Better swot up on the old 39 and the BCP
Wooliness does bother me. I don't want to be fuzzy, half-hearted, badly educated. I also have to work out though what knowing all the formularies will actually mean for the laity to whom these educated clergy minister. Ministers need to understand the faith of the Church. The Church has passed on the faith over the centuries to the faithful and councils and Synods have decided, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which teachings to hold fast to and which teachings are false and heretical. Of course, history proves that the Church has not always behaved in ways which honour Christ's teachings but that's another issue.
Perhaps, as a product of my postmodern generation, I do feel uneasy though about what clergy do with this knowledge, these formularies. Why is this? I'm trying to work it out. I was an English literature teacher to children aged 11-18. I knew (still know hopefully) my Shakespeare and Chaucer. My job was to make it as easy as possible for the children in my care to understand these plays and poems. I wanted them to feel as though they were accessible, modern, even, after all their insights into the human condition are timeless. We roleplayed, we modernised, we translated and yet we looked also at the context, the history and the beauty of the language. I wanted the children to feel as passionate about their 'Romeo and Juliet' as I did. I wanted them to feel as though, yes, the play was their play. I wanted them to feel as though, whenever they heard those words in years to come, it would stir something in them, it would have become a part of their soul, if you like.
Now I know today, a symptom of our postmodern culture is that we all feel the need to define and own our own truth. Truth seems relative, we create our own packages of belief etc and I do not subscribe to this. But I am also wary of knowledge being in the hands of the few, when the faith belongs to all. Now I am sure that this is not what John Richardson is promoting with his latest post about the formularies and the BCP. But I think I just want to respond with some thoughts that yes, ministers need to understand the faith which they represent, which they live out, so that they might not teach falsely, but I think we also need to remember that Christ would want for the faith to be understood by everyone and we are all varied and are the products of various educational backgrounds. We need to understand the faith, yes, but not in such a way so that when we speak, we make others feel insecure or as if they need degrees to be followers of Christ. The job of a minister is to proclaim the message afresh and that might mean that we will have to look long and hard at the language of the 39 articles and the Book of Common Prayer and ask ourselves some difficult questions about to whom, through these formularies and liturgies, the gospel is really communicating meaningfully!
Alan Bartlett, author of 'Humane Christianity', vicar of St Giles Durham and lecturer at Cranmer Hall, Durham, came to St John's to lecture on Anglican spirituality and taught me much about how radical Cranmer was.
In essence, we have to remember Cranmer's intentions and continue in the same spirit. I rather wonder whether Cranmer would require potential ordinands to recite his BCP with such tenacity as Richardson advocates. Cranmer gave us his daily office to protect people against the vagaries of the clergy who prayed 7 times a day embroiled in the traditions of the Church. Cranmer wanted to turn us into a Christian commonwealth where saying morning and evening prayer was an absolute hallmark. This prayer of the whole people of God, with its focus in the sriptures, is a beautiful thing to behold, marking the beginning and ending of the day and a vision of what it means to be Church. It really is a way to build community but not when it is inaccessible to many people who can not follow its language.
The Church, is, of course, aware of this and we have Common Worship. And ministers need even to supplement this with modern and appropriate ways to pray if God's love is to communicate itself to everyone.
Our prayer of preparation before the Eucharist is concise and profound but would have been so empty of meaning for a great many of us if Cranmer had not translated this private, clerical prayer from Latin. At one time, it was only spoken by the priest and we would have only joined in at the Amen but because of Cranmer, it is our prayer too, it is the prayer of preparation for the whole people of God before communion.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This says a great deal about the journey of Anglican Spirituality - this giving of the faith to the entire people of God. I think that we must be very careful not to lose sight of Cranmer's original intentions.
...so I will swot up on my 39 articles and my BCP, but as I do so I will be thinking about how the Church might also make these definitions and prayers of the faith accessible to everyone. However, that will take considerably more thought...
...and it is to be hoped that the task of communicating the truths of the faith in a fresh way might be scrutinised as closely as Cranmer professed to do so, with his assurance that:
'...we are fully persuaded in our judgements (and we here profess it to the world) that the Book, ...doth not contain in it any thing contrary to the Word of God, or to sound Doctrine, or which a godly [person] man may not with a good Conscience use and submit unto...'
mindful, however that one of his purposes, interestingly, was 'for the more proper expressing of some words or phrases of ancient usage in terms more suitable to the language of the present times...'!
Ordained Anglican. Thinking out loud about church.