This post is the launch of a new series on the Hackney Hub (yes -- I know there are already too many!). I intend it to be a companion to the Anglican Myths series, in that it will address potential problems of Anglican worship, as I see it (again, I am not "authority", these are my opinions, which I try to base on solid, historical research, to my capability). I won't attempt to just address problems in Anglican worships but also positive traits and trends I see, as well as thoughts on changes, etc.
The idea from this series stems from a trend I have noticed in attending Episcopal parishes, that being a very inconsistent approach to worship, especially the theology surrounding it. I've noticed a mishmash of ritual and ceremonial that doesn't necessarily accompany the theology of the rector or parish. It's a bit difficult to explain and I will lay out a foundation for my objections to some of these practices below. However, for a brief example, how many Episcopalians know why acolytes carry torches? I understand that this act is a way of encouraging laity participation, which is good thing, however, I hope this example will demonstrate that I think worship has become cluttered and inconsistent.
One accusation that I would like to answer first is that I want to return to the practices of X century. This is not the point that I am after here. I do not want to preserve some form of museum religion. In fact, you will find in a few weeks that I will be talking about "non-liturgical services" and that I am in favor of them, in certain contexts. This is not about preserving some form of ceremonial that I think is adequately Anglican. I have explained some of my thoughts on ceremonial in the piece, Moderate Ceremonialism. While personally I would like to see a certain "counter-ritualist" movement emerge, I think that the approach I have taken in "Moderate Ceremonialism" is the better way forward. The point being that worship must have a purpose and the ceremonies therein must serve some Gospel purpose in teaching the Christian religion.
In the Anglican Myths series, I maintain that Anglicanism, or the Church of England rather, is a Protestant and Reformed Church, and it is. Now (and I will be discussing this further in Myths #9), this does not mean that Anglicanism is a Dortian Calvinistic, regulative principle, presbyterian body. The Church of England historically adopted the normative approach to worship, that being that things which were not contradictory to the Word of God are acceptable in worship, such as the sign of the cross in baptism. However, this does not make the Church of England a "ritualistic" (read: "ceremonially rich") Church. In liturgy there is ritual and ceremonial. Ritual are the words that are spoken by the assembly, in this case contained in the Prayer Book, in this sense the C of E is very "ritualistic" in that it prescribes the exact words for service. However, popularly speaking, "ritualism" means the actions of worship, which in technical jargon is the ceremonial of worship, or what we do in worship. The Church of England is not a ceremonially rich Church. There are few prescribed ceremonials or actions in the Liturgy, and at least classically speaking, it was not envisioned that ministers would go about adding ceremonial as they saw fit (which is sadly the case today, via the Ritualist Movement). One could view this new series as the Worship Myths. If the Anglican Myths series shows ways in which people try to weaken, avoid, or reinterpret the Protestant and Reformed Nature of our Church, the "Worship Woes" will show ways that people try to change the liturgical nature of our Church, that being non-ritualistic (=non-ceremonialistic) liturgy.