Beyond Common Worship: Anglican identity and
SCM Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code CT318
THERE are those who are still worried that what they do in
church might not be legal. They find the multiplicity of what is
available in the Common Worship resources baffling, and,
when he was the Praxis national education officer and, ever since,
people have written to the Revd Mark Earey asking for help in
sorting out what to do in church.
This book is his response to what he identifies as the
unresolved and underlying tension between those who think that
worship as the carrier and former of Anglican identity should be
controlled by those who know what that is - the bishops? or the
General Synod? - and those who minister faithfully and
imaginatively in local contexts where they know what works.
Earey sketches the outline of the creative developments in the
Church of England's worship over the past 60 years in the first
chapter, welcoming the extended directory-style, inclusive approach
of Common Worship, and then in Chapter 2 begins to outline
some possible solutions to the enormous diversity of pastoral
practice and theological presuppositions - do we clarify the rules,
or enlarge the boundaries so that even greater diversity is brought
within them, or go for more local, i.e. diocesan, control?
This leads him in Chapter 3 to his distinctive approach: using
Paul Hiebert's Set Theory, he advocates Centred Sets rather than
Bounded ones, and in Chapter 4 reflects on what makes worship
"Anglican", and contains much sound and commonsense reflection on
how to do worship in a relational way. This is the most creative
part of the book, and shows Earey at his best - a thoughtful,
imaginative, and sensitive teacher.
His final chapter offers suggestions for working out the
implications of his dream: new canons, the formation of leaders of
worship, including bishops, the part played by the Liturgical
Commission, risks, accountability, and discipline. In the
conclusion, he sums up the possibilities like this: "Can we move
from control to trust in the way we regulate worship. . . ?"
This is a deeply felt contribution to the debate about the
nature of the Church of England and its identity, but despite the
creative material in Chapters 3 and 4, it is centred on that
concept "regulate". I was forcefully reminded of the complexity of
the process I spent so much time in finding a way through, steering
not just the texts but the style and formational opportunities that
the process of developing worship presented between the Scylla of
the various strands of theological thought-police and the Charybdis
of the advocates of worship as mission or entertainment. Public
debate about regulation of the press offers an interesting
parallel: there are no easy solutions here if regulation is the
But is it? Earey writes not for those who are confident about
their liturgical formation or who don't think that what you do in
church matters much, but for those who want to be loyal Anglicans
and yet free to do what they think is right for their community. I
think he is right about boundaries: no one who has been a bishop
for more than six months can possibly believe that you can control
what people do or think or say.
Your best chance is to encourage and resource lay people and
clergy alike, show them that you believe that what we do in church
and how we do it matter more than anything, and make it abundantly
clear that you trust them to do it well. Formation - of the
bishops, too - is the only way of grace.
The Rt Revd Dr David Stancliffe was formerly Bishop of
Salisbury, and chaired the Liturgical Commission.