Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Women, Word, and Worship: Changing the Treasury of Resources

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Women, Word, and Worship: Changing the Treasury of Resources

Article excerpt

Of the Terminal Illness of the Book

"Unbound!" with an exclamation mark is the title of our conference. "Unbind him, and let him go!" says Jesus to the family and friends gathered round the grave from which a newly resurrected Lazarus has just staggered out into the fight of day. Is the overlap of language mere coincidence, or does it point to some aspects of Anglican women's relationship with the Praver Book?

I want to begin by playing a bit with this story of death and resurrection in which Lazarus and the Prayer Book both are part of the family, dearly loved, sadly weak and sick for a time, finally lifeless, reverently interred, and, if Martha is right, much too far decayed by now to risk opening the grave and nauseating everyone with the stench of death. With the women of Bethany, perhaps we think we'll just have to wait till the resurrection on the last day to see Lazarus alive again, and the Prayer Book resurrected for the whole heavenly host to use in worship.

Then along comes the Resurrection and the Life in person, undeterred by the likelihood of an odour, and confident that the glory of God will be seen even here. He prays, without the aid of any book, calls Lazarus and the BCP back to life, and gives the command to unbind and let go. The family is complete again, and everything is Just as it was, except for the glory of God shining more brightly than ever.

The trouble is that while Martha and Mary wished their brother's death could have been prevented, many in the Anglican Church rather suspect that the demise of the Prayer Book may be either a necessary evil, or a blessing in disguise. Many Anglican women would not recognise the restoration and replication of past liturgical unities as a welcome gift.

Or perhaps I am getting ahead of myself in the story, and we are still in that agonising in-between-time that Martha and Mary had to live through, when Lazar-us was dying and Jesus was nowhere to be found. In this application of the metaphor, the Prayer Book is still surviving, though probably doomed, and the power for new life, the instruction to unbind and let go, is deliberately delaying and does not arrive when summoned.

In any ot these scenarios, however apt or Ott-beam they may be for the state of life and health of the Prayer Book, the presence of women is essential: women watching over what seems to be dying in our churches, women grieving for the loss of much that we have loved in the spiritual inheritance of our traditions, women trusting in God to turn death around into life again in our liturgies, and women responding to Christ's command to unbind all that still constrains common prayer and to let it go into all the uncertainties and even the dangers of a new paradigm of worship.

Of the Worship Experiences of Women

In the liturgical world of Anglicanism, women's presence is still often muted, often tentative, often unobserved, often incidental to the mainstream of liturgical change. Women's presence that is consciously and confidently feminist is even more of a stranger to the institutional highways and byways of liturgical life and death. Yet feminist theological methods and findings are crucial both to the present and to the future of Anglican worship. My conviction that this was true led me to begin doctoral studies with Louis Weil, and then drove me back to the grassroots of Anglican worship in Australian parish life to continue putting the theory into practice. Some examples from Australian Anglicanism may help to show how Anglican worship is being shaped by the presence of women and by feminist theological reflection and praxis. So: on Sunday evenings in a suburban parish, ten or a dozen people gather for Taize-style worship. One has written short, simple texts to fit into forty minutes dominated by silence and chanted songs. It is a respite from wordiness in worship for all of us, a relief from book- and rubric-governed Sunday morning liturgies for the priest, and a chance for a mixed congregation to experience as normal and ordinary liturgical language that is genuinely inclusive and even emancipatory. …

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