The Bishops in Wales and their position on confirmation and communion
From the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon
Sir, — I hope that you will allow me, through a personal response to the rather ungracious letter from my friend Archdeacon Martin Williams (23/30 December), to express what I believe the Bishops of the Church in Wales have sought to do in relation to admission to holy communion.
May I, first, respond to his suggestion that use of terms such as “clergy” is now frowned upon, and that terms such as “ministry leaders” are to be preferred. Not so. “Ministry area leader” and similar are descriptive of a ministry such as that of an area dean and even, dare I say, an archdeacon. “Clergy” or “cleric” remains perfectly normal, acceptable, and welcome to me, certainly. I cannot seriously think that others would disagree.
As for the meat of Martin’s letter, I fear that he is under a misapprehension about the Bishops’ clearly stated intentions. Therefore, he does us an injustice. What the Bishops have sought to do, no more and no less, is to affirm baptism as the rite of full initiation, birth into a family wherein all are welcome to be nourished by the sacramental family meal at the family table where the Lord himself is the host.
Brexit, we hear, is Brexit, and the Bishops say that “confirmation is confirmation.” The clearly expressed intention is to strengthen the rite of confirmation to be what it says — a confirming by an individual of his or her desire to adhere, as a disciple, to the life and faith journey of the family, a confirming and freshly expressed welcome by the Bishop, on the behalf of the family, and prayer, with the laying on of hands, for a strengthening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the person confirmed.
The guidelines offered state that: “Confirmation certainly doesn’t vanish or become unimportant. Quite the opposite in fact. It can now be more fully understood as a wonderful opportunity for people to affirm their baptismal vows, to confirm for themselves their place in the family and to signify, publicly, a willingness to be used by God in the mission of the Church as disciples of the Lord Jesus.”
It is neither fair nor just for it to be said that the clergy are forbidden from offering instruction in preparation for first communion. What is stated clearly is that both the invitation to and the welcome at the table are not dependent upon the prior delivery of instruction about the efficacy of what is received. Instruction about the life of discipleship and faithfulness is part and parcel of the Christian life in which the eucharist is not a prize, offered after an examination or test has been passed. It is food for the journey, food about which, together with other fundamentals of the faith, instruction must be given as part of the ongoing process of reaching a stage of maturity in Christ.
The guidelines go on to say: “Churches must, therefore, continue to provide age-appropriate opportunities for learning, study and reflection about the meaning of faith and discipleship. Confirmation, as a result of those opportunities, should be encouraged and celebrated.”
Were any cleric to fail to offer such opportunities and to teach his or her people, that cleric would be failing to fulfil one of the essential duties owed to those people.
Finally, that it should be suggested that what we have done undermines traditional practice depends, I think, upon one’s chosen definition of “traditional” and also the chosen understanding of the Anglican method of determining theological questions: namely, to have recourse to scripture, tradition, and reason. The place and meaning of confirmation have rarely been absolute; but, as shepherds of the flock, we sought to employ all three elements in reaching our decision. I believe that we acted in good faith and for the spiritual good of the people of God.
I look forward to continuing to preside at many confirmations in the future, and I trust my clergy to engage fully in their ongoing responsibility to be teachers of the faith and sharers in my episcope.
JOHN SWANSEA & BRECON
Ely Tower, Castle Square
Brecon, Powys LD3 9DJ
Accessibility of the language of liturgical worship
From the Revd Dr Jeremy Clines
Sir, — I am pleased that Canon Geoff Bayliss’s article “Speaking the language of the people” (Comment, 23/30 December) has sparked much debate — on social media, at least — about the readability of part of the liturgy. Common Worship’s 250 or so collects and post-communions have a peculiar place. That is because, typically, they get wheeled out only once per annum or less. Almost every collect has an alternate, and the post-communions are only optional. They also seek to sum up the theology of the Church for a particular moment, in one sentence!
Readability, I believe, can be only one factor in making these prayers more accessible. In the past four years, I have written and published (online) 200 suggested inclusive adaptations of the existing collects and post-communions from Common Worship. I have found in any adaptation of existing prayers that there are some gains and some losses in the following areas: the beauty of the language; conveying the Church’s theology; introducing contemporary themes, including care for creation, and urban and other liberation theologies; and achieving more frequent gender neutrality in our prayer.
What stands as an even more fundamental challenge for making collects accessible is in asking who these prayers are for: many of the existing stock of prayers are for those who see themselves to already be part of God’s Church and Kingdom. The diverse self-understandings of those who come to our church services — seekers, the unchurched and those of different beliefs — means all too often the “us” in these prayers contributes to the “othering” of too many attending worship.
The Anglican Chaplaincy, University of Sheffield
119 Ashdell Road
Sheffield S10 3DB
From the Ven. Peter M. Potter
Sir, — Recent encounters with plain English prompt me to comment on Canon Bayliss’s item on the readability of liturgical texts. Before ordination, I worked as a translator producing, among other things, speeches delivered by government ministers and officials whose first language was not English, to audiences consisting largely of people for whom English was often a second or third language. In addition, until last July I was Chaplain in Bern, in the diocese in Europe, where the congregation would consist of 15 or more nationalities every Sunday.
Retirement and return to the UK entailed reading various official publications designed to help me sort out my tax and state pension. These are written in “familiar, simple vocabulary, presented in short sentences”. Paradoxically, readability is sometimes gained at the expense of clarity. More than once I was left wondering which of the ways I could take the words on the page was the correct one.
The collect for Trinity 10 is surely one of the least readable in our liturgy; but, on the other hand, liturgical texts are meant to be spoken and heard, not just read. If the president gives careful attention to the delivery of the prayer, with space to allow the listeners to take something from each of the eight clauses, then it can become a prayer of the whole congregation. The two alternatives given are perfectly good prayers in their own right, but they lack the Trinitarian language of the original, and also narrow the focus. Persistence in prayer will sometimes link with the Gospel for the day (Proper 24, Year C), but, in omitting reference to “and that they may obtain . . . such things as shall please you”, the more readable versions sidestep some important but knotty problems of intercessory prayer.
Liturgical language is not our first language, but, as in any contact with a foreign language, we often instinctively get the meaning of what we hear even when the speaker has used words that we had not previously encountered. We then have the opportunity to include these words in our own vocabulary. This does not occur if we hear or read only words that we know already.
The fact that liturgical language is strange and mysterious, and we do not understand every single word that we hear, is also saying something important about worship and the one to whom it is offered. This is not to argue that we should use impenetrable and obscure language for its own sake, but, just as a joke loses its effect when it is explained, so liturgy must contain elements of mystery and otherness that move the worshippers beyond themselves and help them to feel that “God is in this place.”
Simple and familiar vocabulary has its place in our liturgy. (I normally used the alternative eucharistic prayers in Bern at our all-age services, as they can be delivered with dignity and reverence.) On the other hand, those who lead worship also need to reassure those who find themselves in unfamiliar linguistic territory that there is more to worship than understanding all the words.
PETER M. POTTER
114 High Street
Dunblane FK15 0ER
From the Revd Rich Cresswell
Sir, — I was delighted to discover the comment by Canon Geoff Bayliss on the accessibility of liturgical texts. In the past few months, I have submitted my own Master’s dissertation, exploring the levels of comprehension of Common Worship Eucharistic Prayers among the laity. It revealed significant areas of weakness among adults in understanding texts that they use regularly.
While I would endorse Canon Bayliss’s suggestion of considering readability when developing new liturgy, our existing texts are not likely to disappear overnight, and I therefore believe that church leaders have a responsibility to spend more time exploring the language of liturgy with their congregations in preaching and teaching. After all, surely, greater comprehension of liturgy will lead to deepening of faith and enhanced worship.
3 Wild Thyme Drive
Muxton, Telford TF2 8RU
Church should campaign for shop workers’ rest
From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC
Sir, — Over the past weeks, many newspapers, both religious and secular, have carried stories on the subject of making Boxing Day a holiday for retail workers (News, 16 December).
The employees of the big retailers are among the lowest-paid and most-exploited workers in Europe. Many are forced to work the majority of Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays often at or just a little above the compulsory minimum wage for weekdays.
They work extremely hard in the approach to Christmas, some working as late as 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve; so for them to have just Christmas Day off when most others have more than a week off is exploitation in the extreme.
The Minister of State says that the Government does not propose to legislate, as she feels that the balance between employers and employees is satisfactory. That statement is amazing, as the big powerful multiple retailers join forces to open every day of the year except for two days when it is forbidden. Maybe the House of Commons and government and council departments should close for just one day at Christmas if they think that way.
As these exploited workers fear to speak out, may I suggest that every church in the land get its people to send letters to their Member of Parliament about it?
Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Devon EX32 7NR
From Jane Henson
Sir, — If others want to find out how to help in their area (News, 16 December), NACCOM (the No Accommodation Network) has been set up to coordinate the organisations around the country which are providing hosting and other provision.
(Chair of Host Nottingham)