Tuesday, 15 July 2014
BCP and BAS and Other Things Liturgical
I was presiding and preaching at the church in Montague —St. George’s yesterday. They use the Book of Common Prayer rather than the ‘modern liturgy of the Book of Alternate Services so we were celebrating the fourth Sunday after Trinity. It is interesting — and a bit of a challenge —to preside at a BCP service as I did not grow up in the Anglican church. When I came over to England (to coin a phrase), the B.A.S. was in general use — a least in my experience. I did have some experience with the BCP liturgy mostly in the nursing home services and home visit where the people wanted the service they grew up with and were most familiar with — just as the old hymns they grew up with resonate with them on a deep level. However, even that experience didn’t really prepare me for presiding at a ‘high’ BCP service which is the custom at St. Georges as well as St. Albans in Souris here on Prince Edward Island, where we are spending the summer, and where we also worship.
I became serious about Anglican worship around 1990 and the debate about the new liturgy of the BAS versus the traditional liturgy of the BCP had been going on for a while in parts of the church. It was not evident in the congregation which I worshipping at that time with Lorna. I believe I missed most of the discussion around the change by that time. The objectives of the new liturgy and the objections to it were far ranging and still exist in some parts of the Anglican Church. There was and is a resistance to change among Anglicans is a long standing value and habit summed up by the (now) old joke, “How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? Change, we don’t change, we’re Anglicans! And anyway that light bulb is a memorial for my parents so we can’t change it”!
Some of the arguments around the two forms of worship revolve around language — the beauty and poetry of the BCP prayer book which was written by Thomas Cramner, the Archbishop of Canterbury following the reforms initiated by Henry VIII who had less than pure motives in breaking with the Roman Catholic Church. The language is archaic and rather hard to get used to, for one raised in modern English. However, it is beautiful. The use of BCP goes lockstep with the use of the King James Version of the bible which does give me more difficulty when proclaiming the Gospel in the worship service. There is of course more behind the changes than language. The theology of the two different books is quite different which I won’t go into detail here.
However, one of the objections to the service change was the passing of the peace which in the BCP was done by the priest reciting, “The Lord be with you”. The congregation responded, “And with thy spirit.” The BAS follows this formula with minor changes to update the language. However, here comes the kicker — in the BAS people actually exchange a symbol of peace by shaking hands. This did not go well with many Anglicans who saw it as an unnecessary intrusion into their solemn worship.
This is a small but telling example of the resistance to the change. However, there are much more significant differences which are associated with the two prayer books. The BCP is usually, but not necessarily, associated with traditional, orthodox theology and a resistance to the ordination of women which was introduced in the Canadian church in the 1970’s. More recently the debate has centered on the blessing of same-sex-unions (and now marriages). As someone who definitely leans towards the liberal end of the theological continuum it is a cause of a bit of dissonance in my worship. However, I am able to appreciate the beauty of the BCP liturgy without getting involved in the debate around these far reaching theological issues — as important as they are. However, we all must choose our battles or as we used to say in seminary ‘choose which ditch we will die in’.