What is wrong with Common Worship?

General Synod, the Church of England’s ‘Parliament’ has voted to look at a revision of the Common Worship Baptism service. There has been debate about the difficulty of the language; can you expect non-church-goers to understand the idea of the ‘kingdom of God’ for example? But that is not the issue for me—it is much broader than that. The whole service is far too complex, and the language is fussy and, to be honest, at times pompous. The double set of triple vows simply seems unnecessary, and does not make practical sense when it is used.

But this is not the first time Common Worship has run into trouble. Almost immediately after its publication, there was an outcry at the new set of Collects. The accusation? Too pompous! And so a new set of simpler-language collects was agreed and published.

Other services have their problems too. I know plenty of clergy who would not use the ‘new’ order in the Wedding service, with the vows later, with anyone but the most confident. I have heard criticisms of the Funeral service too—though I have not used it myself.

But, as some of you will know, I could write a whole blog post on the problems with Daily Prayer. Again, pompous language, some frankly meaningless versicles and responses, the loss of some historic and more recent prayers to an appendix on page six hundred and something—and the ribbons! You need a handful to mark all the different places you might go to! David Houlding, a member of Synod’s Catholic group, commented on Radio 4 that ‘you cannot ignore the historical legacy of worship.’ But ironically, that is just what CW has done in many of its revisions.

Even at the level of the production, something has gone badly wrong. The typeface (Gill Sans) was chosen for its style, rather than its readability. And rubrics had to be red of course, even though blue ‘rubrics’ are more easily read! And why, oh why, the innumerable books? In a parish, what I would want is a single volume containing a pattern for Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, Baptism, Wedding and Funeral. Done. (I have told CHP this is what they should do next time!)

The effect of all this has been to increase the polarisation of attitudes to liturgy in the Church. Whilst there are those who happily continue to use CW as it was intended, many more churches are ditching formal liturgy altogether—and are the poorer for it.

This was supposed to be the liturgical revision to end all liturgical revisions, to give us a prayer book for generations to come as the BCP had been (hence the echoing of the name)—but something went badly wrong. What was it?

I would venture to suggest it was the idea that liturgy is the province of specialists, and so what the Church needed was expert liturgy devised by experts. What has resulted is something that is elitist, complex, and anti-missional. Instead of a million texts we had to follow to the letter, what we should have had was a single text we could use flexibly…rather like the 1980 ASB in fact!

Now, dear reader, I hear you cry: ‘But you are a Dean in an Anglican theological college! How can you criticise the Church’s liturgy?’

What I am concerned about in ordination training is to teach three things:

  1. The principles of liturgy, not as a technical specialism, but as the human dynamics of what happens when the people of God gather together to confess their sins, hear God’s word, be taught how to grow in faith, to celebrate God’s gift to us in Christ, and then be sent out to live lives of faithful witness.
  2. Those being ordained in the C of E will have to use this book, or collection of books, so they do need to find their way about it.
  3. But I hope, thirdly, that students here will also realise that what they learn in 1 suggests that what they learn in 2 has some serious problems about it, and in doing so they might be equipped to find creative ways of making public worship inviting and engaging in an increasingly de-churched culture.

I would really like to see more and more churches being ‘liturgically intelligent’ across all our worshipping traditions, not just the more Catholic or middle-of-the road Anglican—and for the Church to offer texts which encourage this to happen. CW doesn’t do it.

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36 thoughts on “What is wrong with Common Worship?”

  1. On funeral service, which you mention, it simply isn’t possible to ‘do it by the book’ when you have a 30min crem slot (including getting everyone in, and everyone out).

    Moreover, it assumes a Christendom position, that to be English = to be Christian, which makes it hard to do with integrity: surely it is possible to be unashamedly Christian without asking everyone there to pretend to be…?

  2. I agree about Baptism services – the promises we make people make are more ‘full-on’ and ‘churchy’ in language than most regular churchers would be able to make… if baptism is about being welcomed into the community and belonging, then renouncing evil and ‘fighting against sin and the devil’ is a bit… strong! I couldn’t possibly say it is me, but ‘a friend’ misses out most of the service for baptisms because there is so much, which as part of a normal Sunday service just doesn’t work.

    Baptism and confirmation need new liturgy and a new theology. I trust you to be part of that!

  3. I think the point you don’t mention is that most churches aren’t using the official books anyway – they’re using roll-yer-own booklets, which is somewhat in the spirit of the opening up of the rubrics after the authorization of A Service of the Word.

    However, I hope they do something clear with the baptism service. Looking at the comments by +Wakefield, who chairs the Commission, the first very modest revision which they will put up before the GS is almost certainly going to be sent back for more radical revision. This could be interesting, as a Revision Committee could end up with some suggestions along the lines of “strike everything from the start to the end and insert …”. I’m convinced the HoB and certain forces within the Commission in particular, have simply not “got it” in regard to the mood of the Church.

    On the other hand Ian, I’m sure you and I would be very uneasy if the service detached the administration of this sacrament from some of its biblical roots. There is, surely, a limit to how much we can remove “obscure” bits, when those bits are in fact the biblical foundation of the entire service. I’m not sure how best this can be negotiated.

  4. Paul, I am really interested in your reflections. I had imagined that my rant about CW would be met with disapproval from liturgists! I agree with the need to keep the service connected to its biblical roots, which is why I don’t think the issue is about ‘kingdom of God’ language. But the double set of triple affirmations aren’t rooted in Scripture as far as I can see–nor in anything else, except someone’s desire to make it sound posh!

    But the more worrying thing is that, having derailed the Decade of Evangelism into the Decade of Liturgical Revision, this whole process is now unravelling as it is becoming more and more clear that the whole swathe of new texts aren’t up to it…

  5. The language we use in all our liturgical services is overly complicated and in my experience often a barrier not just to the unchurched but also to people who’ve been attending for years and have never had some things explained to them. The language used in the baptism service is especially important because it’s so common that those who bring their children to be baptized haven’t been in a church since their own baptism. If they don’t understand what’s being said in the service and are made to feel intimidated or awkward as a result of this they won’t come back.

    • The Church of England needs to see itself as a Christian CHurch not a department of the State. Otherwise it wont take catechesis serious and membership will be so loosely defined as to permit the situation where someone will leave church for decades only to ask for a baptism. Baptism and active participation are criteria for membership elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

  6. I did quite a bit of reading around the origins of Common Worship for my research thesis on the Role of Computer Technology in worship and found it fascinating. I think one of the problems is that the great move from texts to structure was basically flawed in the emerging computer-based communication culture. There is much I could say but for me one of the most interesting comments I found was from the late +Kenneth Stevenson in his contribution to The Renewal of Common Prayer:

    “Our Literary culture produces a basic expectation that whatever kind of person one is dealing with, we need to know where we are in the service in the Church.”

    It seems to me that this comment reveals where many of CW’s problems flow from. So it’s OK to have a plethora of texts because now structure is all. I think you could make a fairly good case for saying that the ‘freedom’ to have multiple texts will tend towards pomposity, while the ever multiplying ribbons are a symptom of the need to “always know where you are” within the burgeoning complexity.

    But I think the Bishop’s statement is (to put it mildly) highly contestable. We can’t seriously think that every kind of person feels this need when they come into church! Blogs, social media, even TV soap operas do not work in this way. New technology has had a profound influence on the way we think so the book culture no longer holds as it did. This shows in churches because many are not using booklets anyway, they’re using projectors. But no attempt (as far as I can see) has been made to help us use these in ‘liturgically intelligent’ ways.

    • We are supposed to say the Daily Office even if alone, Be conversant with the 39 Articles, using the prayer book for training choristers and altar servers and readers, How do you propose that is done on projectors, phones and tablets everywhere?
      The BCP needed revisions but the Common WOrship is simply not it.

  7. Speaking as a clergy wife (my husband is now retired) and a Christian bookseller, I’ve found Common Worship a major disappointment. My husband was always keen on promoting new liturgy and served on diocesan liturgical committees, but is not happy with Common Worship, for a number of reasons including too much choice and muddle. He has always felt that a single service book as with BCP and ASB was good as ordinary laity bought a prayer book and used it at home. Now they’d need a whole book case. As a bookseller, I was not surprised that so many churches went down the Visual Liturgy and own booklet route as the only way to guide the worshipper through the liturgy. Otherwise at a baptism in a Eucharist, with hymns, the congregation would have too many books and heaven help the priest with Collects and Sentences to cope with too. In the shop I used to sell a prayer book to people as a confirmation gift as I was able to assure people it was the book the candidate could use in Church. Nowadays that cannot be certain. Welcome people to worship, don’t confuse them

    • I agree totally, common prayer was the idea that we would all be praying the same way everywhere we are. Apart from language updates I think the 1662 BCP was quite good and by just checking in a few things it would have been perfect. Now bishops across the Anglophone world are in a civil war with parishioners over dumping the BCP for Common Worship.

  8. Like Paul I was involved in some of the Common Worship process. Some of your comments therefore come close to things which are rather personal to me (eg Daily Prayer), but I am fully aware of CW’s shortcomings.

    A few reflections (headlines for a blog of my own at some point?)

    1. The debate about Baptism at General Synod was only to provide additional material to supplement the provision. The House of Bishops is not keen to start a ‘root and branch’ process. I’m actually pleased about that – it means that some pretty radical stuff could emerge, without frightening too many of the horses (because it is only meant to be additional…). Best suggestion made to me later was that this revision should be ‘open source’: send us your stuff and we’ll give it a go…

    2. Contibutions to the debate generally said that Communion, Weddings and Funerals were not a major problem. That’s certainly my experience: after 10 years out of day to day parish work I’ve been using those liturgies a lot in the last 18 months, and they are ‘fit for purpose’ (well, mine at least). I was, like Ian, a bit concerned about Weddings, but the ‘shape’ – word followed by vows – is fine in my conext. I wonder if the problem is in the minds of the ministers (who were so used to the other shape), not the couple? The Weddings Project has found no complaints about the liturgy.

    3. The amount of material is a constant moan. Well, people moaned about ASB because it didn’t have enough. Just look at what CW gives you for Funerals for example. there was hardly any of the pastoral stuff before. I used loads of it this morning and thanked God for every bit of it.

    4. Daily Prayer: the experience from Celebrating Common Prayer was that people liked it, and CW made it actually less complex. Our lay people find their way around it, and it’s only the leader who needs more than two ribbons. Prayer During the Day is a gift: a worshipping structure around engagement with the Scriptures.

    5. Language. This is at its most florid in Baptism, which rather over eggs things. But the complaint about ASB was that it had a narrow Biblical range in its Baptism rite.
    Of course, the most difficult liturgical and theological words are things like ‘sin’ and ‘grace’. We liturgists make things very much worse when we get flowery…Our liturgical words need to be robust (because they are used a lot), earthed, capable of many layers of meaning, deep and intelligible, yet opening the way to mystery. It’s a hard task, and no church gets it right. But I’m glad we have put so much good stuff in front of people, and only saddened when people take a look and thing=k it’s all too much to bother with.

    6. The ‘One Volume’ Book. Hmmm. When you look carefully, not even the BCP (and certainly not the ASB) ever had enough material to cover what worship was being required to do.

    7. Font. I quite like Gill Sans. But I soon learnt that the way to get liturgists and other theologians going was to get on to typefaces.

    Couldn’t agree more with your conclusions. And it’s what I tried to teach at your illustrious institution a decade or more ago, and still do in various contexts now. I just happen to think that Common Worship is a treasure trove with loads of ace stuff in it, most of the time, and masses of such teaching material to help people get to the principles. Liturgy is at its worst when people just regurgitate what they think is proper. Common Worship offers possibilities, not requirements. I think you should give it more of a chance.

    Better still, Paul R and I will come and have a full scale debate with you about it at St Johns.

    • And that was the Vatican II thinking that led to the split between Traditionalist and Liberal Roman Catholics. OPTIONS defeat liturgy. If you can say this and do that but I don’t have to we lose our common identity. This explains why we have Presbyterians, Liberal Roman Catholics and Traditional Roman Catholics masquerading as Anglicans. Yes indeed Low Church Evangelicals, Liberal Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Anglo-Catholics are not members of the same denomination. They are factions and Common Worship increases the polarization. High Church Evangelical Anglicanism is Anglicanism. A book that facilitates their worship and helps the other factions to modify themselves in less polarizing ways would save us all these fractious disputations.

  9. Great to see that Mark A was commenting at the same time as me! I think we had some fun in lectures at St J’s (and briefly in ministry together before I abandoned him) and his thesis is really important. Digital technology radically changes the way we think and operate liturgically…

  10. Like Paul and Jeremy, I was involved too, though in Synod. Some headline responses:

    1. Having been in York and now in a minster church, I think I would venture to say your experience is not typical of suburban churches, let alone rural or urban!

    2. It is not surprising that no-one has a problem with Communion; this was little changed from the ASB–though of course the one thing that was changed, the new Eucharistic Prayers, were also rejected out of hand first time round.

    3. I am aware of the Wedding survey, and you might be right about ministers. But my (limited) experience of dealing with non-church couples has been they were terrified of the new order. Again, I would expect your Minster experience to be different.

    4. I can see that having more material could be beneficial–but competent clergy were doing this fine by themselves already. I used to write the kind of reflections on biblical material that is now in Patterns for years beforehand; others were using other collections of material. I do think Patterns is a good resource, but why wasn’t this just added to a simple, continuing ASB-style framework? 95% of the value of CW is found here and in Service of the Word.

    5. If anyone thinks CW Baptism was a move towards a biblical register from the ASB, they are living an Anglican delusion!

    6. Who liked CCP? I think it was primarily liturgists. A lot of people find it alien compared with Morning Prayer, and having come from the the Franciscans it is in a different historic tradition from Anglican MP, without clear reason. Its problems are numerous–but that would take a separate posting.

    7. As another commenter has pointed out, having one book was not to give the leader all they needed, but in contexts without data projection or the resources to produce their own cards, you could give worshippers a single book to cover 98% of eventualities.

    Overall, I think the challenge of the vast array of complex material in multiple volumes has made those who were already less keen on liturgy simply give up–which has been self-defeating for the Lit Comm.

    More importantly, the whole strategy is mistaken. Once you allow local variation within a million texts, people will do what they like, and I would guess that the C of E is now more diverse and less unified than at any time since 1662. What is prayed is now anything but Common! And if belief is shaped by worship, that is really serious.

  11. I think it’s interesting that 10 years (or so) in to CW we’re having this kind of debate. Wasn’t it just so with the ASB? Will history (inevitably) repeat itself?

    I agree with much of what has been said here. I remember being appalled by the original collects. I was ministering in South London at the time and they seemed utterly unusable. A great example of ghastly good taste I thought. And in many ways CW is very stuffy and self important. That forces me to ask (and forgive me because i just don’t know) what the make-up of the liturgical commission is. I bet there’s a Dean on it, but how many vicars of ‘ordinary’ urban churches, let alone lay people?

    It also forces me to ask whether it’s actually possible any more for the C of E to have a liturgy that commands widespread assent, or even affection? Given that we express our doctrine through our worship that seems a worrying state of affairs.

    But as ever most of what is best is happening at the grassroots, with people taking CW, adapting it, building on it, using the flexibility it invites us to exercise, printing it out, projecting it etc. etc. etc. The task it seems to me is to ensure that those who lead public worship have a strong Anglican liturgical instinct (unlike the large Anglican charismatic church my wife went to recently where there was no creed, no confession, no intercessions and not even a Bible reading – it was projected behind the ‘speaker’s’ head). Developing that instinct is much more a matter of training and formation that the production of (yet more) texts.

  12. Robert Leach says: What is wrong with Common Worship? It has muddled theology, the poetry of the Taxes Acts, obscure expressions and is plain boring in parts.

    I voted for a book that combined the poetry of the Book of Common Prayer with the clarity of the ASB…. Sadly we got neither.

  13. Echoing comments in General Synod, CW alienates people from the Church because it leads to a feeling of someone up fron who is in charge handling mysterious service material. One book which can also be kept at home by laity, makes people feel familiar with their worship, included not excluded. Note the change in titles – Book of Common Prayer (Prayer), Alternative Service Book (Service) and Common Worship (Worship). I recall hearing Terry Waite speak about his captivity and how, because he was able to remember the Prayer Book, he was able to say the services to himself and find great comfort.

  14. I wish I’d not posted now, because I’ll just get more and more cross! I’ll try to offer some measured reflections in a blog post of my own.

    But in direct answer to a few points made:

    Ian. The Parish of Beverley Minster is one of 17,000, with four churches, covering some areas of serious deprivation, mixed housing, farmland and industry. My other parish has a population of 100, and is deeply rural. We also have a pioneering Fresh Expression. Do not assume that a ‘Minster’ church is somehow gloriously protected from the normalities of life in the real C of E. You make a similar assumption about cathedral life being somewhat rarified. Well, it’s as rarified as a theological college.

    Do your research before you make a statement. At least that’s what I thought they taught me in college.

    My parochial ministry involves some 30 weddings, 60 baptisms and 60+ funerals a year. They come from a variey of backgrounds. My current experience of the occasional offices is therefore a whole lot less limited than yours, and, apart from Baptism, most of it works well.

    My point about CW Baptism was that it consciously aimed to include more of the NT’s imagery and theology. It might not have doen this succesfully, but that’s what it went for. Read the Praxis training material which was produced by Mark Earey at the time: one acetate refers to the scriptural imagery of salvation which CW Baptism used: liberation, new birth, illumination, reconciliation, darkness to light, stripping and clothing, building, dying and rising, justification, new creation. ASB was a bit more restricted than that.

    I know that competent clergy were doing good stuff already. CW therefore made what was good more widely available. And there were lots of people who were not doing it very well and needed the resources. The best decision was to make it available for free on the Web – now what was the preserve of an interested few is available to all.

    You talk about local variation within a million texts. Well… that’s not a CW invention. It’s all over ASB, and goes way beyond that into the nineteenth century.

    Philip: you ask about the make up of the Liturgical Commission. It is made up of a variety of people, not career liturgists. I was in parish ministry when I was on it, as were others. There are lay people, academics, parish clergy, cathedral types, a Bishop or two. A key player in the last five years was Tim Stratford, working in UPA ministry in Liverpool. I was delighted that Tim Lomax, a new curate and long time worship leader was a member. Rhiannon Jones, now Birmingham Diocese’s Fresh Epxpressions person, was on it too. Dana Delap, Lay Prison Chaplain was a member. The Lit Comm has to reflect the breadth of the C of E, and in my seven years I thought it did so admirably.

    And as Ian points out, liturgy is mainly done by General Synod and the House of Bishops. What starts with the Lit Comm very soon leaves it to be dealt with elsewhere. So hundreds of people, representing the million worshipping anglicans, were involved.

    Philip: your last paragraph should be sent to every C of E training institution in the land and made the subject of serious study. It’s a drum I’ve been banging for ages. As it happens, the last Lit Comm had few texts to produce, and spent its time resourcing teh National Worship development Officer (a post I helped create and which has now been axed). CW is not perfect, perhaps looks off putting, may have some bits not to everyone’s taste. But – and I feel passionately about this – its principles are bang on, and if people took the time to get to the heart of the matter they would find that quite a lot of CW is really rather wonderful.

    I have been surprised by the emotions this has stirred. I guess those 10 or so years sitting in committees and on the road trying to get this right have had more influence on me than I realised. So – one final bit of blog-type barbed speaking:

    Ian – if you now did a post saying “What’s right with Common Worship”, and if you determined with your students to be positive about its strengths, and if you put your weight behind your worship teacher rather than trashing the liturgical material they have to work with… then maybe there would be more churches around which fulfil Philip’s vision, and we’d stop being snooty about liturgists and start being positive about how worshipping together forms us as disciples of Christ and agents of the kingdom.

  15. Jeremy, thanks for these posts–in the true spirit of robust blogging! I am grieved that you regret posting, but on re-reading I am not sure if you really mean this. I’m sorry to have misrepresented your context–but I think I was picking up a clue from you in mentioning it. Yes, theological college is as rarified as a Minster, which is why I spend quite a lot of time in a the range of churches that students will end up in, and continue to reflect on the contexts I have been in, which include mixed-race inner urban, town, and suburban.

    What you have said is important, and highlights some crucial issues which I am not sure are engaged enough.

    1. Emotion. There is a lot of it about! There are folk who were involved in the processes, who feel close to the texts, which often means they interpret criticism of the texts as criticism of them. There are others who feel cross that this text has been dumped on them and resent the idea that if they don’t agree with them they are somehow not proper Anglicans or don’t understand liturgy. And there are many who (like a couple of posters here) are cross because they feel that the complexity of CW has disenfranchised them.

    2. Expertise. It would be difficult to ‘get behind’ those teaching worship at St John’s, since I am one of them! I contribute to teaching about worship, supervise a small group, give feedback, and write guidance on the use of CW. When I was on Synod there was a strong sense of liturgists (not you, I hasten to add) saying to Synod as a whole ‘We know better than you’ and I don’t think it was *all* down to paranoia. The worst example was when the Revision Committee overturned a clear vote of Synod on the giving of the Bible at ordinations. Even in the last few weeks I have experienced the ‘You don’t understand; you are not a liturgist’ syndrome.

    3. Ethos. Many people have commented on the tone of CW. At its crudest people comment that is it pompous and self-important. I take your comments about the breadth of the Lit Comm, but there was at least one very strong character who seemed determined to take the church’s liturgy in this direction, and I think he was disproportionately influential. It has been disguised as ‘riching up the liturgy’ but this doesn’t really wash, and only contributes to the idea that liturgy can only be appreciated by the elite.

    I am fascinated that you see my comments as somehow opposed to the idea that liturgy is important and that worshipping forms us. As a former Roman Catholic, I decided to join the C of E at university (rather than eg Baptist church) because it was liturgical in its worship. In fact, the final para of my blog is almost identical in sympathy to Philip’s final comment which you so heartily endorse. My argument is: CW as we have it is a hindrance to this and not a help.

    And the question I framed invites the answer ‘Nothing’ whereas the question you framed invites the answer ‘Not a lot’ which is why I asked it as I did. (Compare 1 Cor 12.30 ‘Do all speak in tongues?’)

  16. Like your three E’s!

    Yep – I said I’d been out of the day to day up to 18 months ago, but am immersed in it now 🙂

    So we’re agreed on the final paragraph thing.

    I don’t think that you think that liturgy is unimportant. We disagree on whether CW helps or hinders, and I guess we are conditioned by whether we see CW as representing the ‘I know best’ kind of liturgist or the ‘isn’t worship amazing: have a go’ kind of liturgist. Guess which one I think I am! I suppose that exposure to a lot of the former kind has made me less sensitive to their ways…

    The English teacher in me would suggest that “What’s wrong…?” directs the hearer to find problems, and “What’s right…?” invites the hearer to look for the positives.

    Invite me down to joust with you in public – I’d love the current St John’s crop to hear more than a grudging assessment of the C of E’s liturgical offerings!

  17. Glad you are still speaking to me then! There is an important clue in your comment about Baptism and Mark Earey’s elucidation of the imagery. There is enough here for a 10-week course; stuffing it all in one service, no wonder it looks complex. It feels as though someone thinks that the liturgy must do all the teaching (because it doesn’t happen anywhere else?).

    The most important element of being biblical about baptism of course would be full immersion, which the BCP seems to assume!

    Thought you would like the alliteration…!

  18. “the use of a substantial amount of water is desirable” : CW Baptism note 12 – which also talks about ‘dipping’ (cf BCP) and ‘pouring’

    We’re agreed that Baptism is not brill in CW – I just wanted to be fair to it by saying that it fails through doing too much. It’s very hard to criticise any one bit for not being rooted in scripture, for example. Just that the whole thing is ‘Death by Chocolate’.

    Weddings and Funerals were ‘roadtested’ (as was Daily Prayer). Baptism wasn’t – and doesn’t it show! But it would be a shame if all of CW was tarred with the same brush. The two worst offenders (Collects and Baptism) have both now been flagged up and alternatives are/will be offered.

    The bother with Baptism, of course, is that it should speak of everything to do with salvation, and be as rich as, say, the Eucharist. But it only has one service to do it in – so it shouldn’t be dumbed down but neither should it be overloaded. Delicate balance…

  19. Wasn’t aware that my last lengthy posts could be seen as ducking anything!

    It is a complex business – the example you give about the Ordination Service was a decision of a Revision Committee of the Synod, with only 3 members of the Commission on it – and something like 10 or more others appointed by the Synod. Hard to claim a snooty liturgists plot going on there…

    Baptism. BCP: [the Priest] “shall dip [the Child] in the Water discreetly and warily” – as long as the child “may well endure it”
    hence the use of the word ‘dip’ in CW.

    Technically ‘immersion’ describes the pouring of copious water over a person in a large pool. ‘Submersion’ describes the person going under the water. Neither ‘dipping’ nor ‘pouring’ in CW should imply a dribble of water from a nice shell into a bird bath. I think you and the driving force behind CW Baptism (whom I guess you can’t stand) are pretty close to each other, on this point at least.

    Enough already. Let someone else join in.

  20. Wow! You guys are really going for it…good thing too as this is an issue that needs a debate to clarify it. My experience is that CW is a problem for a lot of people but few are quite sure what the problem is. It is a bit like driving a car which is a making a nasty mechanical noise which has no obvious cause so we keep driving it until something catastrophic happens. Only then do we call the mechanic.

    I share those who see the problems with the baptism service. I actually find the funeral service good (though one has to cut out so many of the options to fit in at the crem) and I appreciate the pastorally helpful prayers which are a genuine and much-needed resource. I’ve never had any trouble with couples not liking the order of service for weddings and I personally find it means they actually engage with the sermon much more attentively (as do the congregation). The delayed gratification of the vows helps them concentrate.

    BUT the phenomenal wordiness of the CW resources generally (most clear in the baptism service and then also in the Times and Seasons volumes, Daily Prayer etc) smacks of liturgy that lacks the confidence of its own language. There is no time to ponder anything for more than a microsecond before the next huge idea comes at you like an express train. We surely don’t need to say everything in such tortuous detail? This is actually being inflexible rather than flexible.

    I’m also conscious that while CW worked fine, with some exceptions, in my last parish (which was middle of the road Anglican) in my present context (evangelical/charismatic) where people are liturgically suspicious anyway, CW is doing absolutely nothing to allay their suspicions. CW simply doesn’t win over people who don’t think liturgical worship matters…I wonder why? And before you ask…it is not for want of trying and (if I may say so modestly!) doing it reasonably well.

  21. “Better still, Paul R and I will come and have a full scale debate with you about it at St Johns.”

    “Invite me down to joust with you in public – I’d love the current St John’s crop to hear more than a grudging assessment of the C of E’s liturgical offerings!”

    Sounds great – could this work with our Living Sacraments module, I wonder, running on Tuesdays between the 2nd and the 27th May 2011?

  22. Wow this blog certainly seems to have generated a lot of heat and not a whole lot of light. For myself I don’t see the problem with either the Baptism service or Wedding service. I spend 2 sessions before the Baptism service with parents and godparents. I find the vows a great opportunity to explain the gospel to them and challenge them as to their own standing with God, i also use it as an opportunity to explore what they are promising with a follow up 5 week explore the gospel course. Most are willing to take it up. The wedding service is as complex or simple as you wish to make it and i have not come across a couple yet that wanted anything other than what they are offered and again the service is a great opportunity to discuss the meaning and purpose of marriage with them in the light of the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong I find the title “common worship” ironic as the huge number of possible permutations mean your unlikely to come across another church that is doing exactly the same as you are. BUT it does give you a good solid framework that protects congregations from the old hymn prayer sandwich which relegates them to an audience and ensures congregational participation with whatever form each parish chooses. For my own parish we use service sheets that contain the basic services we use and if we are using alternative creeds or confession etc, they are either printed separately or put on a screen or both. It would be financially beyond us to purchase common worship for everyone and I am sure very confusing if we did. Let’s face it if you look at the old ASB what percentage did we actually use on a regular basis. Whether we like it or not we are defiantly not a literary society anymore and while we might lament that it is where we are and large tomes are intimidating expensive and impractical. To misquote an old phrase “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but your unlikely to please Anglicans any of the time !”

    • Thanks for your observations Stephen. I think you are right that the material can be used well. But it seems not a little ironic to me that more clergy are spending more time organising this material, when there are other pressing agendas. The counter argument is that the investment leads to better services, but I am not sure that the evidence is there.

      More significant is your other point, there it is quite hard to say what an ‘Anglican’ service looks like any more. In an age of declining familiarity with the Bible and liturgy, is this really what we want?

  23. I apologise if someone else has said this already, but Ian you are wrong about weddings. The notes allow the marriage to take place right at the beginning of the service if desired. I give all my wedding couples a choice.

  24. But I didn’t say it didn’t. What I criticise is the new order; the old order is allowable in the notes; this assumes the minister knows this and is confident using it; I have met people who had no idea that this was an option.

    So I think I stick with my comment! I think the new service is a triumph of liturgical theorising over pastoral reality.

  25. The funeral service is fine providing you miss out the confessional, as makes people feel bad, reflection of failure happens in the inter session anyway.

    The baptism service is a joke, it must beto be that bad.

    The daily offices I have grown to love

    Pompous langauge, maybe but it is better read aloud rather than in a study.

    I always need to remind myself that it is meant to be used week in and out to become the breath of our prayers and for me this has by the large worked.

    On the ecumenical side it’s simalerities with the liturgy of the Methodist church and Roman Catholic until recently has been most helpful for those of us in LEP churches


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