A member of The Community of St Anselm, Emma Ash, a youth worker, theologian, and a trustee of the Church of England’s National Estate Churches Network, reflects on the complexities of Common Worship, the C of E’s successor to the Book of Common Prayer.
A few months ago, I felt fairly certain that I had understood Common Worship. I was new to the Community of St Anselm, enjoying Morning Prayer at Lambeth Palace, the service had finished, I felt refreshed, I left the room, and then I suddenly realised that the bishop was supposed to leave before me!
If I could have filmed the amount of times that I have spoken at the wrong time, not stood up or bowed down at the appropriate moment, or not been able to find the right page numbers; you would have witnessed some funny outtakes. When I finally think that I’ve understood something, the liturgical season changes!
Just the other month, there I was at Lambeth Palace, this time in a room full of bishops for Compline. The service progressed and it became time to sing, but there were no instructions and so without warning the bishops began to sing, in unison, the solo parts of the cantor! I stared across the room at my friend who was thinking the exact same thing as me: this is funny! But no, seriously: if they were confused, how is the common person supposed to feel? Alarm bells should be ringing!
Mark Earey in his book Beyond Common Worship writes “the tragedy is that Common Worship has become for many a byword for confusion, complication and complexity.”
If Common Worship, which is loved for its language, is leaving people perplexed and unable to worship, we need to help our nation fall in love with what The Archbishop’s Adviser on Anglican Communion Affairs, Bishop Anthony Poggo, said is “the one thing that unites us.”
My biggest concern is that we have a nation that does not know Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. For those who are hungry and want a liturgical way of worshiping, there needs to be a way to make it accessible. We must not assume that everyone, including Christians, knows how to use Common Worship.
The Liturgical Commission should launch a new resource similar to that of the Alpha Course, which can be used in schools, homes, workplaces, and churches; teaching others a liturgical way of worship, along with the reasons behind them, offering space for a discussion over a meal.
Let’s make our worship as Cranmer intended: for the common person, so that our praise can be an unending symphony giving glory to God on high.