Thinking allowed

Alternative Services

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the enactment of the Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure 1965.

It was this Measure of the old Church of England Assembly which for the first time enabled the Church to revise the 1662 services of the Prayer Book and to make extra provision. Until that point only the 1662 Book (with minor amendments passed by Parliament in the 19th century) had been legal, and the Church’s great attempt after the First World War to revise the Book had twice been lost in Parliament after passing the Church Assembly. The Church’s response to that failure was a resolve to never again subject liturgical texts to Parliamentary revision. But it took nearly 40 years (with an intervening World War) before this Measure was approved by the Assembly (Bishops: 30 in favour, 0 against; Clergy: 200 to 1; Laity: 203 to 11) and then by each House of Parliament. The Measure did not contain any liturgical text, but provided a mechanism whereby texts which were alternative to or additional to Prayer Book texts could be approved by the Church Assembly for use for a few years.

The first fruits of the Measure were the authorization of large parts of the proposed 1928 Book, and these became known as the Alternative Services First Series. Almost simultaneously a Second Series began to be published and authorized. These represented the work of the new Liturgical Commission, and in many cases they departed from the structure of the Prayer Book services, introducing the fruits of liturgical scholarship and ecumenical thinking, but still using language that was lightly traditional. The First Series marriage and burial services continue to be authorized, and much of the Second Series Holy Communion service continues as Common Worship Order One in Traditional Language.

The Measure provided for temporary experimentation over a small number of years, and it was an essential step on the route to the modern language services of Series 3, brought together only 15 years after the Measure in the Alternative Services Book 1980. By that time the Measure had been replaced, repealed entirely by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974. That Measure enabled the Church to make provision by canon law for the authorization of ‘forms of service’, and is the current legal basis for all liturgical texts including the 1662 BCP as well as Common Worship.


Modelling Liturgical Presidency

A Tale of Two Contrasting Consecrations

The ‘Octave’ from the feast of the Conversion of Paul (25 January) to Candlemas (2 February) was an eventful one for the Church of England. York Minster was the venue for the two episcopal ordinations (or consecrations) which were the focus of this eventfulness. It provided the Minster with a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate why English cathedrals have experienced such growth over the past decade. The fusion of space, music, movement and colour merged to provide that elusive and indefinable, but tangible, experience we often describe as ‘transformative’. The balance, pace (and timing) left you with the craving to come back for more.

Peter Moger, the Minster’s Precentor, deserves buckets of sympathy and admiration in equal measure. It requires a certain degree of insight and experience to craft acts of worship such as these, where the overall impact is memorable — as opposed to being overloaded and exhausting. In a previous life, I was responsible for arranging several consecrations in the southern province. I know the complicated terrain intimately: the reciprocal horse-trading; the endless telephone calls; the missed deadlines; proof-reading in the wee small hours; managing conflicting expectations; not to mention the sleepless nights. These are all inescapable in the build-up to these occasions. Despite the fail-safe rehearsal plan, there is always the potential for ‘something’ to go awry on the day — objectors notwithstanding!

My concern is with the strikingly different manner in which liturgical presidency was modelled at the two consecrations. The pretext for this difference is well known and hardly needs rehearsing here. However, it was more than apparent that, behind all the agonised exegesis of the Five Guiding Principles and the desire to model generous restraint, something vital was lost in the second of the two consecrations. The cohesive shape and flow of the liturgy felt as if it was creaking under the weight of unrealistic expectation — precisely because the presidential modelling seemed disorientated.

The first of the two consecrations (Libby Lane’s) was a model of how to order an episcopal ordination. Reactions to the sermon have been mixed; but there is no doubt about the theological, ecclesiological and liturgical assumptions which undergirded the rite. A sense of cohesion was self-evident in the Archbishop’s presidency, complemented by the appropriate liturgical ministry of others. As the introductory note to the Eucharist in Common Worship acknowledges:

The unity of the liturgy is served by the ministry of the president who, in presiding over the whole service, holds word and sacrament together [my italics] and draws the congregation into a worshipping community. The president … expresses this ministry by saying the opening Greeting, the Absolution, the Collect, the Peace and the Blessing. The president must say the Eucharistic Prayer, break the consecrated bread and receive the sacrament on every occasion.

The Archbishop’s modelling of this ideal felt organic, innate and contributed to a sense that, as the congregation was carried by the peaks and troughs of the liturgy, as different voices spoke, silences emerged, processions moved and music intensified the prayers and hopes those present, the unambiguous centre of gravity was the Archbishop as liturgical president.

In the second consecration (Philip North’s) it was far less clear how the unity of the liturgy was being served. Some will say, inevitably, that the lack of presidential cohesion experienced on this occasion was an all-too-real reflection of the uncharted ecclesial, liturgical and theological territory being negotiated. But need it have been so?

Quite often, it felt as if the fundamental question of how presidency of the whole liturgy would be expressed to give unity and cohesion to a great celebration, sank under the accumulation of so many other competing demands. The legal and canonical rights of the Metropolitan were well emphasised, as were questions of who would, and would not, lay hands on the candidate; not to mention the perilous prospect of treading a safe path through all the media discussion about purity and taint. The (doubtless unintended) outcome was that the Archbishop’s stated desire to model ‘gracious restraint’ was undermined by the apparently random manner in which he seemed to appropriate aspects of the presidential role.

Instead of there being a centre of gravity in the liturgy, there was an impression of two bishops competing for the same space in a liturgical game of musical chairs. The one who greeted the congregation, absolved them and then blessed them at the conclusion of the liturgy, did not recite the Eucharistic Prayer, break the consecrated bread, or invite the congregation to receive communion. The notion of the unity of word and sacrament being embodied in the president was fractured. The focus of liturgical unity was obscured.

I am left asking why the Bishop of Chichester could not have been granted the Archbishop of York’s commission to preside over the whole rite. The Archbishop was always going to be a visible participant, exercising his ministry at key moments (as preacher and as Ordinary who received the oaths of due obedience). Such a liturgical gesture of gracious restraint, and respect for theological conviction, would not require him to cede his authority as Metropolitan in his cathedral. But it would have enabled him to allow the unity of the liturgy to be served by the president, where the holding together of word and sacrament is embodied in one bishop, who is the centre of gravity for the worship of the whole people of God.

At a less theoretical level, it is largely assumed that cathedrals exemplify good practice. And they do — York Minster included. But I have this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that quite a number of clergy, lay readers and others from the Blackburn Diocese (and further afield) will have come away from York Minster on Candlemas day thinking that the model of ‘presidency’ they witnessed at Philip North’s consecration is a good thing (even down to wearing cumbersome copes instead of the traditional Eucharistic vestments usually worn for the Eucharist in the Minster). ‘Let’s give it a try next Sunday,’ they will be thinking!

Much parish worship in the Church of England is less than the transformative experience it should be at present, precisely because there is a lack of theological insight; a paucity of spatial and artistic imagination; but most of all, confusion about what constitutes good presidency — and how good presidency enables the whole people of God to fully celebrate the mysteries of faith in the sacrament of unity. If this can be understood — and modelled properly — before the next consecration of a traditionalist bishop, it will be for the better health of the mission of the entire Church of England.

Simon Reynolds is the author of Table Manners: Liturgical Leadership for the Mission of the Church (SCM, 2014).

Photo by Clive Lawrence, copyright Diocese of Blackburn


Additional Texts for Holy Baptism (GS 1958A)

The Agenda for the February sessions of the General Synod was published recently. On Thursday afternoon, the Alternative Baptism Texts return to the Synod after the revision committee stage:

The following items (full details of which are contained in Special Agenda II — see page 9) will be taken:

600 Alternative Baptism Texts (GS 1958A)
— Report of the Revision Committee (GS 1958Y)

and the note on page 9 says:

Article 7 Business
Consideration of a Report by the Revision Committee (GS 1958Y)
The Chair of the Revision Committee (the Bishop of Truro) to move:
600 ‘That the Synod do take note of this Report.’

1. Notice of motions for re-committal under the provisions of Standing Order 77(a) must be given in writing to the Clerk to the Synod by not later than 5.30pm on Tuesday 10 February 2015 (Standing Order 10(c)). Any such motions will appear on a Notice Paper.

2. If no such motion is carried, the liturgical business will automatically stand committed to the House of Bishops under Standing Order 77(f).

The texts (GS 1958A) and the report of the Revision Committee (GS 1958Y) can be found with other papers for this group of sessions here.


Liturgical dates for 2015

There is a tradition of announcing at this time of the year the principal dates of the ecclesiastical calendar.

Greg Kandra at ‘Don’t forget to chant the date of Easter this Sunday’ lists the dates and the usual formula.

Of course nowadays you can just use a printed almanac — or even an online one such as mine.


Religious Architecture

It is intended to say quite a bit at Thinking Liturgy on the subject of church architecture. Meanwhile, here is an interesting collection of pictures of

PHOTOS: See the award winners for stunning religious architecture

Take a visual journey of sacred spaces around the world through the winners of the 2014 International Awards Program for Religious Art & Architecture, given out by Faith & Form, the interfaith journal on religion, art and architecture.

A five-member jury of artists, architects, liturgical designers and clergy handed out 32 awards from 134 submissions.

From the press release:

“Jury members agreed that religious art and architecture are flourishing throughout the world, and that artists, architects, liturgical designers, students, and others are exploring ways to balance tradition with new demands of religious practice. The landscape of sacred space is changing, along with dramatic shifts in organized religion.”

The designs will probably not be welcomed by all, and they include places other than Christian ones. They are also largely, but not exclusively, North American.