Thursday, May 03, 2007

Anglican Prayer Books as a Family Tree?

Images and pictures used in language often are very important, determining the way people look at a given subject or topic.

The family tree

The image increasingly being used by professional liturgists—and bishops, clergy and laity who listen to them—for the relation one to another of the massive variety of official Prayer Books in use in the Global Anglican Communion is "Family Tree." That is, there was originally The Booke of The Common Prayer of 1549 and from this original shoot has come a whole series of Prayer Books, both in English and in other languages, and these all have, despite differences, the same essential nature ("bloodline" and "family characteristics"). In2007 there is truly a large tree with many branches and a variety of fruit on each branch.

Here the underlying view is that when any of the 38 or so autonomous Provinces of the global Anglican Communion produces a Prayer Book and officially authorizes it then it is an Anglican Prayer Book and within the Family Tree of Prayer Books, whatever its content and title.

The propaganda and practical effect of having one's understanding formed by this image is that the obvious difference between, on the one hand, those Prayer Books which are definitely within the range of The Book of Common Prayer as understood in England by the 1549, 1552, 1559 and 1662 editions, and those, on the other hand, which are in the range of alternative and different types of public prayer and worship ( e.g. The Alternative Service Book 1980 of England) is diminished and are all made to be basically of one general type. Further, those Prayer Books, which decidedly do not continue the structure and doctrine of the English BCP of 1662, but are collections of varied services with varied theologies nevertheless use the title of The Book of Common Prayer—as in the USA, West Indies, Korea, Japan, Ireland etc.—are also included as rightful branches and fruit of the tree.

Thus this image produces the mindset which thinks of one basic Anglican approach—Common Prayer—but available in a wide variety of forms, and the richness of the available variety leads to the general idea that this Family Tree of local and different branches and fruit is a splendid thing. Thus the Family Tree is lifted up as an example to the world. [Note: this is the image chosen to unite the contributions in the important recent publication from Oxford University Press in NYC of The Oxford Guide to THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, A worldwide survey (2006).]

If this image is dominant in the understanding then the way one reads the reference to formularies and prayer books in the current draft of "An Anglican Covenant" will probably be favorable. Here is the portion of the proposed text (which may be revised at the Lambeth Conference 2008) together with a very significant footnote:

(5) that, led by the Holy Spirit, it [Anglican Communion] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons 1;
(6) our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to our societies and nations.
1 This is not meant to exclude other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorised for use throughout the Anglican Communion, but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion .

One way to read this text from within the image of the family tree is to agree that the BCP 1662 was, and has been, very important, but that in reality it has been superseded at least in part by later editions of "The BCP"—such as those in use in Japan, Korea, West Indies, U.S.A., Nigeria and Ireland. In this way, the function of the BCP 1662 loses its place as the one primary doctrinal formulary of the Anglican Way and as a means to unite all genuine Reformed Catholic Anglicans. And we are thrown back to where the Anglican Way is situated in practical terms in 2007—not one Lex Orandi as the basis for one Lex Credendi, but many laws of prayer supporting many laws of believing. In other words—if you like—one tree but a tree bearing a bewildering variety of fruit and offering a massive range of choice. So the question: What really unites Anglicans globally, even nationally?

An alternative image

Another way of looking at the growing variety of Prayer Books authorized by the Synods of autonomous Provinces is to think in terms of three different categories of Prayer Books, each of which is identifiable by its content, if not always by its title. We are familiar with different categories of books in many areas of life—e.g. cookbooks (Italian, Chinese etc cuisine) and service manuals for cars (Ford, GM, etc).

The first category is that which is "The Book of Common Prayer" properly speaking, in that it is a book of services which are intended for public and common use and there is no variety—just one service for one type of need and occasion. This is what unites in structure and content The BCP editions of 1549 to 1662 in England, 1662, & 1918-1962 in Canada, and 1662 & 1789-1928 in the USA. It also unites all these to translations of them (mostly of the 1662 edition) into many languages.

The second category is "The Book of Alternative Services" which is intended to exist alongside The BCP proper and to be under its doctrinal umbrella. Books of this kind have been published since the 1970s in various Provinces, especially those of the West, but not forgetting Kenya's recent "Our Modern Services" (2002).

The third category is "The Book of Common Prayer, but not really." Instead of producing alternative services to exist alongside the received, classic Book of Common Prayer (in one of its true editions, listed above) various Provinces in their Synods have made a collection of services, either all modern, or some from the traditional BCP and some modern, and they have called this collection by the title, "The Book of Common Prayer."

One real problem with this threefold way of distinguishing the Prayer Books officially in use in the global Anglican Family is that the third category is easily confused with the first, and thus the classic BCP loses its unique place and is seen only as a preliminary work—however good—that is given fuller expression in the post 1970s Anglican experiments in Liturgy. No doubt those who pressed for the use of "The BCP" in the 1970s the USA and later in other places knew what they were doing and what they intended to achieve. And in great part they have achieved this goal of reducing all Prayer Books to one level and making them to being equal fruit of a large tree. And this has much increased the tendency of people to say, "I prefer this" or "I like that" and so uniformity has become a dirty word!

Whether it is worth spending the energy and time to try to make what has happened and where we are today this clear to Anglicans worldwide is an important question, as is also the further question, as to whether most Anglicans are sufficiently interested to listen!

Certainly if the Lambeth Conference leaves intact the section printed above on the Formularies then it will be very clear that The Anglican Way will have no common doctrinal base even if it claims to have one. And two solid reasons why the section may stay are: (1) the reference to the 1662 Formularies is taken directly from the Declaration made by Ministers of the Church of England when ordained and instituted to parishes; and 2) the large (25 millions) Province of Nigeria has chosen to call its own modern Prayer Book by the title, "The Book of Common Prayer" (1996). May 3, 2007

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