Nor do I collect postage stamps

BY THE TIME you read this, the General Synod will have spent up to nine hours debating liturgy over four days at York. Something has been going on and one wonders just how many new services, revised services and re-authorised services the powers that be can come up with.

The Liturgical Commission contributed four General Synod papers running to 244 pages for us to assimilate in the two and a half weeks before Synod. Not to be outdone, Revision committees offered a further nine papers, containing another 200 pages.

Readers who do not have the good fortune to be members of the General Synod might well wonder what they have been missing, and the whole does add up to a veritable liturgical feast.

One interesting rite we were offered was “Sunday worship with Holy Communion in the absence of a priest”. While this initially delighted some evangelicals, who thought that official approval for lay celebration might be in the air, high churchmen were reassured to find that all that had happened was that “Extended Communion” had acquired a pedantic new nomenclature.

The House of Bishops had inserted some notes which implied their less than fulsome enthusiasm. There was a requirement that explicit permission must be obtained from the bishop for the use of this rite. “This permission should relate to specific pastoral circumstances thus emphasising the exceptional nature of this ministry,” the note continued. One got the distinct impression that here was a service that nobody intended should be used – and indeed it was a service unlikely to achieve the required two thirds majority at Final Approval stage if the half hearted vote for General Approval in the last Synod was anything to go by.

Wholeness and Healing provided a whole raft of new possibilities. There was a “Celebration of Wholeness and Healing”, a “Laying on of hands with Prayer and Anointing at the Eucharist” and suggestions on “Prayer for Individuals at Public Worship” (including prayer for individuals who do not explain their particular need). There was an order for “The Eucharist in the presence of the sick”, which turned out to be a modified Rite 1 in both modern and traditional language forms, not to mention the Rite 2 options. Then there were prayers for protection and deliverance and special words for the laying on of hands with prayer and anointing.

When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, there is an ongoing controversy between those who want to be saved from a time of trial and those who would prefer not to be led into temptation. The committee did not appear to be moved by the number of proposals they had received to stick with the ASB text. One suspected that there were some English Language Liturgical Commission (ELLC) enthusiasts among their number.

A service of the Word provided a strange pick’n’mix selection – the Revision Committee described it as a “miscellany of material” – which I suppose amounts to a sort of minimalist attempt to regularise liturgical usage. Many parishes appear to have come to accept de facto that the BCP, the ASB and the Liturgical Commission have been largely supplanted by CPAS-style family services. In order to accommodate the exceedingly wide range of current practice, and give a kind of retrospective legitimacy to anything and everything, the form of service offered looks distinctly anorexic. The Lord’s Prayer seems to be required, but virtually everything else is optional, though there are a couple of notes that stipulate that the service should have a clear beginning and a clear ending.

Then there were Funeral Services and Marriage Services and surprise, surprise, six Eucharistic Prayers. It is not that long ago that Synod rejected six Eucharistic prayers – this time the six on offer are already being tried out in 800 parishes across the country. However one fears that the lessons of the past have not been learned. Of the six prayers offered, only one or at the most two are likely to prove acceptable to a majority of Synod.

So far as I can see, there is bound to be widespread dissatisfaction with any prayer that implies a change in the elements by the power of the Holy Spirit, or suggests that we should somehow be offering the bread and the wine to God as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. These expressions of unreformed theology take us away from the very clear teaching of the Book of Common Prayer which is meant to be the authorised standard of doctrine and worship in the Church of England. Some may assume that because the doctrinal ambiguities of the ASB have been tolerated for eighteen years that misgivings have been overcome. I have a feeling that such assumptions may in the end prove to be unfounded.

It would be nice to think that we could come up with a book of common worship that would give some cohesion and common purpose to the Church of England. Being pragmatic though, I wonder whether we have gone too far down the road of individualistic diversity for that ever to happen.

Many parishes will, I suppose, use services from Common Worship that roughly correspond to their current practice, but how many will change their idiosyncratic practices to conform to whatever becomes the official norm? I may be wrong, but I doubt that the rules will be enforced any more in the future than in the past – and that is probably because they can’t be enforced. Sales of CPAS booklets and the Roman Missal are unlikely to be affected.

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