The Bishop of London recently gave us some wonderful words on the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.  A few of the brief remarks he gave were, to my mind, axiomatic for a good understanding of the Book of Common Prayer and its place in our little part of the Church:

 It was an audacious attempt to re-shape the culture of England by collapsing the distinction between private personal devotion and public liturgical worship in order to create a godly community in which all and not just the clergy had access to the “pure milk of the gospel”.

The BCP was an attempt to make a heavily Benedictine influenced spirituality of prayer and Eucharist available to all people.  I have heard it called “the monasticism of all believers,” but in the very least in was taking ascetical spiritual practices  from the monastery and putting them right in the bedrooms, kitchens, and parish churches of lay people.

But one of the functions of a liturgy is to preserve words and the possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street.

It much of contemporary western Christianity, we have forgotten the place of “liturgical language.”  We feel much more comfortable with t-shirts that proclaim, “Jesus is my homeboy,” than we do with fear and awe and reverence.  The Book of Common Prayer was and is a healthy corrective to this leisurely and  “Hey there buddy” approach to God which is so common these days, but would be difficult to find in the Holy Scriptures.

Cranmer distilled his liturgy from his studies of the Christian past and especially of the patristic period – the first five centuries; the springtime of the Church.

In the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer, of 1549, he appeals to the authority of the “auncient fathers” as a guide in liturgical matters. Queen Elizabeth I, in her letter to the Roman Catholic Princes of Europe, amplified the point “that there was no new faith propagated in England, no new religion set up but that which was commanded by Our Saviour, practised by the Primitive Church and approved by the Fathers of the best antiquity”.

Some might say that what Cranmer did was not so much “write” the BCP, but to compile, edit, and translate it.  Cranmer was not trying to do anything new, per se.  He was trying to make sure that Biblical, Patristic Christianity was meaningfully and vitally practiced throughout England.

This next paragraph was so striking that I couldn’t help but include it here:

In a book published in 1662, Simon Patrick comments on the rites and ceremonies of divine worship and approves “that virtuous mediocrity which our church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome and the squalid sluttery of fanatic conventicles.” Of course we would be too polite to say such things now but the Prayer Book offers a simple and moderate system for a whole life from baptism to last rites and seeks in its rubrics and ceremonies to embrace the whole person and not merely the cerebellum.

+London concludes with one of the finest single paragraphs about the BCP that I have ever read:

The Book of Common Prayer which immerses us in the whole symphony of scripture; which takes us through the Psalms every month; which makes available in a digestible but noble way the treasury of ancient Christian devotion has a beauty which is ancient but also fresh. If our civilisation is to have a future the roots must be irrigated and the texts which we choose to pass on to our children have the power to create a community which does not merely dwell in the flatlands of getting and spending but which sees visions with prophets, pursues wisdom with Solomon and lives with the generosity of the God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Father Robert Hendrickson at The Curate’s Desk lays out a beautiful charge to rediscover Anglicansim:

There has been much talk of restructuring the Church, this is good and proper, yet my fear is that we have no idea what we are building structures around.  There are other Christian pan-Protestant denominations about that hover at the gates of universalism.  There are social service agencies that can deliver needed services more efficiently than us.

We are facing not just a collapse of large parts of the Church, we are facing a collapse of leadership, nerve, and vision.

The answer is not Hymnal revision, new governance structures, Communing the UnBaptized, a Kalendar of Saints with non-Christians, guitar Masses, digital Prayer Books, more liturgies about the Earth, or many of the other countless ways many seem to think will lead us to the dawn of a kinder, gentler Church that will usher in the Kingdom.

We have to begin, now, to rediscover what it means to be an Anglican Christian.

He goes on to describe what he thinks a renewal movement would look like in general:

There is a desperate need for a movement that takes seriously the issues of the day while committing to delving into the Tradition and carefully reading Scripture.  There is a need for a movement that is unabashed in its proclamation of Jesus Christ.  There is a need for a movement that sees social service not as a goal of the Church but as a means for us to be drawn closer to the mind of Christ.  There is a need for a movement that is grounded in disciplined prayer and lovingly offered worship.  There is a need for a movement that sees the Sacraments as the means by which we know the Incarnate Lord.  There is a need for a movement that is ready to move beyond zero-sum church politics to transform hearts and souls.

And then he offers a few points in particular that he believes are needful.  A few of them are:

  1. A focus on the adoration of God.
  2. A focus on careful preparation to receive the Sacraments.
  3. A heightened awareness of Healing and Confession.
  4. An understanding of the Real Presence in our life together.
  5. A renewed focus on the disciplines of daily prayer for all believers.
He concludes by saying:

We offer, simply put, the sacred.  We offer the sense that God is calling us to be a holy and living sacrifice as we are brought into his redeeming love.  This happens in ways beyond understanding and can only be termed mystery.  We offer a sacred way of being that sees all of our lives as consecrated for God’s use so that our selves and souls and bodies are fed and we, in turn, go out into the world, rejoicing as we draw others to Christ.

But by all means, go and read the whole thing here.

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From ENS:

It’s Sunday afternoon at the farthest reach of the Diocese of West Texas. Under cotton puff clouds floating lazily in a sparkling blue sky, a handful of parishioners arrive for services at St. James Episcopal Church.

You wonder where they’re coming from. Except for the stone footprint of an old frontier fort, the horizon is unencumbered by any signs of human habitation. The scene is virtually unchanged from what the first ranchers, settlers and soldiers saw 150 years ago.

But arrive they do at their small rock church with a white cross on top, from isolated pockets across the empty landscape, in vans, SUVs and pickup trucks, some caked in caliche dust. There are no sedans or small imports.

The vicar, the Rev. Christopher Roque, arrives with wife Tish and their two children, Matthew and Ethan. They chat briefly with church members congregating at the front door before heading inside for the 3 p.m. Communion service.

He’s wearing a white straw Stetson, leather vest, Levis cinched up with a big silver belt buckle with a Texas star in the middle, tall leather boots, a beautiful silver crucifix and a clerical collar. From a tooled leather briefcase he dispenses today’s scripture readings.

There is no procession or music. Roque walks to the front of the church and starts Rite II.  With his sermon, the entire service is over in 45 minutes.

St. James sits in the crossroads town of Fort McKavett, population 4, some 170 miles west of San Antonio. Besides St. James, the tiny hamlet consists of a post office, fire station and the Fort McKavett State Historical Site.  It’s so remote that you have to drive to Sonora, 41 miles south, for a loaf of bread or tank of gasoline.

On Sundays, “Father Chris” as he’s affectionately known to his parishioners, conducts services at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sonora in the morning, and then treks up to Fort McKavett twice a month for the 3 p.m. Communion at St. James.

“If called to Sonora as rector, it’s conditional that you are vicar at St. James,” Roque said.  “The diocese kind of yokes the two churches together.”

St. James probably would never have existed if it hadn’t been for the presence of Fort McKavett, a prominent cavalry and infantry base active in the mid-19th century.

When the fort closed in 1883, the chaplains left, the services at the base ended and the area was left without a church or Episcopal minister. So “the local residents demanded that the bishop give them their own priest,” Roque said. They founded St. James as a mission in 1884 and formally organized the church in 1889.

A decade later they built their first church, a wooden structure that was so damaged by a twister that the bishop eventually condemned it and ordered all the furnishings removed for safekeeping. The present rock building was constructed in 1941.

“Many prayers have bounced off these walls,” said Bishop’s Warden Jimmy Martin.

St. James was served by supply priests until the minister at St. John’s in Sonora began going up to St. James, leading to the tradition of yoking the two parishes together under the same minister. Roque has served at St. James and St. John’s since 2008.

Smallness does have its virtue, Martin believes. When he’s visited larger churches, he wonders “how many of those people does that priest know personally?”

“We love each other, we share with each other, we know each other very well,” Martin said. “Father Chris knows us very well.  We know everything about each other.”

Martin paused. “For better or for worse.”

“Now we also have a priest,” he said.  “If we need him, we can call him.”

Roque has taken to the area’s rich ranching culture and probably has the distinction of being the only priest in the diocese who helps his parishioners round up cattle.  “It also gives him a chance to meditate and pray…”

“St. James is a staunchly independent and self-reliant church,” Roque said.  If the diocese asks “if there is anything we can do for you, our members will say we’ve been around for over a hundred years.  Just give us a priest and we’ll be all right.”

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Dr. Derek Olsen, who runs the blog Haligweorc, has written a tremendously thoughtful and helpful article on The Book of Common Prayer over at the Episcopal Cafe:

If we want to renew and strengthen the Episcopal Church in light of these very real challenges that are facing us, then the one thing that we dare not mess with is our commitment to the contents and spirit of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer

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I’m not saying the book is perfect. There are certainly some things that I’d change if I had the chance. But recognize this: 1) it is an authentic expression of the historic Western liturgy that has nourished literally millions who have come before us. 2) It is an authentic expression of the English devotional experience. (The importance of this is not that it’s English, of course, but that it is a rooted, embodied, inherited tradition that has been embraced and passed on by a diverse group over a period of centuries—not just dreamed up by a few people last week.) 3) It is an authentic expression of historic Anglican liturgy that balances reform of Western norms with Scripture and the theological and spiritual practices of the Early Church. That’s actually quite a lot of things going for it—and it’s more things than would be going for most services either you or I would dream up.

Most people I know don’t go to church on Sunday morning to experience the rector’s latest exciting innovation; they go to church because they hope to experience God and to get a concrete sense of what it means to live out love of God and love of neighbor. Using the book doesn’t guarantee any of this, but it is a big step in the right direction…

…[T]he Book of Common Prayer isn’t just the book for Sunday services. Instead, the Book of Common Prayer offers a full integrated spiritual system that is intended as much for the laity as the clergy and which is founded in a lay spirituality that arose in the medieval period. If you look at the book as a whole, it offers a program for Christian growth built around liturgical spirituality. The best shorthand I have for this is the liturgical round. It’s made up of three components: the liturgical calendar where we reflect upon our central mysteries through the various lenses of the seasons of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and in his continuing witness in the lives of the saints, the Daily Office where we yearly immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Psalms, and the Holy Eucharist where we gather on Holy Days to most perfectly embody the Body of Christ and receive the graces that the sacraments afford…

—-

For me, this is where the church lives or dies. Are we forming communities that embody the love of God and neighbor in concrete actions? Not just in what programs the institution is supporting, but are we feeding regular lives with a spirituality that not only sustains them but leads them into God’s work in a thousand different contexts in no way related to a church structure? Are our parishes witnessing to their members and to the wider community in their acts of corporate prayer for the whole even when the whole cannot be physically there? Therefore this is why, when we worry about the fate of the church, my answer will be a call for more liturgy. Not because I like to worship the worship, but because of the well-worn path to discipleship found in the disciplined recollection of God that the liturgy offers.

My firm belief is that if membership is a problem, our best move is to head for spiritual revitalization. People who are being spiritually fed, challenged, and affirmed by their church will be more likely to show it, to talk about it, and to invite their friends and neighbors to come and see it for themselves. This won’t—it can’t—fix all situations, but even if it doesn’t, spiritual revitalization is what the Church is called to be about…

 

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I am currently reading  A History of the Church in England by JRH Moorman, and had I known it would be this enriching and illuminating I would have read it much sooner.  If I had my druthers, it would be mandatory reading for all confirmands and inquirers.  One of the most helpful sections comes in the chapter dealing with the Elizabethan settlement during the English reformation.  Specifically, it deals with the unique way that the English reformers approached the reform of the church in their country.  From page 212:

In the eyes of those who were shaping the destiny of the Church in England there was no sense of separation from the rest of the catholic church.  The Church in England was, as the title-page to the first Prayer Book had implied, a part of the catholic church, even though it had repudiated papal jurisdiction.  It was catholic, but it was also reformed.  Its roots ran back to the primitive church, but certain customs and ideas which had clung to it during the Middle Ages had now been cut away.  The fundamental doctrines and constitution of the Church remained the same, but a number of genuine reforms had been carried out, such as the vernacular liturgy, the administration of the Sacrament in both kinds and permission for the clergy to marry.

The key point for me here is that they were in no way trying to be anything other than catholic Christians, and the inheritors of the Holy Traditions of the church as they had been received in England.  They certainly believed there had been some medieval missteps that needed to be put right, but on the whole English “Protestantism” was less about being good protestants and more about being good catholics.  This is markedly different than the way the reformation proceeded on the continent (of Europe).

After the brief, but violent interlude of the Puritan commonwealth, the Caroline divines carried forward the torch of reforming the catholic church in England.  Their work was, again, not about creating a new church, but about being faithful as the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  From page 234:

The point of view… may be summed up in the dying words of Thomas Ken…, ‘I die,’ he said, ‘in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolick Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West.  More particularly I dye in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papall and Puritan Innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross’…

Theirs was an atempt to get back to the early Church before the accretions of the middle Ages which the reformers had been so anxious to get rid of.  The Anglicans stood between two great religious systems.  On the one side was Rome, active and aggressive under the impetus of the Counter-Reformation, trying to rebuild a Christendom shattered by the cataclysms of the sixteenth century.  But to the Anglicans there could be no return to Rome since the faith which she taught was, in their eyes, impure — corrupted by the ‘innovations’ which were no part of the Holy Catholic and Apostolick Faith’ as taugh by the Primitive Chuch. As Laud said, they could not return to Rome ‘until she is other than she is.’  On the other side were the Calvinists and Lutherans, who had separated from catholic tradition and had magnified certain doctrines out of all proportion.  The Anglicans were equally clear that they could not fall into line with them since they had abandoned things which the Early Church thought essential.  The Caroline Divines, therefore aimed at a Via Media between two extremes; but the Via Media which they sought was not a compromise, a ‘lowest common denominator’; it was a real attempt to recover the simplicity and purity of primitive Christianity. (Bolding mine)

And here we have that famous phrase: Via Media.  It has been bandied about much in contemporary Anglican debates as a way of encouraging compromise, tolerance, and broad mindedness.  However, what we find in the minds and work of the Anglican reformers is no watered-down compromise.  It is a full-throated declaration and a full bodied working out of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith as understood and passed down by the undivided church.  Now that is what I call, “change we can believe in.”  That is an Anglicanism we can believe in

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