Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Book of Common Prayer

Chapter 6 – Learning about church

School was a half mile walk across the edge of town. We were 25 to 30 in two grades in each classroom, about the same number as for eight grades in the Bishopric school. I settled in, got to know my classmates and continued to get good marks without much effort.

The big change in our life was that we were now attending church. Of the three churches in town two were deemed unsuitable by my Dad, the United and Catholic, so more or less by default we became Anglicans. It didn’t take long to become at home with the rhythm of the services in the Book of Common Prayer. They were saturated with readings from the Bible and passages from the Bible that were spoken in unison or as responsive readings, one line by the minister, the next by the congregation. There were prayers for every situation, old written prayers that were very eloquent and meaningful if one was paying attention. Our lives began to be centred around church and its activities.

The congregation was small, but included a number of children from my class in school. My cousin Ron, 21 years older than me, owned the Red and White grocery store in Craik. Ron and Rose and their son Garry started attending around the same time we did. Mrs. Rutherford, the owner of Craik Realty and Insurance, was always the last person to arrive in church. A short, round lady,, she would march up to the third row from the front, the keys on her belt jangling for all to hear, take her seat, and then the service could begin. Alf Soper, a bachelor and jack of all trades, was another regular. Some folks had concerns about his lifestyle; I was little and didn’t know if the concerns were warranted or not. But he could sing. His deep voice was heard by all and he was always on tune.

The next summer I went to Anglican summer camp on the shore of Mission Lake between Fort Qu’Appelle and Lebret, in the Qu’Appelle Valley. We slept in bunk houses, spent our days learning Pilgrim’s Progress, swimming in the lake and hiking through the hills; in the evenings we all gathered around a campfire for singing and stories and an evening prayer.

I first took note of Norman when the camp leaders led us on a hike to Lebret. He was a quiet boy, walking with us, yet alone. He seemed like the rest of us, except that he could not hold his head up straight. It tilted towards his right shoulder, almost resting on the shoulder. Some of the other boys called him Leadhead.

I didn’t like to hear the other boys making fun of Norman and calling him Leadhead. By the third day I overcame my scruples began to call him that myself.

The morning of the fourth day, I woke up with pain in my neck and shoulder. The pain became excruciating if I tried to straighten my head — overnight, I had become Leadhead II! I went through that day with my head in the same position as Norman’s and got the same unkind remarks from the other boys. Late in the day my muscles began to loosen up and the next morning I could hold my head up with no discomfort.

One would think that such a dramatic lesson in the Golden Rule would be unforgettable. I have found that there is a difference between remembering the lesson and learning the lesson.

The next winter the minister announced he would teach catechism classes for those who wanted to be confirmed. I had no idea what that meant, but my father enrolled me and four other fathers enrolled their sons. Once a week, we five boys walked to the minister’s house after school and studied the Anglican catechism, writing the answers to the questions in a notebook. Sort of a crash course in systematic theology for eleven year old boys. Some of it stuck.

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Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

Worship then and now

Then was sixty years ago when I was a teenager and member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Services would begin with this exhortation:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

The service would continue with words of like eloquence, interspersed with a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, the reciting of some poetic passages of Scripture, either in unison or as a responsive reading. There would be a few hymns mixed in plus a sermon. All followed the familiar pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, which was little changed since it was formulated by Thomas Cranmer 400 years earlier.

It didn’t take long until you had the services memorized and didn’t need to follow in the book any longer. This was the great danger: the words were beautiful, meaningful and true, but one could recite them with nary a thought as to what one was saying. I have no doubt that many Anglicans were born-again people, but many, probably the majority, just droned along with their mind somewhere else altogether.

I remain very thankful for all the Scriptures read and recited in the Anglican services. I suppose this began in the day when most attendees were unable to read and this was the only exposure they had to the Word of God.  It was still good for those who were readers.

Now, in the Mennonite church to which I belong today, the services might seem a little tohu-bohu (the Hebrew words translated without form and void in Genesis 1:2). There is a certain order to the services, but they are informal and unstructured compared the church of my youth. Still, just as in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is present.

Most congregations have more than one minister. None of them are professionals, they do not derive their income from the church but earn their living much as other members of the congregation. The hymns we sing are not chosen in advance but are chosen in a seemingly random manner by members of the congregation as the service progresses.  Lay brethren are often invited to volunteer to present some thoughts and a prayer to open the service. It may take some time for one to get up from his seat to do so. The sermons are extemporaneous, not written out beforehand. Sometimes there are no ministers present and the whole service is conducted by lay brethren. 

It works. We are fed, encouraged, reproved, inspired. We trust that everything, the hymns that are chosen, the words that are spoken, is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

This type of service goes back to long before Archbishop Cranmer. The apostle Paul wrote:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. . . Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

God Save the Queen

Queen_Elizabeth_II_March_2015It was Wednesday morning, February 6, 1952. I was nine years old and in Grade Five. When I got up that morning, the radio was playing solemn, stately, orchestral music. That was all we could get on any radio station. The eight o’clock news told us why – King George VI had died and his oldest daughter was now Queen Elizabeth II. At school that morning we all lined up at nine o’clock, but instead of singing God Save the King, we sang God Save the Queen.

I turned ten later that month. Queen Elizabeth was 26 on April 21. Sixty-four years have passed, she is ninety today and still queen. Times have changed. School children in Canada don’t sing God Save the Queen anymore; I wonder if they even sing O Canada very often.

The fact that Canada, and many other countries, acknowledge Queen Elizabeth to be the head of state does not mean that we are  subject to England. Each country acknowledges the same monarch, but have no authority to meddle in the affairs of each others government.

The monarchy has only a symbolic authority today; some folks think it is an overly expensive symbol. I doubt if these same folks make the same objection to the billions spent on sports and entertainment. And the Anti-Monarchist League provides a harmless outlet for some chronically disgruntled folk.

There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that illustrates the usefulness of the monarchy:

Almighty God, the fountain of all goodness, we humbly beseech thee to bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, and all who are set in authority under her; that they may order all things in wisdom. righteousness, and peace, to the honour of thy holy Name, and the good of they Church and people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

People will have differing opinions about the current political hue of the government of their land, some may feel strongly that the party in power is leading the country astray. Nevertheless, we are to always pray for the rulers of our land. I like the phrase “and all who are set in authority under her,” it takes our prayers out of the political sphere. In praying for our government, we are not asking for a blessing on their political ideology, but for the well being of all the people of the land.

As irrelevant as the monarchy may be to our daily lives, Queen Elizabeth has provided a sense of continuity, stability, warmth, compassion and uprightness for these 64 years.

What is your duty towards your neighbour?

The title of this post is a question from the catechism in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The answer given in the catechism is as follows:

My duty towards my neighbour is to love him as myself, and to do to all as I would they would do unto me.

To love, honour, and help my father and mother; to honour and obey the Queen, and all who are in authority under her; to show respect to teachers and pastors; and to be courteous to all.

To hurt nobody by word or deed; to be true and just in all my dealing; to bear no malice or hatred in my heart; to keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering.

To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity:

Not to covet or desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get my own living, and to do my duty in the vocation to which it shall please God to call me.

As I read this over, 60 years after I first studied this catechism, it strikes me that there is nothing impossibly idealistic in these statements; nor do they contain anything distinctively Anglican. They are the simple Biblical standards by which all who call themselves Christian should measure their lives.

Perhaps there is no merit in simply memorizing such fine-sounding words. Yet it seems to me that they could well serve as a daily check list to examine myself to see if I am as much a Christian as I would like to think I am.

It also struck me that there is considerable merit in our country being a constitutional monarchy. The Queen has no real authority over us in Canada, the idea that she is the head of state is considered by many to be an irrelevant fiction. Yet there is virtue in praying for “the Queen, and all who are in authority under her,” in that it overrides any political sensibilities we may have and allows us to pray for our governments as the Bible instructs us to.

We are in the middle of a federal election campaign here in Canada and the party leaders are competing to see who can sling the most mud. If we follow the news at all, it may be difficult to avoid having our feelings stirred. What happens then when the election is over and the “wrong” party has been elected? Can we still pray for God’s guiding hand over our government and promise to respect and obey those in authority?

The Queen is not elected, not a political appointee. For all that she has no real authority, praying for her and “all who are in authority under her” is a politically neutral form of prayer and a reminder of the proper Biblical attitude towards those in authority.

Eloquent words

I was a member of the Anglican Church of Canada during my youth and a faithful participant in her worship services. The services and prayers of the Book of Common Prayer presented the gospel message in simple, yet eloquent, words and I found comfort in the familiar liturgy.

As I entered my twenties, I realized that the familiar words and cadences of the liturgy were not enough to bring me into a relationship with God. My theological perspective has shifted since then from Anglicanism to Anabaptism. I appreciate the simplicity of our worship services and the way that ministers and lay brethren speak from the heart.There are a few things in the Book of Common Prayer that I no longer consider sound doctrine.

Despite all this, the gospel is there in the services of the Book of Common Prayer. They may become so familiar that one can repeat them without hearing what one is saying, yet many people have found a genuine saving relationship with God through those words. Many evangelical writers and missionaries have been Anglicans.

The Anglican Church of Canada stopped using the Book of Common Prayer some years ago. That seems to have gone hand in hand with a shifts in their position on abortion and homosexuality. Anglican bishops in Africa and Asia severed their ties with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA over those issues and helped begin a new Anglican movement in North America. This new movement is fervently evangelical and has returned to the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

You may note a certain ambivalence in my sentiments as I write this. I am no longer Anglican, I cannot unequivocally support their doctrines or their worship style, yet I still rejoice in seeing the stirrings of renewed gospel fervour in what appeared a few years ago to be a decayed and moribund body.

The worship services are saturated with passages from the Bible, from a translation that predates the Authorized, or King James, Version. The prayers and other parts of the services are written in much the same style. There may be a slightly archaic ring to the words, yet they are simple and easy to understand – and to remember. There is the other side of learning the words so well that you can say them without engaging the mind – they nevertheless remain embedded in the mind and may surface at times bearing precious truth.

I believe the old English Bibles and the Book of Common Prayer are proof that one does not have to use big words and complicated sentence structures to be eloquent. In fact, the opposite is true, the only way to be truly eloquent is to avoid complicated words and writing styles. Here is one example from the Book of Common Prayer, probably added at a later date, but written in the same style as the rest:

“We thank thee, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to build thy Church in many lands. We praise thee for the light of the Gospel, the labours of thy servants, and the ministrations of thy Church. We also bless they holy Name for those who have lived, and suffered, and died for thy sake; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may at last attain thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Memories of Christmases past

December 24, 1955.  At 11:15 PM my parents and I got into our old GMC half ton and drove into town and through it to the little white Anglican church on the north side.  I was driving, even though I was only thirteen, almost fourteen.  An RCMP constable attended this church, too, but he carefully ignored what was happening, no doubt aware of my father’s declining eyesight.

We parked on the street and walked up the steps into the church, leaving our coats and boots in the cloakroom.  The pews soon filled up.  A few seconds before 11:30 we heard the familiar jingling of keys as Mrs. Rutherford came in and walked up to the second pew from the front.  She was the local notary public, insurance and real estate agent; the key ring and her impeccably timed last minute arrival were testimonials of how busy she was with important matters.  The service began with a familiar old carol, Christine Kennedy pumping out the melody on the organ and the rest of us singing along rather weakly.  Except for Alf Soper, the one real singer in the building, his powerful deep voice made itself heard above all the others.

We soon needed to turn down the kneelers fastened to the bottom of the pew in front of us.  Services with the Book of Common Prayer were not spectator events.  The congregation would kneel, sit and stand at different times as we went through the service, repeating in unison the congregational responses and other readings.  Tonight being a communion service we recited the Nicene Creed.  Before we moved to Craik we had not been church going people, there being no suitable church anywhere near where we had previously lived.  Now, as the service progressed, all was so familiar that I had no need to hold a prayer book in my hands.

December 24, 1988.  The youth of the church, our daughter among them, began to pile into our house around 11:15.  We were living in Ontario now and members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  The youth had split into two groups and had spent hours carolling for the old, the sick, the lonely.  Now they were ready to warm up and unwind.  We served prodigious amounts of pizza, pop and other goodies, listened to their happy chatter and felt that perhaps we had been a useful part of their experience.

Christmas, 1995. We were in Montréal now and our little congregation had dinner together, sharing the traditional foods of people of many backgrounds.  I can’t name everything, but there was Italian, Guatemalan, Portuguese and Haitian food, in addition to more familiar fare.  André Gauvreau, who had spent most of his working life as a professional cook, provided the Québecois specialties: tourtières and a bûche de Noël.

Christmas 2012.  We are back in Saskatchewan, for almost 15 years now.  We will spend a quiet Christmas day, then get together with our children and grandchildren the following day.  Yesterday we were part of a group that went into Saskatoon to hold a service in the chapel of one of the hospitals.  One husky young man attended in a wheel chair, he tore the tendons in both knees, had surgery to repair the tendons and is now in rehab therapy to get back on his feet and walking.

We are celebrating the birth of Jesus the Saviour, the very beginning of the accomplishment of the salvation so long foretold by the prophets.  I’m not sure I know yet what is the best way to go about celebrating such a wondrous event, but it seems to me that the happiest times that I remember are the times when I have been the least motivated by selfishness.

Joyeux Noël à tout le monde!

May you all have a joyous Christmas!

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