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“The prayer book is the first thing that can and must be negotiated.”

“The prayer book is the first thing that can and must be negotiated.”

Once again, a provocative comment by one of our readers leads to its own post.

Josh Magda commented on Derek Olsen’s Daily Episcopalian piece on what’s “Non-negotiable.”

Josh wrote:

To me, the prayer book is the first thing that can and must be negotiated.

It is killing the church in many ways.

For starters, my generation has shifted its emphasis away from wordiness of

past generations to images and other visual media and experiences,

including in worship. The worship of fundamentalist churches is what brings

young people in by creating a pseudo-mystical experience. People are hungry

for God and looking down at a book, looking at the back of other people’s

necks and being read at is failing as a worship medium for many people.

There are many other worship resources in the spirit of Anglicanism, which

could include some elements from the BCP but must move beyond it, but these

resources are not there because we haven’t created them yet. They are

waiting to be birthed.

Secondly and just as importantly, the language of the prayer book reflects

a very particular theology and approach to God, emphasizing distance, God

up in the sky, Jesus’ blood, Almighty-father-heavenly-king, etc… all

models which have become inoperative for many of us. I feel like I am going

into the court of a king when I go into a high church Anglican service, and

this is only one historical way of imaging God. We must vastly expand the

language of the next prayer book to facilitate a much expanded encounter

with God, using some of the many, many, other names for God in the Bible,

emphasizing Love more than power, and for God’s sake, including the Divine

Feminine in our language, which would have a tremendously healing effect

for both men and women and launch us more quickly into God’s future.

The prayer book is always a touchy subject: how do you respond to Josh’s observations?

(And, thanks to Josh for raising another topic!)


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Patrick Cook

Reading the comments above reminds me of why I, as a twenty-two year old Anglican, feel the need to clarify that I am an orthodox Anglo-Catholic who happens to be liberal on certain social issues, rather than a liberal Anglo-Catholic. Perhaps its my location in the heartland of ‘Radical Orthodoxy’, but a lot of the views expressed above seem to me to be ‘so last century’, i.e. twentieth-century ‘Honest to God’ style liberal Protestantism.

What is needed for any people is an authentic religion, by which I mean one deeply rooted in the conscience of the people. Such a religion is destroyed utterly and irrevocably by needless change. We have, through no reason but our own blind stupidity, lost this type of religion in most of the Western Church. It’s been dead in England for centuries, since the introduction of the first English liturgy in 1549 and the suppression of the Use of Sarum and other local uses, which were locally rooted. It has been dead in most of Continental Europe since the Second Vatican Council, if not earlier. In the West, it lives on only in a few rural communities where a natural conservatism has tempered the novelty of foreign introduction. In the Eastern Church, however, this form of deeply culturally rooted religion lives and thrives.

Anglican attempts to revive this sort of religion have been varied, and met with varied success. The attempt Percy Dearmer, Conrad Noel and others to create an Anglicanism rooted in the traditions of mediæval England failed. The memories were too long dead. The concurrent revival of English religious architecture, led by men such as Butterfield, Pearson and Pugin (the last of these, of course, not being an Anglican) was a resounding success, for architecture lives longer than rites.

The second attempt to inject some life into Anglicanism, that of the ultramontane Anglo-Papalists, was somewhat more successful, for it at least tapped into a living tradition, albeit a foreign one. The resulting liturgies had a feel of the artificial, for they were not indigenous, but they could at least be compared to contemporary continental practices.

For religious people living in America, there is an extra problem, and that is that America has no culture. Or, rather, its indigenous culture exists only at the margins (it is worth noting that the broadly syncretic Christianity of the Southwestern Indian tribes is the only ‘American’ form of Christianity to give any feeling of authenticity). Where religion in America has succeeded in being authentic, it has been an import, as in the immigrant churches of diaspora communities. In so far as this applies to Anglicanism, one might point to certain highly Anglophilic parishes, predominately on the Eastern Seaboard (S. Clement’s Philadelphia is the classical flagship, although St Thomas, Fifth Avenue might provide a less extreme example).

What is much more common in America, however, is a sort of fake religion. Its fakeness is not the result of any want of religious fervor or sincerity, for those are present in abundance. What is lacking is any discernible sense of cultural rootedness. Rites with no claim to antiquity (many of them made up within living memory) are celebrated within buildings that are, both in design and in the methods of their construction, fundamentally fake (the most egregious examples of this represent a sort of sub-Disney school of set design, in which ‘traditional’ features are inauthentically made in cheap modern materials, resulting in a style that would be postmodern if it had any wit, but which is instead just deplorable). The result is a religion that looks, and indeed is, made up and witlessly made up at that.

Young people, who particularly sensitive to issues of authenticity, are naturally repulsed by such phoniness.

We need to be plugged into tradition, what the Orthodox (who are far wiser than we Western Catholics) rightly understand to be the primary means by which the Holy Ghost guides the Church. That does mean that all change must be rejected, but all change must be organic.

I should perhaps note that I am not talking the so-called ‘hot button’ issues that are supposedly splitting out Communion. These will soon be forgotten. My concern is with la très longue durée, As a very wise historian of the twentieth century once remarked: ‘men and dynasties pass, but style abides’. He was commenting on Tacitus, but that remark is just as applicable to the sacred rites of the Church. Scandals come and are forgotten, but bad liturgy is permanent and fatal. From an ethical perspective, this may be dubious, but it is certainly true:

Time that is intolerant

Of the brave and the innocent,

And indifferent in a week

To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives

Everyone by whom it lives;

Pardons cowardice, conceit,

Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse

Pardoned Kipling and his views,

And will pardon Paul Claudel,

Pardons him for writing well.

Bill Dilworth

Thanks; you know, when you wrote “early liturgies” I thought you meant from the second century or something! I took a look around Laughing Bird. took me a couple of minutes to get my head around a liturgical Baptist church, but once I got past that I found their site very interesting. I like their baptismal liturgy. I looked at a baptismal liturgy Janet Morley wrote for All Hallows, too. Very clear, simple language that seemed as of it would be well suited for a child old enough to answer on her own, but for whom liturgical English might be a barrier. I’ll have to spend more time exploring these sites. Thanks again….

Ann Fontaine

Those written by women in the early days of feminist-womanist theology. Janet Morley for instance, or current liturgies from Laughing Bird. and others.

Bill Dilworth

Ann, what early liturgies are you referring to? Can you point us towards a couple of examples?

Bill Dilworth

There is a very interesting 2007 Pew survey of religious attitudes among young Americans at

If I’m reading it correctly (which is by no means assured) then the unaffiliated group is the one that claims the most people ages 18-19, with 25% of them so self-identifying. It seems to have grown with every passing decade. Evangelical churches claim 22% of that age group, the same number who identify themselves as Catholics.

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