1.6.09

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...'!

8 comments:

David Ould said...

Well Rachel, I think the challenge is that the Canons of the CofE require you to subscribe to the Articles and doctrine of the BCP if you are to be ordained.

You are, I'm sure, as sick as I am of those who make promises at ordination that they have no intention to keep. It's just a question of integrity and you strike me as a person of real deep integrity.

I'd urge you to study them hard. Read them through. Ask yourself if you are prepared to accept them and agree with them. If so then go ahead with a clear conscience.

If not, then have the integrity to find another denomination to get ordained in.

Please note, this is entirely independent of the male/female issue. I'd be saying exactly the same thing to a bloke.

Let your yes be a clear and honest "yes"!

David Ould said...

btw, I never told you how much I like your new blog design.

Rachel said...

Thank you David. It was one of the first things I did when I started to pursue this call. I'm a cradle Angican and wanted to think through whether Anglicanism is also the expression of discipleship which I fully subscribe to in terms of the things which it holds dear. I am very glad to say that it is and I am able to articulate more ably why I am an Anglican because of my study of these distinctives - so yes, it is very important.

What we need to do is simply get passionate about Cranmer. We need to present him so that he speaks to people today and be aware that people coming to Christ through Anglicanism aren't always going to find him accessible. Some of the parts of the prayer book seem alien to today's culture, like the prayers for women after childbirth, for example.

Thanks for your contribution and encouragement. :)

Rachel said...

In some ways the BCP 'The Churching of Women' is quite beautiful,but I just can't imagine it is a service ever delivered these days - I'd be interested to know if it's otherwise.

David Ould said...

what is it about it that you think makes it not appropriate?

but agreed, never seen it done.However, we have a friend about to give birth - shall I give it a try? ;-)

Rachel said...

Hi David - yes let me know how it goes!;) I suppose it's this bit I can't imagine myself saying after the births of my two daughters:

...thou hast delivered my soul from death: mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling...I was sore troubled: I said in my haste, All men are liars...

This might be because I had, particularly, with my first daughter, one of those, quite rare, I believe, euphoric birth experiences. Drug free but no pain, in fact, it all felt rather lovely and I didn't scream obscenities at my husband, as is often the stereotype painted.

Oh dear, the 'all men are liars' bit really wouldn't do these days, and it does make me chuckle a little. I'm not sure I could speak the words without giggling.

However, the idea of thanking God for his generosity and this new life and the health of the mother is I think a fantastic idea and if churches did this for newborns and their families it might make for a wonderful entry into the Church and is a great opportunity for evangelism, which could then be followed up with all sorts of things: Christian parenting classes, playgroups, house-group invites, baptism discussions etc - what an opportunity for the gospel and an occasion to praise God for the blessing of new life.

Wow - much to think about there - possibly an exciting initiative

poppy tupper said...

David Ould misrepresents the truth. You are not required to subscribe the 39 Articles, in the sense that you say you accept that they are correct, but you are asked to assert that you accept that they bear witness to the historic faith of the Church of England. Those words (and they are relatively new) were chosen with great care so that people did not have to say that they believe that everything in the articles is true and applies today. Fot instance, they are not a fair and honest representation of the faith of Roman Catholics at the time, much less so now. Then there's the problem of the change in relationship between churches since then. Then there's the change in the idea of the State and of democracy since then. Then there's the whole problem of the way that words change meaning over time. Then there's the problem of how social context gives meaning to language. It's not simple. As if that wasn't enough, you could also do worse than see what Newman made of the Articles in Tract 90. http//:anglicanhistory.org/tracts/tract90/
So, read the Articles, try to understand them, but never fallinto the error of thinking that you have to accept them as anything other than a statement of what some people believed, in a certain way, at a certain time.

Rachel said...

Here is the declaration those to be ordained assent to:
The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?

Declaration of Assent

I ..... do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.

The sentence 'to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness', is interestingly nuanced.

Blessings Poppy. Thanks for your contribution. I will look at the article you point to.

Rachel

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.