Myth or Reality? an Introduction to Common Prayer

Article excerpt

When I was growing up in the Episcopal Church in Colorado during the decades of the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, I knew that I was part of a global family that spoke a common language. This common language linked us spiritually, spatially, and temporally. Our dictionary, our grammar, our thesaurus had but one name: The Book of Common Prayer. Wherever the Anglican tradition went, the Prayer Book followed.

Then I grew up and went to seminary. There I lost my "first" naïveté and learned that the myth of The Book of Common Frayer that had shaped my childhood and adolescence was just that: a mythical narrative that created an identity which was both true and untrue, a narrative that did not always bear up under closer scrutiny.

To be sure there was, and continues to be, a recognizable liturgical and spiritual tradition that bears the name "Anglican" and that shares a common practice of producing liturgical books that bear the name The Book of Common Prayer or something similar. But that tradition, despite its shared characteristics, also had real and significant differences that went beyond how we spelled the words.

We are living in the midst of what some commentators call the "third" liturgical movement. The "first" liturgical movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century helped us recover a "usable" past. The "second" liturgical movement of the postwar period took that past and developed rites that reenergized our communities and connected us to traditions and practices that predated the conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The "third" liturgical movement must now engage the implications of culture and provide leadership in shaping an Anglican approach to worship which addresses both the virtues and the vices of our times and societies in our own idiom. Some have called this putting old wine into new slans.

For that reason the editorial leadership of the Anglican Theological Review made a decision more than two years ago to devote this issue to the question, "What is common about common prayer?" These ten essays written from a variety of perspectives should provide grist for the mills of our Communion-wide exploration of the meaning of Anglican identity and how our worship contributes to shaping that identity. We do not imagine that this issue will be the last word on the question of Anglican identity and how that identity is expressed in worship. But we do intend to contribute to the conversation that goes on every week in Anglican congregations throughout the world when they gather to proclaim the Word and break the bread. Despite the temptation to institutionalize the via media that has shaped us as a Christian tradition, that "middle way" still has much to contribute in a world where extremisms of the left and the right, of the secular and the religious, threaten "this fragile earth, our island home."

The Lead Articles

The first lead essay explores the practice and theology of Christian initiation in the Anglican Communion. John Hill and Rowena Koppelt suggest to us that the waters of baptism are stormy ones and that the sacrament of unity might be more divisive than we think. Hill and Roppelt identify some key tasks in what they call "a post-Christendom quest for 'common baptism'": a recovery of the paschal and vocational meaning of initiation, a restored sense of the dignity of adult baptism, a recovery of catechumenal formation as a normal element of initiation, a restored sense of the conversion of life enacted in baptism, and a practice of confirmation that does not separate baptism from initiation.

Hill and Roppelt believe that the quest for a common baptism will find in the recommendations of the 1991 International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC) a roadmap to guide the journey. These seven recommendations describe the characteristics of a post-Christendom approach to Christian initiation in the Anglican Communion. With these recommendations in mind, Hill and Roppelt briefly examine the most recent baptismal rites of five provinces of the Communion: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and England. …

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