Anglican Worship: Ordered Flexibility
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Anglican worship has an ethos of ordered flexibility. There is an overarching assumption that the Spirit works through, not despite, planning and order. The Prayer Book itself, with its written collects borrowed and shaped from a thousand year tradition of prayer assumes this. Order is preferred to spontaneous worship or prayer as more thoughtful, unifying, and comprehensive of biblical and historic Christian theology. This is not to say that there is no flexibility or room for the value of what could be called “present tense” worship. But only that the overall vision of healthy, robust worship of God is one of a traditional, distinctly Christian structure and pattern. The Preface to the 1662 Prayer Book attests the need for our public liturgy to avoid, “the two extremes, of too much stiffness in refusing, and of too much easiness in admitting any variation…” Hence the paradox of ordered flexibility.
Ordered worship is able to be shared, a visible sign of unity with other Christians all over the world and even from the past. By using an ordered and historic (i.e. catholic) worship, we are able to share the structure and often even the very words our brothers and sisters are using or have used. When we are solely spontaneous and creative, which is indeed an essential facet of worship, we are expressing our own place and time. But without the counter balance of historic forms, we lose the sense of the past, and without a shared worldwide liturgy, we lose our sense of the unity of the Body of Christ. The order, in one sense, comes from the past and from the Church, and the flexibility comes from the present and our local community. Both are important.
Ordered flexibility also speaks to the issue of personality and individualism in leadership of Christian worship. There is an underlying assumption in Anglican spirituality that the individual pastor leading worship or the individual Christian in private prayer simply cannot, in his person, have the resources to draw from for the fullness of prayer and worship. When we learn to “say our prayers” by connecting with the ordered tradition of Christian prayer found in resources like the Book of Common Prayer, we are acknowledging our own limited nature, and seeking help in learning to pray with the saints. And as this is true for the ordained minister as well as the lay ministers, we are all placed in the role of learners as we use the great resources provided for us in the Prayer Book.
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