Monday, 20 September 2010

Ordinands must know the formularies!

For much of last week, I was working hard on a talk which I delivered to the Prayer Book Society on Saturday morning. I have not previously been a member of that body, and (to be honest) would not have previously considered joining. However, I was invited to speak to them on the strength of some remarks I made in a talk at Oak Hill College in 2009, and agreed to elaborate on what I said then.
As a precis of the content of my address, I sent them the following, which pretty much sums it up:
            Have we an anchor? Reasserting the doctrinal rôle of the Book of Common Prayer
The Declaration of Assent requires all Anglican clergy at their ordination and their admission to a new post to recognize that the “historic formularies”, which include the Book of Common Prayer, have a special place in witnessing to the Christian faith.
Today, however, we have rather lost touch with the Prayer Book, and even where it is used, there is often little awareness of its doctrinal foundations and signficance. The result is that whilst lip-service is paid to the Declaration of Assent, many people do not realize the liturgy of the Prayer Book is designed to express and teach a particular point of view, and sometimes to contradict other points of view. Indeed, one suspects that many clergy today are quite ignorant of the Prayer Book, and therefore of its doctrinal heritage.
Beginning with the Declaration of Assent, my talk will reassess the position of the Prayer Book in shaping the Anglican church, and ask whether and how we can reassert its doctrinal rôle.
One of the contentious points in this, it is often argued, is what commitment of belief is required by the Declaration of Assent. Are we declaring thereby that we believe what the formularies teach (the question goes), or are we simply affirming the teaching of the formularies as a witness to the historic (but not necessarily contemporary) faith of the Church of England?
Browsing through the PBS bookstall at the weekend, however, my attention was drawn to Canon C 7, of whose contents I must admit to be culpably unaware, but which seems to have considerable bearing on the issue. It reads as follows:
C 7 Of examination for holy orders
No bishop shall admit any person into holy orders, except such person on careful and diligent examination, wherein the bishop shall have called to his assistance the archdeacons and other ministers appointed for this purpose, be found to possess a sufficient knowledge of Holy Scripture and of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England as set forth in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal: and to fulfil the requirements as to learning and other qualities which, subject to any directions given by the General Synod, the bishop deems necessary for the office of deacon.
This would seem to settle one question and to raise another. As to the status of the formularies, Canon C7 states clearly that there is “doctrine” specific to the Church of England which is “set forth in” the formularies, and it further requires that candidates should have “sufficient knowledge” of this doctrine to suit them for holy orders.
Now it would clearly be a nonsense for a Church to require candidates to have knowledge of doctrines belonging to that Church, only for them to be free to reject those doctrines.
It is surely hard, therefore, to avoid the conclusion that Anglican clergy under the authority of the Canons are required both to know and to hold the doctrines set forth in the formularies — the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
But this brings me to the second question, which is quite simply, “Do they?”
And for an answer we must look in particular to what the colleges and courses teach in this regard (and, of course, to whether the examing bodies who review those colleges and courses are concerned about what they teach).
One would expect, at very least, that candidates would be taught about, and assessed in their knowledge of, the formularies. In my address to the PBS, I argued that it would also represent ‘good practice’ for the colleges and courses to make regular and frequent use of the Prayer Book, especially given that many candidates would have little experience of this resource.
I would be very interested, therefore, to hear of the experiences people have had in this regard. In my day, we were superbly taught by Colin Buchanan, whose infectious enthusiasm for English liturgy was absorbed by many of his students. But then I was also of that generation which grew up on the Prayer Book (albeit the 1928 version). With most people now exposed almost exclusively to Common Worship, DIY liturgies or something closer to Rome, at very least it should be recognized that the colleges and courses have a job to do in this regard.
John Richardson
20 September 2010
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  1. I am a late comer to the CofE, but I know what the Book of Common Prayer is. I use it often, and attend BCP worship as often as I can.

    One of the first things I wanted to know about the CofE was, what are its doctrines, where could I find them and what was I required to believe (Apart from the Confirmation stuff).

    So, I went out and read as much as I could on all of the topics you draw attention to here - I do not profess to be an expert, I would need to revise, but I believe that the foundation of my membership of the Church comes from them.

    I also value the BCP for its language and can see that as a stand-alone resource, it can actually be the basis for all worship.

    Having said that, I have become familiar with Common Worship and am comfortable with both, and know that CW is a development of liturgy, which rests on the Prayer Book which underpins it.

    I must admit, I have so much more to learn and currently with the Church testing a vocation, I have much to do - I am sure that the Church must move with the times, but tradition and knowing where we come from is central to maintaining an our unique identity among the Churches.

    So thank you for reminding me, that when I am sinking under to much study, that returning to the BCP will never hurt.

  2. Hi John. I am a House of Bishops inspector of theological colleges, courses and schemes and one of the things we look at carefully is the use of BCP in the life and worship of the institution being inspected. Comment on this will often feature in the inspection report and in the inspection handbook it is one of the areas we are required to check out.

  3. I am about to start ordination training this month. I have had very interesting discussions with my DDO about the use of the 39 articles, having visited 18 different parish churches in my diocese in the past 18 months, to gain a broader appreciation of the Anglican family. I was left with impression from my visits and discussions that these articles fell by the way after the arrival of the Oxford movement...

  4. ...apologies for the incomplete post. to follow on to my last comment about visiting parish churches. I found the 39 articles insightful, and a point for much discussion with others. I have not yet covered all the canons, but I assume subsequent ones to canon 7 recognise modifications?

  5. I have just been ordained, and am a curate in what some may regard as a flagship liberal diocese ... While training, I shared lectures with people from other Anglican colleges and traditions. In one lecture we got on to the 39 Articles, and what we would be vowing before God. One ordinand (who appeared to be a universalist unitarian), said they had never read them. Another, who was Forward In Faith, just laughed when asked to comment on the anti-RC articles ... In contrast, my college had a term long course on what the 39A said and taught.

    The 39A, like many of the vows Anglican clergy take, seem to be subject to so much freedom of (re-)interpretation, that what they say is pretty meaningless.

    Dr F

  6. Rev. Richardson:

    Somewhere in the readings, this sticks out re: the Rt. Rev. Thomas Cranmer. Namely, as an examiner of ordinands, CANTAUR was rather vigorous, if not ruthless, in sending postulants back "for two to three years" to acquire a good knowledge of Holy Scripture. The postulants had read the Schoolmen and fathers, but have small attainments in HM's Word. Alas, some aging here. I do not have the quote at hand--either from Strype or Burnet, I believe. Perhaps a younger scholar can dig this out?

    I wonder if we have missed the Cranmerian spirit in our time, to wit, his effort to educate an English nation in a vernacular Bible and divine worship--east, west, north and south, said to include, the singing of the Psalms.

    On American shores, the 1928 BCP (substantively better than the 1979 BCP widely used here), had a serious constriction in the lectionary--as if Cranmer would have agreed? I think not. The 1662 BCP lectionary is pretty expansive. There is no substitute for a thorough knowledge of HM's Word.

    I throw this log onto your fire regarding the Articles, an aside.

    Best regards,
    (Rev.) D. Philip Veitch
    Eastern USA

  7. Rev. Richardson:

    1. As to the 1662 BCP, it is never used in the US. I dare say such for the home turf?

    2. The only way to learn it is by daily use, "24/7" as we say here. Every day throughout the year. With a few adjustments for the Royals, although the US "Declaration of Independence" was a sinful rebellion in my estimation. This scribe feels like pelican in the desert and an owl in the wilderness (Ps.102.6. Yet, capitulation in this Anglican Babylonian Captivity is not an option.

    3. As to the 39A, they have no significance in the American counterpart of alleged orthodoxy, the ACNA. We have leaders trained in liberal schools. Amnesia.

    D. Philip Veitch

  8. A concluding, unscientific and unsolicited postscript.

    It is this forlorn scribe's opinion that every Anglican cleric should be up promptly--at dawn--for Morning Prayer, every day, 24/7. At 1600, every day, tis' time for Evening Prayer. The use of the sung Psalter is well aided by the use of the Psalter-set from St. Paul's, London. Yes, sung prayers for MP and EP. If we do not have this doctrine, worship and piety, we hardly can ask others to follow.

    That's the "Order" for daily prayers, not options, but directions therein and thereunto...unless we are Puritans.

  9. At my theological college (Ridley Hall) we used the prayer book in morning prayer and the weekly communion service for 3 weeks of every 10 week term. All students had to lead at least one BCP service in their time at college and would participate in the planning of several others. I found this to be an invaluable and though provoking training despite the fact that I am not of a tradition that would chose to use BCP in its services. I agree with Philip Ritchie that colleges actually give a good amount of time to BCP training, especially given that most ordinands now will not have cause to use it in their ministries.

  10. I'm an ordinand at Westcott House and the pattern is typically evensong twice a week (every week), at least one choral bcp eucharist a term and other services (sung matins etc) slightly more irregularly. Each year the PBS comes in to spend a full day at the house often practical training on using the prayerbook in a modern parish context.

  11. Hello John,

    You probably don't remember me but we met occasionally when I was an apprentice at Harold Wood and you used to come down for Reform Chelmsford meetings. Anyway I wanted to share my experience re the Prayer Book and the Declaration of Assent.

    Whilst at Oak Hill we used the Prayer Book occasionally - it was a regular at the Lord's Supper service and it was apportioned as the set liturgy book for some of the weeks every term. All this said, my experience was that ordinands treated the prayer book (and liturgy more generally) like some unnecessary medication i.e. something painful but possibly having some good. Interestingly my love of the prayer book was fostered by a Church Historian who is not (I think) distinctly Anglican: the utterly brilliant and frighteningly sharp Dr Garry Williams. He spent time with us working through the development of the various confessions and creeds and spelt out what our forebearers went through in establishing the CofE on biblical foundation. He also challenged us to take seriously the declarations we make at Ordination services and not to be those who just mouth the words only to ignore them in the parish. I was quite struck by this call for us future ministers to be a people of integrity. Right now having been ordained for a few months, I'm trying hard to find ways to live out the promises and commend the brilliance of the prayers book and the Articles which seems to be going ok with an incumbent who is sympathetic but talking to my peers (of various traditions) most are ambivalent at best and despising at worst. There is a loooooooong way to go.


  12. Bishop Dominic Stockford (EC-FCE)21 September 2010 at 16:41

    Dear John,
    Your post is thought provoking and helpful. I would highlight a problem within the CofE that would undermine anyone trying to follow Canon C7 though - a matter which you have probably commented on before.

    There is no discipline over Doctrine. Get into a bit of hot water with a secretary and you will soon be taken to a church tribunal and lose your deanship - but preach arrant heresy and no-one bats an eyelid. Without such discipline being applied canon C7 is meaningless.

    I note an earlier poster comments that they inspect colleges - that is all very well, but if the college fails to uphold use of the PB, or the doctrine contained therein I have to say that I cannot believe anything actually happens about it. The report will be shelved and all will carry gaily on. If that is not the case then why is Chichester College (for instance) more Roman than Rome in liturgical practice, and the associated doctrine that arises from such practice?

    Secondly, I would like to point out that with regard to Article 24 of the 39, surely the 1662 or the 1928 should not be used - but rather such as the "English Prayer Book" - which is then a liturgy in a "tongue understanded of the people"?

    Right doctrine in current English, Isn't that what we should really want?

  13. Being a person of only moderate understanding myself, I must say that I have no difficulty at all in understanding the language of 1662.

  14. I too was at Oak Hill, and the Prayer Book was well used and taught there, especially by David Peterson, who introduced us to Buchanan’s little gem What did Cranmer think he was doing?, (Grove Books) which left me in awe of what Cranmer achieved in the communion service. From Morning/Evening Prayer I particularly value the prayer o confession- it has no get out clauses. I and some of my contemporaries at Oak Hill have started a minor revival of the service of commination on Ash Wednesday, and one thing on my mind at the moment is to revive the use of Litany- any tips on how to introduce it welcome.

    Experience of Parish Ministry has tempered my enthusiasm slightly. I’ve met too many people who go into rhapsodies about the beauty of the BCP (and the King James Version) but don’t believe a word it says. Sometimes the beauty seems to be an obstacle to hearing the Prayer Book’s theology: it encourages users to think that they are escaping into a platonic realm which has no necessary relation to everyday life, and to think that worship is primarily an aesthetic experience. And quite frankly, some (not all) enthusiasm for the BCP is just snobbery.

    But I’ve also been appalled by the brutality with which new liturgies were introduced from the ‘60s onwards- the confusion and bitterness caused is still there 30 years later. To introduce something so different to what had come before as the ASB was abysmally stupid. What should have been introduced as a conservative revision of the BCP in modern language- something like An English Prayerbook, which Church Society publishes. Alongside that what we need is a new edition of the BCP without some of the less used services, (containing say Morning/Evening Prayer, Communion, Baptism, Marriage, Funeral, the Collects, the Articles, and the Catechism), but with a new layout. I’m sure that part of the problem that people have with the BCP isn’t language or theology, but the fact they are presented with on old, dusty book, in miniscule print, with no indentation and little spacing, and which begins with bizarre tables on how to calculate the date of Easter for the next few centuries. If you don’t know it, it is very difficult to use. Couldn’t the Prayer Book Society produce a more attractive edition? Something like it used to exist as , but unfortunately it was 1928, not 1662.

    Stephen Walton

  15. Sorry, last sentence should have said "exist as "The Shorter Prayer Book" "

    Stephen Walton

  16. Even with my moderate understanding I don't find it difficult to use at all. In fact with regular use it very quickly becomes familiar, and most of us who were brought up on it know vast swathes by heart. The same cannot be said for any of the subsequent liturgies. Who remembers ANY of the wretched ASB? And at least one doesn't have to grapple with sheets of paper and booklets.

    In response to Bishop Dominic Stockford who wants 'right doctrine in current English' - this has already been done, by Revd Dr Peter Toon. It was completed shortly before he died. I was actually at the launch in the US, and people fell upon it to take back to their parishes. I have heard nothing about it since, and have no idea whether or not it took off, or whether it is available in the UK.

  17. Brilliant article, and outstanding comments. If only more would realise that defining yourself as being defined by nothing is not actually defining yourself at all.

  18. Bravo to this post. It should not be hard for someone to at a minimum read through the BCP once a year and take notes on questions he has. Also, I would encourage a wider adoption of Toon's Blue BCP as a new standard (1662 revised). I believe ACNA is working on a revision, and while I don't have high hopes for it, I think all Anglicans should attempt to get on the same (orthodox) page, so that one can worship in any parish and have roughly the same liturgy, rather than ten or twenty variations.


  19. I have my doubts that you yourself take the Anglican Formularies seriously, Ugley. Why would I say that? It seems to me that you're an Anglo-Catholic sympathizer. The Formularies declare Anglo-Catholic doctrine to be anathema over and over again.


  20. Hi John,

    You will be pleased to know that, here at Ridley Hall, we are just about to kick off a weekly 39 Articles group, which will explore each Article successively and in depth, over the course of the academic year!

  21. Mark, is that an 'official' group or one organized by the students - or something else?

  22. Hi John,

    It's organised and convened by a member of staff, but student attendance is optional - although one wonders whether it should be compulsory ;-)