Thursday, 23 June 2011

Help for Worship Leaders

Mark Earey's new guide to Common Worship (the services used by the Church of England) is well worth a look. It's called Finding Your Way Around Common Worship and is published by Church House Publishing. At the Reformation, Cranmer (the author of what became the Book of Common Prayer) objected to the fact that the services of the medieval church had become so complex that the priest needed an armful of books to celebate mass (or an exceptional memory!) He sought to put everything needed into one book. As I struggle with my order of service, my book of collects (seasonal prayers), my bible, hymn book and reading glasses, I often reflect that we seem to have returned to the situation he was trying to avoid!  

However, there is good reason!The texts that we have available today render our
worship more flexible and allow us to highlight particular occasions in the church and secular year with appropriate words and to use metaphors and images drawn from scripture and the Christian tradition that resonate with the season. The texts offer a rich encounter with the Christian story. The sacrifice is that most of us no longer have many texts we know off by heart.

Mark's book is an excellent and easily followable introduction to making sense of the the whole range of material available to us in Common Worship. The book is essentially practical and has charts outlining the key features and elements of services, tips on where to find vital information, frequently asked questions, a glossary, and useful information such as the main themes and relative lengths of the 8 eucharistic (Communion) prayers. He also points out that, returning to the 'responsible freedom' of the early church fathers, there are places in Comon Worship, under Canon B 5.3 (for those of us who like the technicalities) where you can adapt and change the words as long as they remain 'reverent and seemly' (and presmuably theologically authentic?). Hippolytus (a 2nd century priest in Rome) left us a record of the worship of the early church in his Apostolic Tradition which tells us that the first churches took precisely the same approach. These are Hippolytus' instructions for the bishop saying the eucharistic prayer at an ordination,
'It is not necessary for him to utter the same words that we said above as though reciting them from memory, when giving thanks to God; but let each pray according to his ability. If indeed he is able to pray with a sufficiently solemn prayer, that is good. But if anyone who prays recites a prayer according to a fixed form, do not prevent him. Only, he must pray what is sound and orthodox.'
Common worship does not go quite as far in the freedom it gives us, but it does require a similar kind of approach to presiding at worship in which the person leading and planning worship engages with the texts and makes them live.

Mark is Co-Director of the Centre for Ministerial Studies at Queen's Foundation, Birmingham and has also been responsible for many earlier quides to particular aspects of Common Worship 

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