1/23/2007

The Struggle and the Prayer Book

Occasionally a reminder or two is helpful as to just why the struggle to be a Church at least open to the possibilities of new insight, change and possible re-imaging of vocation is worth the effort. It is fiercely tempting to simply “rest in Jesus” by which I mean, on a practical level, to lay low in a safe context of good liturgy, decent preaching, and tolerable community. That is possible here in Lewes. But several people, among them the Rector of all Lewes and an old friend won’t let me get away with that. Both have put me on to substantial reading tasks that encourage me to the struggle.

An old friend, Arnold, put me on to a new book co-authored by a friend of his, Gene Roberts. The book is The Race Beat: the press, the civil rights struggle and the awakening of a nation, published by Alfred Knopf in 2006. As I am reading it odd questions come up regarding the struggles within the Church to awaken it to its own struggles, and the part played by both the formal press and the opinions of the blogsphere. Much of the struggle on the ground was lived out in symbiotic relation to the opinion columns and reporting done regarding those efforts.


How much of what is going on in the church’s struggles is first known on the ground, and how much is in the eyes of the beholding press and bloggers and only later taken to the pew? How much is the “crisis” an invention of those who need a crisis if they are to become the saving and continuing church, or the true voice of Anglicanism in the US? What part of the realignment community’s complaints are felt locally and what part are painted as grand injuries in order to further the agenda of this or that group? And of the majority viewpoint, what of it becomes oppressive when viewed by the media and perhaps internally, as a triumph over prejudice and evil? How much does right action become understood as righteousness and finally becomes coercive and condemning?

The role of the press, religious and otherwise, in the unfolding of scripts, agendas, party strifes, incompatible belief systems, etc of the various communities of believers is as yet unclear. It is pretty certain that the press fans the fires of contention and we bloggers spray lighter on the coals. It is less clear that the contentions were not headed towards a conflagration anyway, or that it was time to sound the alarm.

All good questions, and we in the blogsphere need to attentive to the role we play in the unfolding drama in Anglicanism. There have been several critical remarks made about the dangers of irresponsible quasi-journalism in the blogsphere. These have some foundation. At the same time the lack of transparency and evenhandedness on the part of various officials, parties and organizations in the various churches in the Anglican Communion has been well documented and confronted in both the press and in the blogs. All of which is to say we need to critique the press and opinion blogs every bit as much as we do the churches which are our focus.

The second book, recommended by the Rector of all Lewes, is The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey. This massive study is a goldmine of information about the development of a “prayer book sensibility” - from a Church with one Prayer Book for the whole nation to a Communion of Churches with many prayer books held together in part by the prayer book ideal and strata of theological and liturgical materials whose origins are found in England. But more, The Oxford Guide is a reminder of what a great gift we have in the Anglican Communion’s collective and ongoing efforts toward Prayer Book development.


In the long run it may be that Anglicanism’s greatest gift to the larger Christian community will be its notion that the community is ordered in faith and practice by the round of daily prayer and the celebration of Eucharist done more or less decently and in order. In all the seeming chaos of Anglican church relations these days it is the consistent return to the cycle and round of prayer and thanksgiving that keeps us sane. Perhaps in an odd way we do indeed rest in Jesus.

I cheated a bit and read the last essay in this volume after reading the first three. It is titled “The Future of Common Prayer” and written by Bishop Pierre W. Whalon. It is a highly readable and commendable short essay in which the continuing issues of Prayer Book development and change are outlined. At the close he quotes most of the third statement of the “little quadrilateral,” which in the Chicago House of Bishops version of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral precedes the big four, the Quadrilateral itself. It states, “That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline (or to traditional customs,) this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forgo all preferences of her own.” I don't know why he left out the matter of traditional customs, but I put it back in.


Bishop Whalon then writes,

“As Michael Ramsey argued in The Gospel and the Catholic Church, such a willingness arises from a clear perception by Anglicans of our brokenness.

And that perception itself arises from the shared, regular experience of Prayer Book liturgy. In the same experience there is to be encountered not only brokenness, but also God’s remedy and plan for it, through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. This more than anything else is what the Anglican churches must bring to the future, carrying it forward in the Book of Common Prayer.” (p. 556, Oxford Guide)

If the Anglican Communion and Anglicanism itself were to dissolve into the great pool of Christian living, for which it would be willing to “forgo all preferences of her own,” it is hoped that future Christian communities would look back and give thanks for this experiment in Common prayer so much identified with the Anglican churches. The Oxford Guide is a witness to this great experiment, so well conducted.

1 comment:

  1. Richard III24/1/07 10:38 AM

    I wouldn't necessarily call Anglicanism an experiment since it has been with us for around 500 years. Not as long as some other Christian faith traditions but certainly not a new kid on the block either. Based on the small amount of knowledge I have about it, it appears to be a very sane way of worship without letting a lot of personal preferences get in the way.

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