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
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
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
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
"1. Three classes of insured
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
(The Revd) Joan Wagstaff
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
W. N. T.
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