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Procuring reverence and exciting piety

21 June 2011

Two authors who see value in the liturgy, says Mark Earey


The Accidental Anglican: The surprising appeal of the liturgical Church
Todd D. Hunter

IVP £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

Great is the Mystery of Faith: Exploring faith through the words of worship
Paul Ferguson

Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

TODD HUNTER was at one time president of Vineyard Churches USA. He is now an Anglican bishop. That is quite a journey, and you can see why someone realised that it might be interesting to others.

I know quite a few people who, at a much less exalted level, have made a similar journey from member or minister in a New church, Baptist church, or Pentecostal church, to the Church of England, and I wondered if this might be a book to help inform and resource their journey. My conclusion? Probably not, though they might enjoy parts of it, and perhaps find some common ground with Hunter.

Part of the problem is the sort of Anglican that Bishop Todd Hunter is. He is a church-planting missionary bishop in the Anglican Mission in the Americas, which is connected to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA, and not the Episcopal Church in the United States), and is “sent from” and receives oversight from the Anglican Church in Rwanda . . . all of which is a long-winded way of saying that Hunter may be an enthusiastic accidental Anglican, but it is a very particular version of Anglicanism.

Hunter is open-minded and generous-hearted, and has clearly found something in the Anglicanism that he has read about and encountered which echoes that, but for those who see a bigger Anglican picture, his can seem a rose-tinted view. It is strongly shaped by a cherry-picking of Anglican “greats”: the book has whole sections extolling the virtues of Jim Packer, Tom Wright, and John Stott. There are honourable mentions for C. S. Lewis, Sandy Millar, David Watson, and David Pytches. Even John Wesley gets a look-in.

It is an easy read (though a repetitive one), and I found it rather self-focused, even (perhaps especially) in the parts where he is busy telling us that he has come to realise that it is not all about him, that others are so much more gifted. . . . You get the idea. None the less, we discover along the way how he was ordained deacon in an airport chapel, to fit in with his busy travel schedule and that of the ordaining bishop; how he coped with sealing a document without an episcopal ring; and how he was loaned a pectoral cross at his consecration. Cutting-edge stuff.

You will not find much mention of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the wider Anglican Communion; and, for a book that is subtitled The surprising appeal of the liturgical Church, there is relatively little that is actually about liturgy. In summary, I am delighted to have him in the family, but I hope he knows what he has let himself in for.

If Hunter’s book is about an accidental Anglican, Paul Ferguson’s is definitely from a deliberate one. In it, Ferguson, the Archdeacon of Cleveland, uses various liturgical texts to give some clear and basic instruction on the Christian faith. It is a little like “Alpha meets mystagogy” . . . well, not quite, because this is not a course; but it is an idea that is crying out to be turned into a course. As it stands, it would make a good Lent book, or form the basis for a sermon series, or could be used as part of a follow-up for Alpha (or Emmaus, or confirmation classes).

He begins with “O Lord, open our lips”. Part 1 (Relationship with God) continues with “This is the word of the Lord: Thanks be to God”, the collect for purity, and the confession. Part 2 (Believing) takes phrases from the Creed; Part 3 (Telling God’s story) looks at the Magnificat, Benedictus, and Nunc Dimittis; Part 4 (Signs of power) looks at baptism and the eucharist through particular texts; and, finally, Part 5 (Faith and life) picks up phrases from the Lord’s Prayer and post-communion texts.

In each instance, the text is the starting-point for some wider instruction. For instance, “This is the word of the Lord” leads into some teaching about how Christians understand the place of scripture, the importance of the two Testaments, and some ideas about personal Bible-reading.

It would be informative for many long-term church members who have never been helped to make connections between the liturgy and the Christian life, and it might help new Christians to make those connections early on. The book is admirably even-handed between Common Worship and Prayer Book texts, and perhaps that is also its biggest weakness in practice: despite its clear explanations, there will inevitably be parts of the book where the texts will feel less familiar to some readers in some contexts.

All in all, this book takes an intriguing idea and gives it great shape. If nothing else, we must be grateful for a book that may become a standard confirmation gift.

The Revd Mark Earey is Co-director of the Centre for Ministerial Formation at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham.

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