Did you know that in the exchange of the peace we are instructed to seek out those from whom we are estranged and secondly, to visitors? (As we are already reconciled to our buddies, there is no need to pass the peace to them.) Do you need to know that the Oil of Anointing is different from the Oil of Chrismation? Is it generally understood that the Creeds speak to matters that were controversial at the time they were written but do not settle all important matters of doctrine?
My own confirmation story may indicate why this book was so absorbing for me. I was confirmed in my late thirties by an Anglican bishop. Because the date of the bishop’s annual visit to the parish had been set and the rector was a bit busy, it being December, the confirmation class was skipped. My husband and I (we were confirmed together) had been worshipping in that lovely parish for a few years. One day the rector invited us to be Lay Servers and casually added, “You have been confirmed?” Oh, no. He knew we had been baptized and that we were not too troublesome. Both of us had been raised in Christian homes and were familiar with the Bible. Neither of us had been a member of a Christian faith community as adults.
Since then, I have often been puzzled about Anglican beliefs and practices. Some things I had to learn from scratch and some I never could explain. Sometimes, I fret over Anglicanism’s hierarchies and penchant for titles. Yet, confirmation in the Anglican church was one of the big decisions in life (marriage, parenthood, career, mortgage) that I have never regretted.
I took to this book like a deer panting for water. A few “Aha” moments later, I realized that this is the confirmation class I never had.
At 340 pages, including an excellent List of Resources, it’s a serious read. For some readers it will act as a primer. For many “cradle Anglicans” it may be an interesting refresher.
I was intrigued by the many quotes from the BAS and following them up, I discovered I don’t really know the Book of Alternative Services. A treasure to be explored! Now I know why we go straight from page 280 to page 348. Now I know what a ferial proper is. The chapter on the Burial Office moved me to tears. I was stunned to find there is a distinctive Anglican theology of the saints in A Great Cloud of Witnesses. Chapter nine, The Prayers of the Faithful, persuaded me to renew and recommit to daily prayer. I discovered in The New Life of Grace, that baptism is “indelible”. I have been present at a lot of funerals but very few baptisms in an Anglican parish. I wonder what “indelible” means when the community, though vowing “to do all in our power”, loses track of those babies and we mostly never see them again. There must be many people in my own town who were baptized and do not know, value, or remember that and who are ignorant of what it means. “Indelible”?
The BAS is a complicated text. Why are the lectionary readings different from the ones we actually use? What proper takes precedence over another and why? Many words are not familiar to newcomers: “narthex, aumbry, oblation, beseech”. If your education included Shakespeare, you might not be “put off” because you have a “feel” for the rich meanings of these antiquated words. This is not an argument for making the words contemporary; I wish them to be continued in common use. Every occasion when a word is deleted from dictionaries or liturgies is sad. Language is fluid. We can add new vocabular to prayers while also keeping old phrases. When we lose words, we lose subtlety of thought. Anglicans are not good at explication. Is that because there is an assumption that everyone already knows? In the world of today, not being a print culture, how do we encourage young folks to slow down for learning a vocabulary that’s traditional but new to them? Rapidly absorbing highly stimulating digital images comes natural to them but reading and absorbing strange words which are not in common usage?
The cover illustration of TO LOVE AND SERVE, apparently the interior of an Anglican-type church building, is a regrettable choice. This building is not a church; it is a Disney concept of a quasi -religious space.
It cannot be a church because: where are the people? There is no aumbry. Where are the liturgical colours? Where is the font? There is no altar? Judging by the positioning of the pews, the altar has been replaced by a woody grove. Surely no Anglican bishop would permit that. The illustration directly contradicts the excellent teaching in the book. This is not a ruse to get you to find the book. It may seem as if I am ranting about a trivial detail. It’s not trivial though small. Some small details have huge implications.
Will those who wonder about Anglican ways be willing to read this book? Who? I am wishful for a multi-generational, multi-ethnic parish which I will likely not experience in my lifetime. Will new liturgies have any impact on the make-up of congregations in this diocese?
A final question: as most diocesan parishes do not actually refer to the bound book form of the BAS but use a flurry of paper bits instead, will there ever be a print version again? It will need revising because it does not use the Revised Common Lectionary and because new liturgies have come, and are coming, into use.. What is more inviting to a sincere seeker; a complex, multilayered book that requires constant flipping of pages or a little pile of paper handouts and more little folders and booklets in the pew rack? Yes, Prayer Book(s) have always, and hopefully will always , need revising as the connotations of words shift. That’s good. But are the paper flurries a little discouraging?
“There is currently no plan to publish a revised BAS”, says the Reverend Jessica Schaap , “Some newly authorized liturgies are available online and there’s a plan to publish them separately but the timeline for this is not known.” For example, there are newly approved daily offices for morning and evening prayer here.
You may be nostalgic for the BCP that was still in use when I was confirmed. The Anglican Prayer Book(s) have always been under revision. There will never be a once-and-for-all prayer book.
A curious note for me is the complete absence of reference to music. It’s been said that “Music is the bicycle on which the liturgy is carried”. Many newcomers enter a worship service and are first, before any other practice, delighted, heart-moved, by the music. For many it is the doorway in, a solace and soul’s rest even before they can handle total and unconditional forgiveness. Shouldn’t good liturgical and worship music be an acknowledged part of Anglican beliefs and practice?
Did I “buy” all these doctrinal statements? No, at least not now or yet or ever. Most I can affirm now. Some may shift in time as I grow deeper into the faith, if not in substance, probably the wording. But I am re-assured by the authors that “No bishop or clergy can ever force anyone to believe that which a person cannot affirm.”
I was made joyful and energized by this big read. Archbishop Linda Nichols, commenting on the book, called it “winsome”.
That’s exactly right. I was won over.