Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Liturgical choices for new parishes

In visiting various Schism I and Schism II parishes this year, I have gotten a clearer idea of what the various alternatives are for those planting new Anglican churches. For today’s Anglo-Catholic church planting session at ICCA 2015, I thought I’d write down these alternatives for prospective church planters.

Some important choices are front and center, such as which diocese (or province) to affiliate with, stances on key theological issues (e.g. women’s ordination) and calling your first rector (vicar); these are beyond the scope of today’s effort. Instead, let me lay out a few less obvious ones, particularly those that apply to new Anglo-Catholic leaning parishes.

1. Physical Infrastructure

New churches have to make basic choices related to the physical infrastructure:
  • Permanent or weekly setup. The proverbial school gym is available in any community, but requires weekly setup; an existing church will already be setup, but not available at prime time on Sunday morning (unless you find an abandoned church). Later on, parishes can have permanent setup on Sunday morning if they can afford to build or rent their own dedicated facilities.
  • Altar and linens. Is there an existing altar setup or do you bring your own? Do you have colors to cover all the seasons? Do the color shades match your vestments?
  • Kneeling. Will your service include kneeling — either for every prayer (ala 28 BCP) or at key points (confession, thanksgiving, before communion). If so, will there be permanent kneelers or temporary prayer cushions? (There’s the related issue of pews or chairs, but in my experience this is decided once you choose the site).
  • Public address. Do you want to amplify the spoken liturgy? If so, is there a public address system (e.g. at a school or church) for the clergy or lay readers – with wireless mics – or do you bring your own?
  • Musical infrastructure. Is there a mechanical piano, traditional organ, or electronic piano or organ? How does this tie into the PA? Does its placement allow conducting of (or by) the choir?
  • Liturgy distribution. Prayer book, service booklet, or weekly printed order of service?
  • Music distribution. Similarly is there a printed hymnal, hymns printed in the weekly bulletin, or projected on a screen? (By 2020, I expect some churches will be using real-time transmission to smartphones and tablets).
This does not count the infrastructure for the other six days per week: where do the rector (vicar) and parish staff hang out when there’s no worship service?
2. Liturgical Choices

The other key choices relate to worship and liturgy:
  • Preferred Bible translation. The churches I visit tend towards ESV or RSV, but there may be some KJV, ASV, NIV, NRSV or other translations being used instead. (The CoE has listed 7 translations as being suitable). Are there printed books in the pews? (A good sign) Are they used? Do you need the Apocrypha — if so, it’s not available for the NIV or NKJV.
  • Prayer Book. For US readers, I’m assuming the choices are the 1928 Book of Common Prayer or Rite I of the 1979 prayer book (the latter so flawed it prompted Schism I); to these two I’d add the 2003 REC prayer book which combines elements of the 1662 and US prayer books†. Some may consider the 1662 CoE BCP or — at the other extreme — the recent ACNA trial use liturgy, and some parishes will use a mixture of services.
  • Alternate Variants of Key Prayers. In some liturgies, there are choices to include or omit passages, such as the General Confession vs. Confession Lite. Some congregations insist on reciting “we believe” in the Nicene Creed while others adhere to centuries of tradition and shared theological understanding.
  • Lectionary. ACNA does not yet have its own lectionary, so the most likely choices seem to be Cranmer’s one-year lectionary (as embodied in 1549, 1552, 1559, 1662, 1896 and 1928 BCP), or the three year lectionary of the 1979 prayer book or the RCL.
  • Hymnal. For US Anglicans, the choices seem to be Hymnal 1940, Hymnal 1982 or none. (I have seen parishes that use third party hymnals such as the Celebration Hymnal). The Anglo-Catholic parishes (with 1928 or Rite I) choose H40, while the parishes that split Rite I/Rite II (50/50, 60/40 or 40/60) parishes go with H82, and the rock band churches don’t need one at all.  To date, there is no service music exactly aligned to the ACNA liturgy, although in principle the changes for the contemporary H82 service music should be minor.
  • Chanting (Service Music). Holy Communion potentially includes sung versions of the Kyrie (English or Latin) or Trisagion, Gloria, Psalm, Nicene Creed, Sanctus/Benedictus, Lord’s Prayer and Agnus Dei (not counting the Sursum Corda and other responsorial sentences). Which ones will be spoken, which ones chanted — and for those, what setting do you use? H40 has four (later eight) settings of the Kyrie+Gloria+Sanctus+Agnus Dei while H82 has four for Rite I and many more for Rite II. However, more important than matching the hymnal is having a familiar and stable set of choices (probably no more than 3 different liturgies in 12 months).
Of course, these have implications for the paid and volunteer staffing: priest(s), deacon(s), acolyte(s), lay readers, musicians, and others involved in the liturgy. My experience has been it’s virtually impossible to put on a traditional high mass (sung service) without a pianist or organist. (The Substitute Organ Service is designed for vacation relief and is not cost-effective for weekly use).

Defining Your Vision

When I spoke to veteran Anglo-Catholic church planter Fr. Chris Culpepper, he says he wish he had this list when he started his first parish in January 2008. IMHO, any church founder (lay, clerical) needs to decide personally which of these choices are essential, which are desirable and which are open. For example, in my own mind — and many that whose counsel I respect — the availability and use of kneeling is essential for creating a church that is contemplative, reverent and prayerful.

Once you have your own list, the planting team needs to bring their ideas together to discuss their corresponding hopes and vision. It is impossible to move forward unless this team can come to a common position on the nature of the church they are planting — and not only agree, but fully support the vision rather seek to undermine it or re-open key choices.

In talking with church planters, this part of an articulated vision going forward as the church grows and evolves. (That’s not to say that such choices are the entire vision, only key practicalities of defining what sort of church is being planted — and what will be needed to implement that church.)

At the same time, there is an important constituency not at the table: the future members who make the parish a success. WW II Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple (1881-1944) said: “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” The vision should allow for flexibility, modification and extension to meet the needs and desires of the future members. For example, a H40 parish will use hymns from H82 (such as Amazing Grace or  Bread of Life) and many 28BCP or Rite I parishes offer a modern language service.


I don’t know that these are all the questions, but this list seems to cover most of the alternatives facing the teams that are launching a new parish from scratch.

The case of new TEC exiles is slightly different. In my travels, it appears that congregations that have lost their building tend to carry over #2 from their TEC days, while making new choices for #1 based on their budget (and sometimes an attempt to re-create what they once had).

† Note: corrected per feedback from Rev. Daniel Sparks.


Daniel Sparks said...

The REC prayer book couples the 1662 with the KJV. It does provide the 1928 as an alternate communion service. However, the ESV is nowhere in the book.

J.West said...

Thank you for the correction (which I have updated): I have wanted to read through the 2003 REC for several months but with ICCA coming had a deadline to post something to support our church planting sessions. Serves me right for relying on someone else’s characterization rather than opening the PDF that has been on my hard disk for five months.