on Cranmer, Dix & Mayhew

as promised, and at long last…  (and at last, long…)

On the night of my institution, as I read out the legal bits required for my licencing, the bishop might just have noticed a small stumble, a choking on words, as I read aloud and remembered that I would have to give my assent to the prayer book.  It wasn’t quite as bad as the time when — as we processed down the aisle — the bishop of Coventry said to me “you know I’m about to ask you to consent to the 39 articles, don’t you?”, but still, I stumbled.

Each time this happens, I don’t have time to stop and think about the niceties of ‘consent’, ‘assent’, and the like.  And then, when it’s over, I banish the thought, only to get caught out again the next time.

For you see, while I can affirm the place of these documents in the history and tradition of the church, they were never part of my formation.  Had any of my DDO’s, PDO’s, selectors stopped me and said ‘you know you’ll have to agree to the prayer book, don’t you?’ I might well have hopped back on the train, or even the plane, and sought a life elsewhere.

I realise that may sound extreme.  But honestly:  if all we had were the 1929 prayer book, I doubt I ever would have considered ordination nor even found a vision of God worth living for.

Which is not to say that I think that the prayer book is untrue.  No, I’m not quite so foolish.  But I think it is terribly limited, and never more so than in the 1662 English Communion Office.

(oh dear… I can almost hear the shrieks of ‘heretic’)

The problem is that the 1662 rite — or rather, the 1552 before it– is shaped so very definitely in the crucible of Reformation wrangling.  Mustn’t risk anything that implies that there is a real offering here, lest someone mistake it for sacrifice:  so lets break the offering up into a thousand pieces, and lose any hope of a coherent shape to the liturgy.  Oh, and confession?  Well, it must be public, and frequent:  a bit of penance here there and everywhere just to be safe.

Truly, I am trying to find sense in it.  Continue reading “on Cranmer, Dix & Mayhew”

out with the old?

Once again, Kate has written an important post reflecting on the experience of Liturgy —  most specifically: what it feels like to be pushed to the edge by overwhelmingly male & patriarchal language for God.   I can picture the scene all too easily, and it frustrates me.

But I know that if Kate came here, she would find things little better.  I know, because I flinch as I lead worship — saying phrases I would quietly omit if I were sitting in the pew, phrases that I believe are unhelpful and misleading.

So, Kate’s post also makes me uncomfortable because it puts me face to face with my own hypocrisy.  I hate some of what the tradition offers as normative.  It was not part of my formative experience as a Christian, it was not part of my formative experience as a theology student or ordinand, but I have had to learn to deal with it as a priest.

I deal with it as a priest because it is what the tradition demands of me.  I deal with it as a priest because one has to pick one’s battles, and my own needs and those of the congregations do not always match.  I deal with it as a priest because I naively and somewhat stubbornly resist being too free with the words of the liturgy, because I have known too many priest who cut (or add) all sorts of things without any sense of the theological implications of what they are doing.

I pray daily for a revised liturgy that will take away these pains (and give thanks for those who are working on it).

But in the mean time, what can we do other than flinch?

Well, while I have chosen not to push the language agenda too far in these particular congregations, I do try to keep as many images of God on the go as possible.    ‘Father’ has it’s place, and it’s place is scattered amidst a thousand other images for God.

I try — though only with partial success — to get the other preachers in the congregation to respect my wish that we not use ‘men’, ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ to refer to humanity.  But then, neither can I force people to agree with me, nor prevent them from preaching on the importance of ‘Son of God’ rather than ‘Child of God’ while I quietly fume in my pew (there is a theological argument to be had there, but it is rather more complex than sermons allow, and the effect of stressing Sonship, to me, is to overemphasise maleness).    And the thing is:  there is almost no way to convince someone that inclusive language matters if they think it doesn’t.  To engage in the feminist critique of language for the first time is to be confronted with your own complicity in abusive power structures, and most people just aren’t willing to do that while chatting over coffee.

But there are days when I want to throw caution to the wind, days when I want to send Kate on tour to each and every congregation that lives quietly with outdated language and image and say,  ‘look:  is this not precisely who we need in the church?  We are lucky she seems strong enough to withstand the damage, but how many others are we losing along the way?’

I do not know how to reconcile the fact that in one church, there are people who hurt if they lose language they have loved all their lives, and others who hurt if they are constantly confronted by images of God which exclude them.

I believe that the greater burden needs to be on those who have lived longest with God, and have grown deepest in faith.  But of course, age never guarantees experience.

In the mean time, I thank God for the blogs, for the community that has developed, for a place where we can speak honesty of what we find hard in church and know that there are others there working for the same revolutions, those who understand that the anger and frustration at some of what happens in God’s name comes out of our love for the  wonderful terrible beast that is the Episcopal Church.