The revised liturgy

The Rectory, September 2000

Canon Andrew DeucharI am sure that by now, everyone is aware that we are on the verge of introducing a revised liturgy. We are required to do so by 1st January, and we will in fact do so from that date - so the first Sunday of the new year, 7th January, will be the first occasion that most people will notice any change.

The new range of services which have been approved by General Synod under the title of Common Worship cover almost all the services which we currently use, with the main exception of the Taizé service which we use once a month in the evening, and will continue to do so.

So what does that mean in practice? Well, in next month’s magazine, there will be a detailed explanation of the changes which will occur. These have been discussed thoroughly by the PCC, and we have decided to try out a range of options for an experimental period of six months, and will be asking everyone to feed back their thoughts and observations throughout that period before making final decisions in June next year.

Having said that, I want to reassure everyone that the new services allow considerable flexibility, and that in fact regulars at St Peter’s will not notice enormous changes. For instance, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer remains the foundation block upon which and from which all our liturgy springs. There is no desire on the part of either the clergy or the PCC to replace any of the services which currently follow the BCP order. There will be minor alterations to the 10.45am service, and the introduction of some new Eucharistic Prayers, but none that will take you much by surprise. And we are seeking in this period of experiment, to offer a slightly wider range of styles on a regular basis but nothing, I repeat, which will be a radical change from what we already experience.

But what is much more important than fiddling around with words and style, is trying to ensure that what we offer to God in worship is the best and the most appropriate that we can. That may sound obvious. But as the PCC were reminded when we all met together for the day in Southwell to talk through the changes, we are an extraordinarily diverse group of people, and we bring a wide range of needs, hopes and expectations to our worship. What is the best possible for one person is quite likely to be boring and inappropriate for another; and because worship is in some senses deeply personal, and is affected by mood and circumstance and experience, we need to be profoundly sensitive to one another as we seek to offer ourselves to God in prayer and praise and thanksgiving. (That is particularly so for those of us who have the privilege of ordering our worship.) What I am sure about however, is that there is no one “right” way. Those who make the choice - and it must be a very deliberate choice, given the difficulty of getting there for many people - do so for a variety of reasons, and if we are to be a truly open church we must seek, within certain limits, to be open to the varieties of need and of gifts which present themselves.

It is in that spirit that the PCC is approaching this significant moment of liturgical change. We are committed to a well-ordered, eucharistically-based pattern of worship, seeking to reach the highest standards in every aspect of what we do, but recognising the diversity which lies at the heart of Anglicanism, and which is very much present in the congregation of St Peter’s.

Percy Dearmer, who was well-known in the early part of the twentieth century both for writing about and practising liturgical excellence, wrote very perceptively about the challenge of modernity, and the role of worship. In a book The Art of Public Worship published just after the First World War, he wrote:

…people learn mostly by the eye, and learn only when they love; they needs must love the highest when they see it - must love goodness and truth and beauty; and loving they will learn, not from the pulpit very much, but from the church itself and the worship which is offered there. Our business is to help people to praise God, to make public worship the glorious and heart-stirring action which it ought to be. Our churches exist that Sunday and weekday, and hour by hour, men and women and children may enter their courts with praise, to repent and amend, to meditate and worship, to aspire and rejoice.

Amen to that!

Andrew Deuchar
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 4th November 2000