Common Prayer for a Multiethnic Church, Part 2: Music


Rev. David Ketter

A Word from the Formularies

In my original essay, Common Prayer for a Multiethnic Church,  there are a number of assumptions that are unstated. As we continue to press into the ways that becoming a healthier multiethnic Church, with multiethnic congregations, there are some core commitments. The Anglican tradition of worship, based on the Book of Common Prayer, is anchored in the Scriptures, the Creeds, and the Great Tradition of the Church—but it is above all rooted in what all these things point to: the Gospel of grace proclaimed in Jesus Christ for all nations. So, it’s worth bearing in mind that as we continue, there are some things that have authority in the development of our worship. According to the Anglican Church in North America:

  1. We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.
  2. We confess Baptism and the Supper of the Lord to be Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself in the Gospel, and thus to be ministered with unfailing use of His words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
  3. We confess the godly historic Episcopate as an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, and therefore as integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.
  4. We confess as proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture the historic faith of the undivided church as declared in the three Catholic Creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.
  5. Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided Church, we affirm the teaching of the first four Councils and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils, in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures.
  6. We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.
  7. We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.

These seven commitments guide my end of this discussion—and anything presented here ultimately will be submitted to the Holy Scriptures as heard and practiced and received in Word and Sacraments and confession of the Creeds. I am fully committed to the vision of Christ’s Church worshipping in the Great Tradition—and recognizing that this Tradition is not complete, prayerfully offer what is written as encouragement to see the full maturity of that Tradition as every language, culture, and people are gathered around to worship the Triune God.

1662--Book of Common Prayer, laid flat

Preface to Praise

Principle #6 above names the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the books which preceded it (the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer) as the standard for Anglican worship. Rather than understanding this as a call to some kind of Anglican “radical traditionalism” where we strictly worship with Tudor liturgies and 17th century English hymnody, we should attend to the words with which these books open: the Preface. In the 1549 Preface, Thomas Cranmer observes that the ancient Church provided the ordained worship “for a great advancement of godliness” by the regular hearing of the whole of Scripture and being inflamed with the love for God’s service. The chosen method was to offer prayer in simplicity and language appropriate to the commoners of England, and to unite their prayers in a shared pattern and repetition, so that worship would work its way into the very bones of their daily routines. In short, the goal of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer—and its subsequent revision in 1552—was discipleship.

In the 1662 Preface, those charged with revising the liturgies acknowledged the numerous variations of usage of the Book of Common Prayer, and confessed their commitment to a similar moderation in prescribing what was necessary for the good order of Christ’s worship in the Church, and to respond to the pastoral needs of their day. What is especially interesting and relevant in this Preface is not a principle at all, but that the liturgy for baptizing adult converts was first introduced in 1662—because of a change in the culture. The Baptist tradition was embedded in English culture, and the colonial practices of England had brought them into a relationship with other cultures and people groups, some of whom would become Christians. While it must be acknowledged that the Convocation of the Church of England did not take adequate consideration of the pastoral issues at work in the colonial enterprises at work, it is significant that pastoral concern to communicate and practice the Gospel’s clear teaching drove the production of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. And that concern should guide our decisions in the worship of Anglican congregations across North America.

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Singing All the Parts

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to worship at an Evensong service, you already know there is a way for Prayer Book worship to be 100% musical. It’s glorious, gorgeous, and inescapably Anglo (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing). And the rubrics in the liturgies permit it—there is incredible freedom to sing or say the worship of God in the Anglican tradition. But even in the standard service of Holy Communion, there are numerous opportunities for musical accompaniment in congregational worship: the Processional, Song(s) of Praise, Psalter, Canticles, Offertory, during the celebration and administration of Holy Communion, and the Recessional. Over the past decade, as I’ve experienced worship in the Anglican tradition, I’ve encountered Gregorian chant, English plainsong, English and American hymnody, Christian Contemporary worship, African-American Gospel and spirituals, African praise choruses, and a capella psalmody borrowed from Reformed Presbyterians (I may or may not have been responsible for that last one).

In my sending parish, we see a variety of musical settings and traditions presenting the biblical content for the congregation to offer praise to God. This diversity arises from the diversity of heritage and backgrounds in our congregation. Parishioners offer the gifts of their history, and the redemption songs through which they have praised God throughout their lives, to enrich one another’s worship, and it creates a glorious harmony.

In the church plant I lead, we intentionally catechize by singing songs from Gospel spiritual tradition. The repetition and simplicity of “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus” or “Glory, Glory (Since I Laid My Burden Down)” reflects for our young, unchurched community the principles laid out in the 1549 Preface to the Book of Common Prayer: discipleship in the way of Jesus in a way that will work itself into the everyday experience. The 1940 Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States might well offer the best of the English/American hymnody tradition (as I’ve heard argued in various places), but it would be a poor approach to discipleship in the community I serve. The pastoral drive, as they are introduced to worship in the Great Tradition, is to bring them by practice and grace, to honor and praise God in their own language and experiences, with a musical timbre that is recognizable—that shows them who they are and where they come from can be redeemed by Jesus.

With Every Breath

The Scriptures conclude with a glorious vision of the end of our sojourning and wilderness wandering as the people of God. In Revelation 21:22-26 (ESV), John writes,

And I saw no temple in the city [of New Jerusalem], for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

When all things are made new, and everything is set to rights by Jesus, everything will be centered on the Triune God, and under His perfect governance. It will not mean a cultural hegemony, or any one nation, language, or culture held above the others—but every people group will walk in the light of the Lamb. And every culture will bring their best in worship to God. What we do now, in our congregations, is in anticipation of that beautiful vision. At our best, it will just be a rehearsal. But, to be obedient to that heavenly vision, we should seek to make space in our musical offering, even as we offer our common prayers, to let all of our brothers and sisters bring the glory of the nations in.

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