The 2019 Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America marks 10 years of ministry and proclamation together. It’s a celebration of hard work for unity, trying times in the midst of conflict, thriving with financial uncertainty, and bringing disparate and different groups of Anglicans together. One of the growing pains in this province is the intentional pursuit of becoming a Church that truly embraces the peoples, languages, and cultures that are present in North America. It has provoked efforts at liturgical purity and hyper-conformity to some perceived glorious Anglo Golden Age, as well as inspired tendencies toward the heresy of ethnophyletism, urging people to worship “their own way with their own people, separate from others.” These reactions are two sides of the same coin—a resistance to the nature of Jesus’ work in gathering all peoples together as part of the one priesthood making one holy offering of worship to the one, glorious, and holy Triune God.
We have already presented perspectives on how worship can be multiethnic within the Anglican tradition. In some ways, those articles offer baby steps that would make ostensibly “white spaces” more welcoming to people of color. Our dioceses and parishes in the Anglican Church in North America all have a call to take that consideration seriously. What hospitality have we offered, if the people of color in our communities do not feel welcomed or safe within our churches? Let the bishops, priests, deacons, vestries, and other lay ministry leaders consider prayerfully what we must do, and take those steps. But we also need to have our eyes open to the challenges our newly-released Book of Common Prayer offers to the Gospel vision of a multiethnic Church.
Preface and Introductory Materials
It’s worth noting that while telling the story of the Church in England, there is an important affirmation in the roots brought to the front of the 2019 BCP’s Preface:
Haphazardly, and without a centralized hierarchy or authority, what emerged in Britain, by God’s grace, was a Church that saw herself, in each of her local manifestations, as part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: culturally attuned and missionally adaptive [emphasis mine], but ever committed to, and always propagating “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). (p. 1)
Whether engaging Welsh, Roman Britons, Saxons, or others, what became the Church of England has a foundation of cultural and linguistic diversity that predates the arrival of the Roman mission of Augustine of Canterbury. The Preface also acknowledges that the trend of Christianity in England from then on was toward formalization, clericalism, and conformity to the standards of the Roman patriarchate. The history recounted from that point on—even with the great works of Reformation, revivals, ecumenical movements—is a history of negotiating with the standard established in the Book of Common Prayer (from Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 and 1552 until the present day). As a Cranmerian, there is genuine wrestling with the content of the liturgies we have been presented with and recognition that the sources privileged in this process are indisputably English, without any obvious space for the contributions of the Black Church, and the home-grown legacies of Christian people of color all over the Americas. Yet, the Preface concludes by asserting that “peculiarly Anglican and English in its roots, culturally adaptive and missional in a most remarkable way, utterly accessible to the people” (p. 5)
The Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer is one of the classical strengths of the Anglican tradition. Drawing from and combining the historic monastic offices, Thomas Cranmer sought to craft worship that people would daily gather, pray, and above all, hear God’s Word plainly spoken so that they could understand God’s will and their own duties and responsibilities (see “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture” in the First Book of Homilies). The 2019 BCP’s Office with its lectionary firmly upholds that heritage.
Following English tradition, it is also intentionally laid out as a “said service”, where the expectation is that the officiant and congregation will speak the service, and at most may sing the Gloria Patri after the appointed Psalms, the Canticles (“or an appropriate song of praise”) after the appointed Readings, and an office hymn or anthem after the collect for mission. What is notably lacking is any instruction permitting or encouraging the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in order to collect God’s people together for the worship and the confession of our sins. The importance of hearing one another’s voices lifted up in song cannot be understated as we seek to come together before God to acknowledge our need for mercy. The Midday Prayer service revised from their introduction in the 1979 BCP, by contrast, offers more opportunity for that element of worship.
“culturally attuned and missionally adaptive.”
The Holy Eucharist
The prevailing wisdom of the Anglican world in the 20th and 21st centuries is that the service of Holy Communion is the principal service of Christian worship. For that reason, in many Anglican congregations, it would now be considered unusual to not have Holy Communion on a weekly basis (though there are still exceptions to this—the Daily Office being the historic staple of Anglican worship). Consequently, in the formation of the Anglican Church of North America, many ways (not just churchmanships) of celebrating the ministry of Word and Table came together. The 2019 BCP offers more rubrics and instructions and variations than perhaps any other BCP before it. Unlike the Daily Office, the rubrics for both rites—the Anglican Standard Text and the Renewed Ancient Text—provide a number of opportunities for singing: opening the service, following the Summary of the Law, following each reading of Scripture, the offertory, the Agnus Dei, the ministration of Holy Communion, and following the benediction. The unified voices of God’s people can be heard again and again in gathering to celebrate the Sacrament.
The voice of prayer, while unified in the person appointed and in the affirmative response of the congregation, may be a place that tends toward the English order. In “Additional Directions Concerning Holy Communion”(p. 140), however, we are instructed that other forms of the prayers of the people may be offered, as long as the concerns for the Church and her mission, the nations and authorities, all people and the local community, the needs and sufferings of others, and thanksgiving for God’s blessings and for those whose examples we remember, are offered. While this instruction isn’t immediately obvious, it is a liberating rubric for inviting prayer according to the heritage of Christians who know something more of lament, intercession, and the joy in testifying to God’s faithfulness in the midst of hardship. It’s an opportunity for growth and expansion of the prayers of the people in the Church.
This is not even remotely an exhaustive study of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer. It’s not a line-by-line analysis engaging deconstruction of systemic racism in the texts of the liturgies that have been commended to us by the College of Bishops. Neither am I accusing any one of our overseers of perpetuating ungodly systems in our worship. The Prayer Book Task Force and the College of Bishops have done many things well in constructing and preparing this BCP, and they are to be commended for the labor of love they have conducted over this past decade. What remains for us, as clergy and laypeople worshipping in the Anglican Church in North America, is to ask the hard questions about how we are to engage, to implement, and to gather as one around the Lord’s Word and Table, with one voice—not an English voice, but a Christian one—speaking in all the tongues and cultures that God has brought together by the blood of Jesus. May the Lord give us the grace to fulfill the words written—that we can worship in a way that is “culturally attuned and missionally adaptive.”