by Tina McGregor
I grew up in the Assemblies of God, and now I have spent the better part of a decade in the Anglican tradition learning to fully understand and appreciate the tradition I currently find myself in. For the first five years (2008-2013), my husband Daniel and I attended a local Anglican Church, I didn’t understand what was going on, especially the liturgy and all the standing, sitting and kneeling. I wondered, why are we doing this? I had questions like, What is a collect? Why is there a call and response during the prayers of the people? When I asked people these question, they usually answered, “It’s tradition.” But that wasn’t a good enough answer for me. I wanted substantive answers, not slogans. Eventually, my questions were answered by three experiences I have had in the most recent past five years.
The first experience happened when my husband and I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania so that Daniel could attend Trinity School of Ministry. The people we met while there opened up my heart and mind to Anglicanism in a new way. At first, we visited several Anglican churches where I discovered a variety in the liturgy that I had not known before. We settled finally on an Anglican Church that met in a small space that felt inviting. This congregation embraced the arts, and it was multicultural in its expression of the liturgy. The liturgy was still there, but I felt relaxed and heard some answers to many of the questions I had about the liturgy. As Daniel was studying, he started to explain to me the collects and prayers of the people, and I began to understand the importance of the liturgy as a whole. I finally felt like I belonged to a community of Anglicans.
The second experience that led me deeper into Anglicanism occurred when I read Bruce Ellis Benson’s book, Liturgy as a Way of Life. Benson compares liturgy to a festival.
“Consider a festival that recurs each year: each time that it occurs, it does so anew. In festival time, we are taken out of the ordinary sense of time in which minute follows minute; we are moved into a different sense of time. Each time we worship, we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and his victory over sin and death. And, in that moment, clock time takes a back seat to festival time. Yet liturgy is (to cite the literal meaning of the term) truly “work,” for it requires that we work hard to “hear” God’s voice and to move into a posture of worship. To say that worship is improvisational means that we must be constantly seeking new ways of declaring God’s glory and new ways of hearing God’s voice.
The very structure of the liturgy of the Word and Eucharist is constituted by the call and response. We are always already called to proclaim the Word, and the Word calls out to all assembled. (Kindle Edition, location 410).
The quote above clarified the liturgy for me, and as I continued to read Benson’s book about the various parts of the liturgy, I became more aware of its beauty. The liturgy is not just a recitation by rote but a necessary act of worship.
The third experience came about while listening to and reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. Her book has played an important role in how I view the Anglican tradition. She explains the “why” of the liturgy in everyday terms. She takes the ordinary things of life and compares them to aspects of the liturgy. I particularly appreciated the chapter “Making the Bed—Liturgy, Ritual and What Forms a Life,” She says, “we are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices—rituals and liturgies that make us who we are. . . . As we learn the words, practices, and rhythms of faith hewn by our brothers and sisters throughout history, we learn to live our lives in worship (Warren 29, 31).”
I used to feel confused about how the liturgy related to my everyday life, but Harrison’s descriptions make liturgy clear to the ordinary person. Harrison’s book has taught me how to love the liturgy and the Anglican tradition now every Sunday.
In Love with the Liturgy
Lately, I have found myself falling in love with particular parts of the liturgy, especially the Collect for Purity and the Prayer after Communion. The Collect for Purity helps me open my heart and mind for the service ahead. The words “to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid,” reminds me that God knows the deepest places of my heart and mind and there is no secret kept from Him (Book of Common Prayer 1979, pp. 323). The Prayer after Communion states, “And now, Father send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer 1979, pp. 339). This prayer reminds me that Christ has given me a job and that I need to honor him with my service. This prayer also allows me to be sent out into the world with a blessing knowing that Christ is guiding me throughout the week.
Anglicanism for me embraces the heart and the head. I truly enjoy giving my heart and mind to Christ. I have grown to more than appreciate the liturgy, the Eucharist, and all things Anglican. The Anglican service for me is about my relationship with Christ and how “the call and response structure is mirrored in our receiving and giving back to God” (Benson, pp. 30-31). Now I look forward to every Sunday liturgy and Evening Prayer.