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Extempore prayer

19 October 2012

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Extempore prayer in C of E services is often ill thought out. Why has it been encouraged? Is it too late for the floodgates to be closed, and liturgical principles reasserted?

It it not too late - if there is a mind to close them. When the great intercession is passed to lay people, there can be a sense of competitiveness over who can demonstrate most contemporary news-awareness. A bishop once said to me that in some of the churches he visited, the intercessions were reminiscent of the eight-o'clock news, except that the eight-o'clock news was limited to ten minutes' duration.

The Church of England is a liturgical Church, and its liturgies provide most of what needs to be said. Somehow, the proliferation of liturgies seems to have encouraged the abandonment of liturgy.

Spontaneous prayer can sometimes be terribly specific, to the exclusion of personal relativity. For me (and for many), the Prayer Book prayers have a wonderful quality of providing a conveyor belt up to heaven with hooks that are generic, and not completely full - so that one can readily attach personal supplications and be part of the intercession. This should be encouraged.

Neil Inkley
Walton-le-Dale, Preston

I have seen references to people known as pew-openers. Who were they? When did they exist, and what did they do? Is it just another name for a sidesman? [ Answers, 12 October]

Box pews, general in churches until Victorian re-seating schemes, have doors, usually closed with a latch or turnbutton, and the pew-opener was there to admit the congregation to their pews. In a journalist's account - somewhat satirical, and with a clear Tractarian bias - of a suburban evensong in the 1880s, I find: "But down below it is more select than in the galleries, and the liveried beadle looks as sharply as a footman at every fresh arrival, as if he were about to tell him that the so-called owner of this temple was 'not at home'.

"The pew system is in full force, and every pew has a door which can be shut and barricaded against siege with hassocks and pew cushions, if necessary. With all justice to the aforesaid beadle, and the ancient pew-openeress, it must be said that if you look tolerably respectable they will put you in a pew, and if you wear a 'gold ring and goodly apparel' they will put you in a good pew."

The church accounts confirm that pew-openers were paid, but they were clearly of fairly low status, unlike sidesmen, who, properly speaking, were, and are, officers of the church, elected to assist the churchwardens.

J. R. H. Pinkess
Edgbaston, Birmingham

I have in my possession a leaflet from the Ministry of Social Security dated April 1967 - leaflet N.I. 36. It is titled "Employment in places of Worship". The headings are:

"1. Three classes of insured persons.
Class 1. Employed Persons
Class 2. Self Employed Persons.
Class 3. Non-employed Persons.

"2. Employments for which there are special rules on classification.
(a) Choir, organist, or other musician, precentor, acolyte, beadle, bell-ringer, caretaker, chapel keeper, church officer, clerk, door-keeper, organ-blower, pew opener, sacristan, sexton, verger, Bible woman, lay preacher or scripture reader."

I have kept this leaflet as a curiosity, but it has now shown itself to be useful. People earning less than 40 shillings a week did not have to pay contributions.

(The Revd) Joan Wagstaff
Great Sutton

Why has it become today the almost universal custom, at the eucharist, to take the ablutions immediately after the communion, instead of after the blessing? This is done even in the Prayer Book service, in spite of the rubrics in both 1662 and 1928, which direct that the sacrament shall remain on the altar till after the blessing. Do other readers agree with me that it is disruptive, keeping the people, choir, and organist on edge as to when the service is to continue, and tends to make the priest hurry, even sometimes to the loss of reverence?

W. N. T.

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