From the time I was in 4-year-old kindergarten, I’ve been an Episcopalian Anglican. Today, I had the rare privilege to serve as a lay reader to conduct a Morning Prayer service at my church. Our rector, Father Doug, was out of town, and it was my turn in the bullpen to help out.
For those of you who have never experienced the beauty and majesty of the Anglican liturgy, I suggest that you hie thyself to thy nearest Anglican church and check it out. Of course, even if you’ve never set foot in an Episcopal church, you’ve almost certainly sat through at least part of a service. If you’ve watched a movie or TV show with a wedding ceremony in it and heard the words, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here…” then you’ve heard the Anglican rite we know as the Sacrament of Marriage.
The Episcopal/Anglican churches enjoy something unique in the Christian faith – something we call the Book of Common Prayer, a book that is essentially a script for each service. We have Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Holy Communion, Marriage, and a host of others that are rich with the beauty of the English language.
Most Christians, when they have sinned, simply ask God to forgive them. Not us. Here’s the Declaration of Absolution or Remission of Sins from the BCP:
O LORD, we beseech thee to mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Is that beautiful or what? I’ve occasionally attended other denominations, but I’ve never found anything as meaningful as the Anglican liturgy. Some services I’ve attended (at other churches) are more like a rock concert followed by a brief video of coming attractions, with a sermon tacked on at the end. Nothing wrong with that – whatever floats your boat. But for me, the beauty of the language, the traditions, and the trappings of an Anglican service simply mean more to me, and affect me in a way that other services simply don’t.
Back in the 1970’s, the Episcopal Church of the United Sates decided to “update” the Book of Common Prayer. They developed a new liturgy that was bereft of all the beauty of the 1928 BCP. Sadly, the new service was as sterile as the old one was rich and beautiful. It was the liturgical version of a comparison between a pre-fab steel building and a traditional, Gothic church. Never understood why anyone would opt for the new over the old, given a choice.
Of course, the church I attend now is a Reformed Episcopal Church – a group that splintered off from ECUSA (recently rechristened as The Episcopal Church in a blatant attempt to appear to be the only Anglican church in the USA) back in the late 1800s, because the members felt that, even then, the “mainstream” Episcopalians were getting too liberal for their tastes.
Recently, the Anglicans in the rest of the world (mainly South America, Africa, and Asia) got a belly-full of those that have taken the Episcopal Church down the path of moral equivalency and liberal theology. They essentially said “we can’t have anything to do with you until you repent of the things you are doing that are harmful to the faith.” A few months ago, that same worldwide body welcomed the Reformed Episcopal Church back into the worldwide fold.
No idea where all this will shake out. What I suspect is that we’ll have two – or possibly three – “Anglican” churche groups in the USA – The very liberal TEC, the very conservative REC, and those churches that have left the TEC and are establishing their own affiliations, both with each other and the worldwide body.
The good news, as far as I’m concerned, is that the REC is in active communion with the conservatives outside America, and are actively working with other churches that have broken away from the TEC mothership. For me, a lifelong Anglican, it feels like a vindication – that the liberals can’t hijack an entire denomination, without it’s members fighting for their right to worship according to God’s word – not the preferences of a few liberal Bishops.