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Catholic Anglican Worship in a Post-Christian Missionary Context
A philosophy of integrating traditional, Catholic worship alongside contextualised, contemporary ministry
Written February 2019, revised February 2021. Part of a series on Anglican mission
Outside of Prayer Book services, ministry can be flexible and open to engaging with culture.
The Holy Communion is not the centre of outreach, but the pinnacle of Christian community, so most onboarding of new members and evangelism should be done in (2) rather than (1).
I am what is sometimes called a Prayer Book Catholic. Having been formed in traditional Prayer Book patterns of worship, I favour following a service pattern that generally predates the Liturgical Movement and Vatican II. This, along with membership in Forward in Faith, forms the foundation of how I perceive worship and administration of Sacraments in the Anglican tradition.1 When engaging with a culture under rapid change (there is much written on this already), I envision contextualised—that is, missionary-minded—engagements subordinated to, and dependent upon, the traditional liturgical rhythm and practice of the church. Musical arrangement and song choices are not the scope of the “Anglican Tradition” as here discussed.2
A Eucharistic foundation
The Eucharist transcends cultural tribes, ideals of children's programs, or generational and socioeconomic class differences. There are significant formational, theological, and historical risks to updating Holy Communion to attractional models of worship, which operate under a different formational model. The most obvious is risking cultural irrelevance in 10 years, as has happened in much of the Evangelical sphere, especially in the wake of the charismatic movement of the 1970s and 1980s.3
"Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere, always, and by all." (Vincentian Canon)
Lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of what is prayed [is] the law of what is believed)
It is essential to the health of the church that it have a stable foundation, like in Eastern Orthodoxy, where liturgy and worship that was familiar 50, 100, or 200 years ago, should be similarly familiar 50, 100, or 200 years from now.
For a flexible contextualization
However, once outside the Holy Communion and Offices, there is considerable room to establish programs and communities with forward-thinking mission, outreach, and missionary contextualisation. Here lies the immense opportunity, ignored by many traditional Anglican churches, to be flexible in missionary expression of community, and encourage contextualised outreach according to the interests and talents of the core that God provides in each church.
It could be more akin to a standard non-denominational format, playing contemporary songs with a non-lectionary teaching series, or it could be more of an experimental and postmodern engagement with the arts. There is great flexibility in this regard as long as any ‘alternative service’ remains consistent with the theological integrity of the Anglican tradition, a high view of Holy Scripture, and includes an evangelical imperative to make disciples of all nations.
A Case Study
If this picture is unclear, I will include a model case study. St. Timothy & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church in Virginia practices this symbiotic connection. This church offers an 11 AM Sunday service called "The Well."
The Well is a non-denominational, non-liturgical evangelical service format, with contemporary songs and teachings. Often these teachings will include a popular Christian book. It is open to all, and presented in an attractional manner, yet in no way contradictory to Orthodox Coptic theology. Books have included popular standards such as Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or a six-week topical series on Marriage.
The Church reserves Eucharist for the 9 AM Divine Liturgy, using their traditional liturgy and hymnody. The Eucharist is open only to those confirmed in the church. The church does not represent The Well as a church service, but rather as a branded ministry of the church that appears very similar to a non-denominational format. Inquirers interested in The Divine Liturgy or joining the church community in full are encouraged to begin catechesis.
Adapting to the Anglican Tradition
The Anglican Tradition, of course, is not as liturgically or Eucharistically constrained as Oriental/Eastern Orthodoxy, but this model of bringing ancient faith to a modern culture is compelling. This builds an Ancient-Future church rather than an Ancient-Future church service. What kind of outreach ministry this might be in a given setting (be it urban, suburban, or rural; demographically uniform or diverse) depends upon the people the Lord has brought to the community. It could be a reading group, an arts community, a philanthropy project, not just the standard Evangelical format of songs and study.
This separation of outreach & contextualised services from the Eucharist service encourages full participation of all people—not just clergy—in ministry. It upholds the priesthood of all believers, resists clericalism, and remains consistent with the sacramental priesthood. Further, this formulation can include women serving in ministry—including teaching—in a way that remains consistent with the canons of dioceses and traditions that do not ordain women. This allows freedom of expression according to the gifts of those whom God sends, whether it is a programmatic "Nondenominational" formatted service, a more charismatic expression of worship and prayer, or a more experimental project. These can be empowered as evangelistic, worship, prayer, and discipling (catechetical) events that work alongside, and in complement to traditional prayer book spirituality. As long as they are not confused and commingled, they can each become strengths which support one another.
This desired format would work best by celebrating only one Eucharistic service on a Sunday morning. If there is a strong desire for multiple traditional services, this is an opportunity to follow the historic Prayer Book practice of Morning Prayer, Litany, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer, rather than Said Low Mass, Sung Mass, High Mass. If because of prior practice of a church, one cannot consolidate to one Eucharist, services should be as similar in liturgy as possible,4 avoiding the American use of having separate Contemporary Eucharist and Traditional Eucharist services. This is to avoid the generational and tribal divide of multiple services, as well as the inherent consumerism of selective, preferential attendance. It also necessitates a high sacramental theology, otherwise one is functionally operating two churches: it is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that compels someone to dive deeper into the life of the church, rather than the devotional life common to non-denominationalism, beneficial as it is. Many people approach the Eucharist with a consumerist mind, never preparing.5
Separating outreach and evangelism from the (Royal) family meal also resists latent consumerism of communion itself: it is for the baptised and catechised (and historically, the chrismated or confirmed), rather than the curious. Extending full participation in the liturgical life of the church to the unchurched or denominational pilgrim includes instruction in the joy (not mere memorial or ritual!) that the Christian enters into every Sunday, and the grace received through such. A similar analogy is in the division of the Liturgy of the Word (Catechumen) from the Liturgy of the Faithful (Eucharist). The most intimate circle is Eucharist (Holy Communion), with a discipleship and formation circle outside of it (Prayer Book Offices and Catechesis), and Evangelism, prayer, and non-liturgical praise in the outmost circle. In this model the unchurched, deconstructed, and uncatechised enter into the life of the Anglican tradition, starting in outer circles, going ever deeper, culminating into Eucharist.
If one is fortunate enough to outgrow the space, then it is time to look towards moving to a larger location or empowering new leaders–evangelists, readers, clerks, deacons–to plant another church, however small, in this model. This model does not work well with the 20th century “two-flavours of Sunday morning Communion services.” If there are multiple Eucharistic services, they should be as similar as possible. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, canons only permit celebration of Eucharist once per day on a given altar. While not required of Anglican clergy, it expresses the ideal within pre-modern formation: to bring the whole family of God in the parish to one Eucharistic meal.
February 2021 addendum, in light of a global pandemic and related controversy: Eucharistic services, including homilies, should have minimal online presence: no streaming. Streaming, online engagement, and archived teachings would best be reserved for the contextualised ministries. Video conferences such as Zoom—or better, Jitsi, which is open-source—remains a great place for ministry and community building.
For a defense of traditional liturgy and classic Anglican practices operating as mission, please read Bishop Scarlett's paper on this.
Traditional services are not necessarily for those of riper years: "The Latin Mass has been especially popular with young Catholics, and it is too late to stop them from finding parishes that will allow it to continue." Bill Donohue, Catholic League (note added 7-15-21)
“[1662 Prayer Book Society president] Bradley confirms that his society’s new members are almost exclusively under 35 and more often than not male.” – Rev Daniel French (note added 5-2-2023)
For example, a 8AM said BCP, 9:15AM & 11AM sung BCP; 6pm non-traditional, evangelical worship/teaching gathering without communion).
The exhortation common in all orthodox Prayer Books (1662IE p255, 1928 p85, 2019 p147) is a tremendous asset, and hardly as jarring once in a traditional liturgical context. Since most Anglican parishes have an open-to-all-baptized approach, consciously including a caution towards proper preparation is helpful given the diversity of backgrounds.