Uncommon Prayer

MEMBERS OF SYNOD have endured a heavy diet of liturgy in recent months. The Liturgical Commission (the work simulation scheme set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury to counter the threat of clerical unemployment) has been providing us with services for every occasion, a multiplicity of eucharistic prayers and goodness knows what else. Before long, though we shall all claim to be Anglicans, we will be able to invest a new meaning in the word “common”.

Three hundred years ago the Book of Common Prayer was exactly that – a succinct collection of services, with the Psalms appended at the back of the book, and the whole volume would fit into your pocket. Everybody used it and wherever you went in the Church of England you would find a welcome familiarity in the form of service used.

Not so in the brave new world of the twenty-first century. ‘Common’ Worship (contained in a multiplicity of volumes) will be far too large to fit in the pews and far too expensive for parishes to buy anyway. There will be alternatives to nearly everything, with options to use ELLC texts even where the General Synod has explicitly not approved them. The word common will have been completely redefined to mean something like “culled from a standard source of resource material – or perhaps elsewhere”. It is quite possible that no two parishes in the country will be using the same liturgy – and indeed large numbers of parishes will use other people’s liturgy (the Roman Missal, for instance) and large numbers of parishes will use little that is recognisable as Anglican liturgy at all. So much for all the Synod debates.

Ministers will increasingly make up mix’n’match services on their computers, downloading material from a library of CDs or internet sites. Some congregations may get a service sheet with it all written down, but most will find themselves staring at overhead projection screens, or reduced to silence while it all goes on up front – just as their forbears did in medieval pre-Reformation days.

In all probability the Bishops will not lift a finger. Can you imagine a bishop admonishing an incumbent who continues to use the ASB – or parts of the ASB? They will do nothing about it because there is nothing they can do about it. Even liturgical enthusiasts like the Bishop of Salisbury will be as powerless to stop the incoming tide as King Canute was 1000 years ago.

Its not that I’ve got anything against do-it-yourself prayers. In fact, some of them have a far profounder impact than anything the Liturgical Commission has ever dreamed up. A few weeks ago, for instance, a minister by the name of Rev Joe Wright was invited to open the new session of the Kansas Senate. Everyone was expecting the usual bland, politically correct generalities but what they heard was a stirring prayer, passionately calling the country to repentance and righteousness.

Apparently no-one nodded off. The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. In six short weeks, there were more than 5,000 phone calls with all but 47 of those calls supporting Mr Wright. Requests for copies of the prayer have been received from all over America and from as far afield as India, Africa and Korea.

So what did Mr Wright pray to provoke such a response? Was he right to do so? The text is reproduced below, so you can judge for yourself:

‘Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, “Woe on those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We confess that:

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshiped other gods and called it multi-culturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn children and called it a choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbour’s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honoured values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who You have sent to direct us to the centre of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.’

I suppose it is just possible that one of the Lords Spiritual might use the opportunity afforded him when he leads prayers in their Lordships’ House to use a form of the above. Time is short before Commissar Blair legislates the present House into oblivion and replaces it with a load of on message clones with pagers. But will any of the twenty six Lords Spiritual have the bottle?

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.