Today was my third week at Church of the Good Shepherd (a part of the ACNA), and I enjoyed it immensely. I am finally getting used to the flow of the liturgy, although I don’t hope to have much else memorized soon. In this post I’ll touch on some of the things I really appreciate about the Anglican way. There are heavier, theological issues at hand, but I am not well equipped to discuss those issues yet, as I have just recently begun studying the Anglican tradition. The following are some aspects that relate to me, according to my spiritual personality.
What resonates with me the most can be boiled down to one broad category, which I will unpack as we go along:
I realize that all churches have their own sort of liturgy. The churches with which I am most familiar all have unwritten, informal liturgies. There is singing, perhaps scripture reading, prayer, more singing, maybe a “greeting” time sermon, an offertory somewhere in there, announcements somewhere in there too, and more singing, and then dismissal. Communion is mostly likely a monthly occasion. All good and well, but there is a vast contrast between this liturgy and Anglican liturgy.
In the informal liturgical setting, the congregation participates little. We sing, we greet others. But we mostly just take things in through hearing (singing, preaching), and perhaps through observing words on a screen or bulletin, or reading scripture. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, nothing at all. I do wonder, however, what kind of picture we are painting of community, as a crowd that just sits and listens, and this is where Anglican liturgy comes in.
Anglican liturgy is formal, and written, currently taken from the Book of Common Prayer. There are songs and hymns, of course. There are four scripture readings in which the church participates by thanking God together after the scripture is read. There are antiphonal prayers. There are congregational prayers of petition and confession. The Nicene Creed is recited together. There is sitting, there is standing (and shifting to face the Gospel book [or cross] when the Gospel scripture for that Sunday is read), and there is kneeling for the petition and confession, with an opportunity for both individual (space for silent prayer) and corporate petition and confession. In a word, Anglican liturgy is interactive. To me, this speaks more of community, more of action.
There are also perks in a written liturgy for a visual learner like me. I can read the prayers as they are written, as I listen to them being prayed. What’s more (and I am not implying that unwritten prayers are inferior), some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve heard were written down first. As an avid reader and amateur writer, I always look for beauty in words.
Within the Anglican liturgy, there is a crescendo that sounds differently than it does in informal liturgical settings. In the latter, the preacher and sermon are the focal point of the service. In Anglican liturgy, the entire service builds up to the crescendo that is communion (or, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, etc.). The sermon is not neglected, but this shift of emphasis is intriguing to me. I wonder about all the weight that is put on preachers to make them into a type of celebrity, while communion is only celebrated once a month.
This leads to the question…why do you go to church? Is it for the preacher’s sermon? Or something else?
That is for another blog, another day, friend.