Saturday, 17 September 2011

A guide to Anglican Liturgy for young Sydney Anglicans

NOTE: Some Anglicans from beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of Sydney might be bemused that I should write this, but trust me, there are many young people in Sydney who go to Anglican churches regularly, but have never attended a liturgical service.

This is for young persons who don't understand the role played by Anglican prayer books and those "old-fashioned" church services  

The Anglican liturgy is a set way of conducting a church service.  The various services that can be used are printed in Anglican prayer books, the old "Book of Common Prayer" and the more recent "A Prayer Book for Australia".  They are based directly upon the Bible and reiterrate biblical teaching. 

The Anglican liturgy was written specifically for participation by the congregation.   Throughout each service of worship, the minister reads the service and the congregation responds aloud.  

What happens in a "prayer book" church service ?
A liturgical service leads the congregation, with the minister, through a series of stages of worship. The purpose of being at church is all stated by the minister at the beginning.
                After a verse of Scripture, he/she says "We are all here to:  1. Thank God!   2. Praise God!   3. Listen to God's word!   4. Pray to God!    ....but first, we have to remember that we are sinners and ask forgiveness." ....All Biblical Stuff, OK? and that is just the beginning!  Each one of these themes is then taken up within the course of the church service. 
                After the minister and congregation have all prayed a prayer in which they acknowledge their failings before God and ask forgiveness, the minister assures them of God's will to receive those who come to him in real penitence.  
                And they all say the "Lord's Prayer",  the same one Jesus taught the disciples, and which, outside of Sydney, every other Christian person in the Whole Wide World has learnt to say by heart.   It is something that across the world draws all Christians together, whether they be Anglican, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox....   Can you imagine what it's like to be at a gathering where there are Christians from all over the world who pray the same words, all in different languages?   So if you are one of the young Sydney Anglicans who don't know this prayer, then my advice is learn it, because joining in with 50 thousand other Christians all praying it together might be the biggest buzz of your life!
                Then there are the Bible readings. There are two of them, or three of them, depending on the choice of the minister. But they always have a theme, and the theme follows through into a special prayer called the "Collect". Generally two readings are read by people in the congregation, and one is read by the person who is going to preach.
                In between the readings there's the Psalm and the Canticles. The Psalm is always on the theme of the readings.   It's a song of praise straight out of the Bible book of the same name. The Canticles are old Hymns of Praise, some of which are in the Bible and some which were used by the Early Christian Church.   The tunes are really rather easy, but the pattern is kind-of old- fashioned because the sentences are all different lengths and there is a trick to knowing how to make them fit the tune. In cathedrals they are sung with the help of a choir, but in most churches the congregation and minister just read them aloud.   The psalm is usually read alternating verse by verse with the leader and the people ....Hey! That's a lot of participation for the congregation, isn't it?
                The service continues with the Creed, which is a Bible-based statement of what Christians believe. Everybody says it together, standing up.  It begins: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth......"   Good stuff, OK?
                Then there are things called responses, which are short little prayers that everybody knows and say alternately with the minister.
                And there is always a time for the church messages and for people to ask for prayer and tell good news and all that stuff.
                And there are a few set prayers. There is a prayer for Peace, and a prayer for Grace.  Or at night, there is a prayer for protection against danger.  One is a rather old-fashioned prayer for the Queen. That is usually extended into a prayer for people in responsible positions, like the Prime Minister and even the local council. There is also a great prayer about "all sorts and conditions of men"... in which there is often a pause where you can name people or matters you want prayer for.
                And it all finishes with a Blessing that comes straight from the Bible.
                So, where do you hear from "The Word of God"?  Is that what you are asking?  Well, the whole lot is based on the Bible, or quotes directly from the Bible, but just so the Minister gets a go, there is time for a Sermon.  Which is based on the Readings.  Of Course..... but the minister can choose different readings, if he wants to, because even though there is a recommendation, they are not set in cement.  
More about the Services: 
There are two main types, so you either Do, or Don't have a Communion Service.  Cathedrals always have at least one Communion Service on Sunday and at least one during the week, but small churches, particularly branch churches, only have Communion once a month. What's Communion?  It's where you celebrate Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples.  If you are a young Sydney Anglican and you've never done this, then find a church where they do it and go along.

More about the Readings:
                The readings that are set for Non-Communion services are on a yearly cycle, and are different in the evening to the morning. So if you read the four readings for every day of the week, then you read nearly all the New Testament, and a lot of the Old Testament in a year. And you do it in a way that links them together.  
                The readings set for Communion Services are on a three year cycle, so you get the same set of readings every three years. 
Purpose of the readings: 
We all know about Christmas and Easter, but there are lots of other times of year that are celebrated in other churches, and which are often ignored in Anglican churches in Sydney.  

One of the things that the readings do is guide you through the Year of the Church and give you something different to think about in each season.  
                So the Year doesn't start at New Year, or even at Christmas. It starts 4 weeks before Christmas with Advent (Advent Calendars, right?). That's 4 weeks preparation... for what?  Christmas Beano? ...Nope!... 4 weeks thinking about the return of Christ!  Hey, that's scary!  4 whole weeks being told "Prepare the way! Get your act together! Jesus is coming!"  
                Then you get Christmas and we all know about that.  
                But after Christmas, the Bible readings give you, in order, Stephen the First Martyr, The Day of St John the Evangelist, the Massacre of the Babies of Bethlehem, the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and, on the twelfth day of Christmas,  the Wise Men.  (Hey, weren't they at Christmas?  No!)  Then there are a series of Bible readings which describe the teachings of Jesus and important aspects of Christian living such as Faith, Hope and Love; trusting in the Lord, following his way, and proclaiming the Gospel.
                From there, the year moves on, reminding you for 40 days before Easter, that you must repent, put yourself aside, think of others and prepare. These 40 days are called Lent. 
                But the 40 days are broken up by a bit of rejoicing!  Palm Sunday!  Does your church do Palm Sunday, and get all the Sunday School and creche kids into church, waving branches and shouting Hosanna!?  If not, do it next year!  
                Easter starts on the Thursday night when you celebrate Jesus' last Supper.  By tradition, the service ends with everyone leaving quietly, not shaking hands, and all the lights of the church going out one by one.  Some churches also celebrate the way Jesus washed his disciples' feet, by having the minister and members of the Congregation wash each other's feet.  It's a really good opportunity to make up with someone you've been in a state of conflict with.  
                On Friday, you are back at church again.  This time there is no Communion.  Many churches do a very long prayer, called the Litany, which the congregation joins in, to ask for God's mercy.  A very special part of this service is the reading of the Gospel, which is the longest reading of the year, and tells the story of the betrayal, trial and crucifixion.  Some churches like to do this reading dramatically with several readers, and with the whole congregation taking the part of the mob that shouts "Crucify him!" 
                Then of course, Easter Sunday is the big day of rejoicing!  
                So what do you have to think about after Easter?  The readings go on to lead you through the celebration of Jesus' Ascension, through Jesus' teachings, and through the coming of the Holy Spirit.   
Other days are set to remember certain concepts like the Holy Trinity, and the life and witness of particular saints, both saints from the Bible, like Peter and Paul, and other people who lived wonderful Christian lives, like St Francis of Assisi.  The 1st of November celebrates All Hallows' Day in honour of all the Christian people who have lived before us.  (Halloween means All Hallows' Eve)  And then, after the Day of Christ the King, you are back to Advent again. 

So how does a liturgical service differ from a non-liturgical service?
                You, the church member, always get to thank, praise, humbly confess sins, boldly state your faith, join in with the prayer that Jesus taught, listen to at least 2 Bible readings and a prayer that are thematically linked. You always get to participate.
                If the preacher is a hopeless preacher, or you really don't agree with their particular slant on the word of God, well, it doesn't matter quite so much, because the liturgy itself has real Bible teaching.  The success of the teaching doesn't just depend on the talent of the person who is up the front.
                It is a God focussed service that takes the emphasis off the personal skills and personal charisma of the person leading the service.

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