Anglican Worship: The Center of Parish Life
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At the heart of every church tradition is one priority which shapes the identity of the community. This central aspect is the source of its energy and vision, and becomes the first of all other priorities. This aspect determines much, if not all, of its distinctive traits and eventually becomes the touchstone for every other facet of church life. For some churches the primary focus is mission and evangelism. Other churches center on discipleship including learning and experiential growth as well as practical service. And some churches focus primarily on building relationships. For still others it is works of compassion. It’s not that these churches neglect other activities; it’s just that they look at other activities through the lens of their primary commitment.
And the Anglican tradition is no different; it has a heart that shapes the identity of its life. But the heart of an Anglican parish is not its mission. It is not it discipleship. It is not relationship building. And it is not works of compassion. These things are vitally important, they should always be present, but they are not the central focus of an Anglican parish. The heart of an Anglican parish is found instead in its worship, most visible in its Sunday worship service. For us, mission, discipleship, relationship, and service flow from worship. Mission begins by acknowledging and praising the God whom we worship, receiving from the Christ that we proclaim, and receiving the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is founded on the posture of worship in which the forgiven people of God acknowledge our dependence on him, and then recite his wonderful saving deeds, being sent forth into the world as worshippers of the One True God. When people come before their God with repentance and faith, and are reconciled to God through Christ, relationships may then be formed between people which mirror this reconciling action of God. And works of compassion are the result of the transformation that worship affects in us as we are struck by the great compassion of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In our public, Sunday worship this principle is most obvious. The care which Anglicans take to plan the service, prepare the heart, and to revere the action that takes place is reflective of a worship centered faith. The fact that traditional Anglican worship space is designed specifically (and funded generously) for the worship of God attests to the priority of corporate worship. And the esteem with which Anglican Christians hold the Book of Common Prayer testifies to this identity as a community of worship. There is no other aspect of church life which shapes every other area in so profound a way.
And with worship as the heart, Sunday corporate worship is the most visible aspect. As important as individual spiritual life is for all Christians, for Anglicans it is still secondary to gathering to worship in Word and Sacrament, on the day of the Lord’s resurrection and in the continuing tradition of worship that connects us with those who have gone before. When Archbishop Cranmer designed simplified Morning and Evening Prayer services, he hoped that many people would be able to gather in the parish church for corporate worship, although he knew this would not likely be possible for most families. But corporate worship was seen as the primary and first place of piety and devotion, and individual and family worship next. That is, our prayer together as a community on Sundays is the source which flows into our private and family devotional lives. When “two or three” are gathered, there is Jesus in the midst. And it is from this experience of his presence that Anglicans receive the strength to go off alone and pray through the week. There is no more identity shaping moment than this.
So to begin to understand our worship, one must see that nothing is more renewing, nothing more humbling, and nothing more inspiring than public Sunday worship. If any moment, any program, any event is our appointed time, it is Sunday mornings. If any area of parish life affects all other areas, it is worship. If any area will draw our time and energy, the first area is worship. If any area defines us, it is worship. Small groups, food banks, Christian education classes, evangelism efforts, and fellowship gatherings all radiate from worship, and reflect worship.
In the final analysis, we are a worshipping community.
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