Worship Thoughts part 3: books

When you walk into a church and join in a service of worship, there are three main ways the “order of service” is communicated: moment-by-moment (such as by PowerPoint), single-service (such as by a bulletin), and full-liturgy (such as by a prayerbook).  Although the intention of the worship planners may vary, each of these three methods communicate something very different about Christian spirituality and point to three different theologies of worship.

Thirdly is the book-based worship experience.  As the bulletin-handout concept is a step beyond the PowerPoint mentality, the book-based worship concept is a step beyond the bulletins.  This is where we move from Protestant religion to Catholic religion (and as usual, I mean Catholic in the full Anglican-Roman-Eastern scope).  A worship book, such as the Roman Missal and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, has in it more than just one worship service in it, but an entire pattern and rule of worship.  In the case of the Roman Missal, every Sunday Mass (or at least whole bunch of them) is represented in one book.  In the case of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the entire common life of worship is bound in one volume.  This communicates not only a sense of ordering individual ingredients into a full meal (as the bulletin model of worship does), but it sets forth the entire diet.  Although most churches with the worship-bulletin spirituality tend to have most of their worship services follow the same format, this sets forth a definite intentional plan for worshipping together forever.

And so the spirituality here is different once again.  As before, people understand that worship is more than a series of ingredients, more than mere experience, and objectively celebrates a God who is truly present and active in our midst.  But even more, a worship-from-the-book spirituality marks a religion that’s truly unitive – people come together to worship with one voice and one heart.  Individuals die to selves and live for Christ in a common liturgy (or as it’s more popularly translated, common service) that encompasses not just Sunday morning, but the entire life of worship.  It doesn’t mean that individuality is squashed; it means that when it’s time to worship together everyone knows how, and has a common language by which to do so.

Concluding Thoughts

Many Anglican churches today have taken up using printed bulletins at Sunday worship, even though Anglicanism is a prayerbook religion.  There are many practical reasons this happens: dissatisfaction with the 1979 or the 1928 or the Blue Book, or the 1662, or the various other options out there; preference for a combination of prayerbooks requiring a unique printing; lack of funds to buy all those prayerbooks.  Some of these are legitimate.  In the case of my church plant we use the 1979 book, but 1) it’s not as user-friendly as it could be, 2) we regularly do a type of service that isn’t easily figured out by everyone, 3) I want to gravitate towards a more classically Anglican prayerbook, but most of all, 4) everyone’s used to the bulletin.

On that list, #4 is not a good excuse, and I look forward to the day that the ACNA has its own prayerbook published and we can worship together directly from that.  Nevertheless, it’s the norm in many churches these days, and has been for so long that there are tons of people who don’t know how to use a prayerbook or even find anything in it.  In terms of “mere Christianity,” this isn’t a problem.  But the problem is that we’re not trying to be “mere Christians,” but mature Christians!  Being a Christian isn’t just about knowing and loving our buddy Jesus, but about growing into the full stature and likeness of Christ.  How we worship is very formative in that growth; that’s why I think and write about this so much (as do many other Anglicans).

Recently I experienced Anglican worship led entirely by a PowerPoint presentation.  Now, I’m not saying that’s heretical or anything, but it was a pretty strange experience, unsettling, and rather discouraging… how many other Anglicans are experiencing this deficiency in their own spiritual formation?  I pray that I and other like-minded leaders will be able to do our part in helping our congregations to grow into strong, healthy, mature, and capable Christians who are ready and able to pass on not just a Gospel message to others, but a Gospel life as well.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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