People have always asked Episcopalians to describe what sort of Episcopalians they are. That’s because there’s a very diverse lot of us under the Episcopal Church’s umbrella. Gosh, there’s a very diverse group of us under my own Cathedral congregation’s umbrella. There are High Church Anglicans, Ultramontane Anglicans, Calvinists, Low Church, Charismatic, Broad Church, Deists, Theists and cultural Anglicans. To name just a few.
Lately thanks to the writing of folks like Christopher Evans and Derek Olsen (see sidebar) I think I’ve come to understand my own place on the spectrum as being a “Common Prayer Anglican”. Our genius within Anglicanism is our decision to find our unity in prayer, not in a binding Confession or in a Teaching Magisterium. And we find that unity by agreeing to pray the words of Book of Common Prayer with each other.
The wise folks over at Anglican Online have taken this idea a step further than I have in my own thinking, and I like where they’re headed. They suggest that rather than the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion, we circle back and look at what we already do have, The Book of Common Prayer:
“At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss this concept of BCP-as-covenant as a conceit: really, some will say exasperatedly, the 1662 BCP was book of liturgy, not a covenant. But within a empire that crossed continents and oceans, where postal mail took months and news could be delayed by years, it was theological framework of the 1662 BCP that shaped the understanding of English Christianity. The two great sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist — as well as the lesser sacraments — were defined within an Anglican understanding. Their definition was sufficient for most to read, mark, and inwardly digest. The catechism was the school book for millions of children — and what is the catechism other than a theological FAQ? The rubrics, if not quite canon law, were observed diligently for the most part and provided additional theological guidance. Lex orandi, lex credendi was perhaps truer during the hegemony of the 1662 BCP than it can ever be again.
We might now argue that the use of Elizabethan English in, say, the Sudan was absurd; part of a misguided, wrong-headed attempt to ‘civilise’ the world and produce Victorian gentlemen and ladies rather than promote the spread of Christianity. But English Christianity was spread by Victorian (or Elizabethan, Jacobean, Carolinian, or Regency) gentlemen, by word and sometimes weapon. And the vector* was the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. All these little oases of English Christianity — Elizabethan thees and thous in the Mongolian desert, ‘The Day Thou Gavest’ heartily sung in Delhi, clergy dressing for dinner in Zanzibar — eventually joined together in strangely named dioceses such as Mashonaland and Ruwenzori and became the building blocks of the Anglican Communion. But the ties that bind were pages of the 1662 BCP bound in morocco, cloth, or paper. They held the communion together before any covenant was a glimmer in any disaffected bishop’s eye.”
Read the full article here.
Obviously such an idea isn’t a panacea, and it glosses over the real differences between the prayer books in use in different Provinces. The Book of Common Prayer in Sudan is very very different than the one in use in New Zealand. But at least this idea takes us back to our foundational roots and the fundamental defining characteristic of our polity.
I like this idea very much. Good on ’em.