THE WAY FORWARD

An Address to the Nova Scotia / PEI Branch
of the Prayer Book Society of Canada


This Address is reprinted from the Anglican Free Press
Trinitytide, 1990. Vol 7, No. 2


My task today is to speak about "The Way Forward", and I'm going to do that, but in order to do that it's necessary, to begin with, to look a little bit backward and a little bit at our, present circumstances because it's in those terms that we can think about where it is we go next.

Professor Alan Hayes, Professor of Church History at Wycliffe College, Toronto, in his "Historical Notes on Liturgical Revision," remarks that liturgical revision has been on the agenda of Canadian Anglicanism almost as long as we have had a national Church structure - which could deal with doctrine, worship, and discipline. After the first General Synod, in 1893, provided an organization for Canadian Anglicanism, the second General Synod, in 1896, adopted a resolution for a new Canadian Prayer Book to replace the English Prayer Book of 1662 which the Church had so far been using. And we've been producing liturgies, planning liturgies, or criticizing liturgies ever since.

Although that process has not always been smooth and has often involved a geat deal of controversy and debate between various parties in the church - high church, low church, broad church, and so on - yet as Professor Hayes observes, all parties thought of themselves s loyal Anglicans and the principle that liturgical revision must be faithful to Ecclesiastical tradition followed inescapably from the foundational act of General Synod, the Solemn Declaration of 1893.

It was the Church's solemn declaration that it would maintain its continuity with existing structures, patterns of worship, and formularies. Working on that basis, and working in committees which reflected the diverse character of the church and which included, by careful design, a balance of theological perspectives, and working also in considerable openness, the Canadian Church succeeded in producing revised versions of the Prayer Book: first in 1918, ratified in 1921, and then in 1954, ratified in 1962, which although they did not altogether satisfy, obviously, the extremists of any party, were, nevertheless, generally acceptable and generally accepted by Canadian Anglicans. Both because of the principle involved, as stated in the Solemn Declaration, and because of the methods employed, those revisions were essentially moderate and conservative in character and represented compromise on any points between opposing positions.

Since 1962, and very much, I think, the spirit of the 60's the whole process of Prayer Book revision had been pretty much abandoned in favour of the development of experimental liturgies of one sort and another. And many of us, surely, can recall occasions when we were presented with the latest more-or-less authorized version of the Sunday Service in pamphlet form or on vaguely legible sheets hastily produced on the local Gestetner machine. Sometimes, especially in Ontario parishes. one would be confronted with copies of the American Services For Trial Use, or after 1979, with the new American Prayer Book.

It was at least patly in the interests of limiting liturgical chaos that the Canadian experimental services were gathered together and updated and published as the Book of Alternative Services, provisionally authorized before they were actually published, still not finally approved by General Synod; that's supposed to come up at the next meeting of General Synod. So, what the Alternative book actually represents is the opinion of the national Doctrine and Worship Committee, at the time of writing, (and the make-up of that committee has changed of course in the meantime), as to what would constitute, as nearly as possible in their view, ideal liturgies for Canadian Anglicans. Now that such a collection should evoke criticism is surely understandable and surely to be expected. That is, after all, a necessary aspect of the experimental process. What I think is very alarming about our current situation, is that serious and responsible criticism should usually be met with silence, hostility, and even charges of disloyalty to the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Book of Alternative Services is not, expressly avowedly not, a new Book of Common Prayer. And many of the problems associated with its introduction arise precisely from a misunderstanding of that point, on the part of some of its promoters. Canadian Anglicans are mostly very patient and long-suffering and inclined to be very respectful towards authorities. And I think, had we simply been asked to study and even make occasional use of the liturgies proposed by the national committee, we would have done so without very much distress however skeptical we might have been about the enduring worth of some of those proposals.

When, however, the Book of Alternative Services appeared in the guise of a full-blown Prayer Book, available even in leather binding; when it was instituted as the normal or even the exclusive form of worship in many parishes, or even in whole dioceses, to the vitual exclusion of the official Book of Common Prayer; when it appeared to be the preferred form of service for official diocesan events; when objectors were told that we have two authorized books rather than one and that opting for the new one was rather like choosing a new suit of clothes to replace one that was worn out; not surprisingly, I think, repeated assurances that the Book of Common Prayer will still be our official standard in doctrine and worship, had a rather hollow ring about them.

Some of us were slow and perhaps reluctant to see what should have been obvious to anyone thoughtfully reading the explanatory materials included in the BAS. The intention expressed there was that these liturgical changes should serve to introduce theological changes - theological changes incompatible indeed with the doctrine expressed in the Book of Common Prayer.

That implication becomes increasingly clear as Bishops and Synods proceed to introduce legislation, for example in regard to infant communion, manifestly incompatible with the Prayer Book but already adequately provided for in the BAS. As that implication becomes clearer polarization within the Church becomes sharper and more widespread.

Since its introduction in 1985, the cost of the Alternative book to the Anglican Church of Canada has been enormous. Not only, or principally, in financial terms, the expense has been paid rather in a kind of demoralization, a kind of loss of spiritual vitality, and sometimes I'm afraid at the considerable expense of Christian charity.

Vast numbers of Anglicans have felt themselves ostracized, disenfranchised, alienated from their spiritual heritage because they found it impossible to accommodate themselves to the new shape of religion introduced in their parishes. And in all too many instances, they were faced with a 'love it, or leave it' attitude on the part of pastors or committees of fellow Anglicans.

Some have indeed left, some to join one or other of the continuing Anglican Churches, some to join other denominations, some have simply gone away; but of course many other protesters remain and often in considerable spirital isolation. Perhaps, as some have claimed (I think rather heartlessly), all this makes for "a leaner, meaner church." But surely there is cold comfort to be found in such an achievement at such a price.

But what really has been achieved through all this grief? Certainly liturgical experimentation has not been limited or contained by the BAS. Nor will it be limited or contained by such methods. Already the BAS is out of date by some standards, for instance, by comparison with the new inclusive language liturgies circulating in an experimental basis in the United States and probably also in Canada. But more importantly, it is out-of-date in a more profound sense because, as Professor Hayes remarks, it is "theologically inflexible and narrow, expressive of a school of thought which has already passed its peak."

According to the compilers of the Alternative Services, liturgy is to be understood as "a principal process by which the Church and the gospel are brought together for the sake of the life of the world. It is consequently vital that its form wear the idiom, the cadence, the world view, the imagery of the people who are engaged in that process in every generation. " But even if one were to allow it as a sound principal of liturgical revision, that liturgy should be made to conform in such ways to the spirit of the times, one would, I think, have to go on to ask whether the revisions supposed to lead the church on into the twenty-first century, really do express this theory of a new age or whether they express, rather, the spirit of a generation now passing away?

I suppose that from the standpoint of religion the phenomenon which, above all others, has characterized the twentieth century has been that of increasing secularism. That is to say, that man-centred attitude of mind which envisions the cosmos barren of eternal verities, and the cultural situation for which the activity of God is the most marginal.

Whatever the sources of that attitude, philosophical, scientific, pseudo-philosophical, pseudoscientific, or whatever, certain consequences have been evident. Religion came to be regarded as a matter of rather doubtful personal opinion, or individual preference on the part of those who have such inclinations. And traditional doctrines, practices, and forms of expression - liturgical, devotional, and otherwise seem increasingly irrelevant. That was one of the big twentieth-century watch words, "irrelevant."

It was that widely pervasive temper of mind which moved many, especially in the 60's, to promote a version of Christianity which they described as ‘secular' or religionless Christianity. For many, the great manifesto of that movement, though it came really very late in the day, was a book by Harvey Cox, nearly a quarter of a century ago, called The Secular City.

"It will do no good to cling to our religious and metaphysical versions of Christianity in the hope that one day religion and metaphysics will once again be back. They are disappearing forever. Secularization rolls on and if we are to understand and communicate with our present age, we must learn to love it, in its unremitting secularity. We must learn as Bonhoffer said, to speak of God in a secular fashion and find a non-religious interpretation of religious concepts."
For Cox, and for many others of his way of thinking, especially in the 60's, that Process of secularization was a process to be fervently encouraged. The values and attitudes of the present age were to be determinative not only of the way in which religious truth was to be conveyed, but also of the actual content and substance of what must be conveyed. "Secularization," said Cox, "is man turning his attention away from worlds beyond, towards this world and this time." Old forms of religious devotion would now appear to be irrelevant.

Secularization indeed rolls on apace with the concomitant efforts at desacralizing scriptures, and liturgies, and churches, and it is still zealously promoted by those who live, I think, spiritually in the 60's, and are determined, they say, "to drag the church kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century."

An essential part of the program is a discrediting of the past. History must be reconstructed, or "de-constructed," perhaps we say now, in such a way as to be the ready foil of contemporary judgements. Present experience is the sole criterion of truth. Essentially, you see, the message is this - Present experience is the basic criterion. Try it and see if you like it. If you feel good about it, no doubt that means it is the leading of the Holy Spirit. If you don't feel good about it, that probably means that you are insecure about change. Perhaps you should be more open to the Spirit's guidance.

Clearly, that secular revolution is nowadays in trouble. Many Christians, of course, never bought into it to begin with. And any others who did espouse it have since become disillusioned vith it. To top it all off, Harvey Cox has now written another book in which he revisits that Secular City, and says this:

The world of declining religion to which my earlier book was addressed has begun to change in ways that few people anticipated. A new age, that some call ‘post modern', has just begun to appear. No one is quite sure just what the post-modern era will be like, but one thing seems rather clear. Rather than an age of rampant secularization and religious decline, it appears to be an era of religious revival and the return of the sacral.
The return of the sacral should not, I suppose, really surprise us. After all, the once confident assumptions of secularism are now entrenched in almost every sphere. But more than that. We surely should have remembered what Augustine said so well many centuries ago: "Thou, O God, hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee." The restless heart. We come to recognize ourselves as prodigal sons feeding upon the husks of ephemeral opinion and effervescent feelings. And we hunger for more nutritious fare. Superficial remedies will not satisfy the hunger of the heart.

Well, what we have achieved in our liturgical revisions is not a liturgy for the twenty-first century, not "new rites for a new age," but new rites for an age which is already passing away. It's true that we have been promised revisions of the BAS but it's also perfectly clear that, for practical reasons, nothing of the sort can be expected until well into the next century. Thus what was intended as a radical and progressive liturgy turns out to be reactionary and conservative - conservative, that is, of the religious and cultural status quo of the mid-twentieth century.

If there is to be a lesson learned from this circumstance perhaps it's simply the well-intentioned folly of the attitude which seeks to conform the gospel to the assumptions of the present age, which starts from an acceptance of contemporary culture as its standard and interprets the gospel in that light. Something of the sort was no doubt in Dean Inge's mind when he made that remark Dennis House quoted this morning, "The church that is married to the spirit of the age, will be a widow in the next. " After all, as Saint Paul said, when he admonished the Roman Christians, "Be not confrmed to the present day age, but be transformed by the renewing of you, mind, that ye may prove, what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. " A truly radical liturgy is not one which reflects contemporary opinion and current values, but one which proclaims a word of prior and higher authority.

So, I think, and perhaps some of you will think this a surprising and even unwise thing to say, but I think that our Book of Alternative Services and problems associated with it, is essentially a very transient phenomenon tied closely as it is to a particular religious and cultural situation. That does not mean, however, that it's going to pass away very quickly. For many Anglicans it has become de facto a substitute Prayer Book. And that's much more the case in some parts of the country than it is here with us.

Some of us, pehaps naively, supposed that we were involved in a short period of somewhat fluid experimentation; that there would be a process of criticism and debate and opportunities for revisions of the BAS; that we could all look forward to an eventual revision of the Prayer Book which would unite us once again in doctrine and worship. It now seems certain, however, that there will be no revised BAS at least in the present century, and revision of the Prayer Book is not even in sight. So, we shall have to live with the present tensions and confusions for a long time to come.

Archdeacon Elliott, in an admirable letter to the national Doctrine and Worship Committee - which most of you will have read in a Prayer Book Society Bulletin or in The Anglican Free Press (at the risk of embarrassing him I would say that it is an honest and courageous letter, precisely the sort one would expect from him) remarks, "a diagnosis is of little value in a medical situation unless it is accompanied by some program of cure or healing. " And he goes on to suggest the immediate initiation of a broadly based revision of the Book of Common Prayer. I think that's wise advice, although that would necessarily involve a long process, and if the committee were really balanced, and genuinely representative of various standpoints, the revision would necessarily be very moderate. But the initiation of such a process would at least have the great merit of pointing beyond the great impasse.

I think it would also help immensely if our bishops and synods could be persuaded simply to re-affirm by word and example the legal fact that the Book of Common Prayer remains our official standard in doctrine, discipline and worship, and that the BAS is not a substitute Prayer Book but a collection of experimental rites which may be used on occasion by those who wish to use them. Do you suppose that we have any chance of getting that simple point across? I think if we could do so, it would make a tremendous difference.

Other things are happening in this territory which we must think about for the future. For instance, the most recent General Synod, at the request of several dioceses and of the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada, requested after some heated debate, the establishment of a committee to conduct a. independent review of the BAS: that is, independent of the national Doctrine and Worship Committee. It's still not clear just what the composition of that committee might be in its entirety. And it's certainly not clear what can be expected of it. But at any rate, it constitutes recognition. that there is a serious problem. And we must, in any case, be prepared to make our views available to that review committee, as well as to our own Diocesan Doctrine and Worship Committee, as opportunity arises.

The Prayer Book Society, both on the national level and on the level of the Nova Scotia/Prince Edward Island Branch, has, in the past very few years done remarkable and excellent work in bringing issues which had been hidden and confused to the forefront, and in helping many people to recognize the problem and to think about it. It's important for the future that the Prayer Book Society continue its work, not essentially differently, I think, but always, of course, more zealously, more steadily, more prayerfully, more faithfully and without too much impatience about results. As we know from our Lord's teaching, our business is not primarily to try to count the harvest, but to concern ourselves with proper sowing: a point which is well illustrated by Mother Theresa's answer to a reporter who wanted to know whether she thought she'd be successful. She said, "God did not call me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.

Now in the struggles of the past few years I think that we have lost a good deal in terms, for example, of ordered devotional life for many church people, and in terms of the detrimental effects of controversy upon the moral and religious character of some of those involved. In some instances there have been effects which are nothing sort of tragic, with respect to individuals and their professional careers, and so on and so forth. And one must never, of course, try to justify such effects.

But when that is said and done we have also gained a great deal, and I think we can anticipate gaining still more. That is to say, we've discovered in many instances, perhaps for the first time, really for ourselves, what we had previously just taken for granted. We've begun to understand, perhaps for the first time, what liturgical prayer, liturgical worship are really all about. Perhaps we had to be shocked into that by our encounter with the Alternative Services. As Shakespeare put it, "sweet are the uses of adversity, like the toad, ugly and enormous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head." I don't want to beautify the toad particularly, but it is not without its virtues. One might cast that in more theological terms with Saint Paul, where he remarks, "where sin abounded, there grace did yet more abound. " We might remember the words of the Litany: times of tribulation are not necessarily less dangerous than times of prosperity.

Meanwhile, it's clear that we must live with the tensions and confusions of our present circumstances, do the best we can, confident that Almighty God and His providence sends us nothing which is not ultimately for our good if we will be steadfast and faithful in that charity which binds us to Him and to one another in the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.+


[backarrw.gif] Back to the Writings Page