Yesterday’s online service from the Church of England was just marvellous! It was from the Book of Common Prayer, and the Rev. Fergus Butler-Gallie not only did it to perfection, he gave a marvellous sermon! For anyone who thought that the BCP was stuffy, or only for older people (okay, in my later 30s, but NOT old) take a look-see.
Now, I’m not one of those who go on about liturgy, as regulars will know. Brought up on versions of the ghastly Alternative Service books on the late 80s and early 90s, I welcomed “Common Worship” and I use it for Morning and Evening prayer in private devotion. But I do love a BCP Mattins on Sunday, and, when I can get it, as BCP Communion service. Watching the Rev. Fergus yesterday reminded me why I love it so much. The short answer is that I love it for the same reason I love the Church of England – it is a defining part of me and the culture I inhabit.
Brought up in Wales, I was a member of the Church of Wales, and therefroe very much not part of the establishment; nonconformists, as my father called them, were the norm. It was only when I went to university in England and to chapel at College that I began to realise how important the BCP was to me. We’d used it in my local church and it seeped into my consciousness. To this day, in private devotions, I slip into the BCP general confession. I have indeed ‘erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep’, and ‘followed the devices and desires of my own heart,’ so the words are not worn smooth with use, they mean what they have always meant for me.
Being brought up Anglican in Wales was in some sense to define myself as part of something bigger than my homeland, much as I loved it. Being half-Welsh and half-German, the Church gave me a cultural home which I cherished and still do. I am part of a world-wide Communion, but I am also linked, historically, to a Church which somehow has managed to reconcile so many differing opinions into one place. I suspect the loss of the regular use of the BCP was not helpful to the Church, but as usual, it managed to keep it and I see signs that it is used more often. One of our churches here uses it regularly for Mattins, and I do tend to slope off in its direction whenever possible.
It provides a living link with the past. It isn’t that I can’t appreciate a Latin Mass (I used to attend one from time to time when I was at College), but it is not mine. I feel no historic link with it, whereas I do with the BCP. Cranmer’s language is so beautiful. I feel instinctively that is how you talk to God, you don’t address him like he’s the postman. I am sure God doesn’t mind, it’s one of those weird things I mind on his behalf.
As I repeat the well-used phrases of the BCP, I feel myself in timeless communion with generations of Anglicans past, present and future. It evokes for me a sense of belonging and yes, comfort. Maybe there are bold and brave souls who do not need comfort in their religion, but I am neither of those things. Heavy laden, I go unto him and lay my yoke on his shoulders and find rest. He told me to, I do as I am told, and lo and behold, his promise is fulfilled.
Yes, I know history is complex and I am more than familiar with the arguments about the Reformation and the Church, and with the arguments that Rome has formally never accepted Anglican orders. But I am not quite sure it matters what Rome has said when its practice shows what its Popes really think. There’s a part of me that does not care at all, as my view of Rome is rather that of Anglo-Catholics and Orthodox, which is that historically it deserves respect, but its claim to universal jurisdiction are just that, its claims. It isn’t, after all, as though anyone watching the Catholic culture wars. can be under any illusion that it is a unified communion. But in that, it is like my own church. But it is not my church, though I wish it nothing but good.
I cross the threshold of my Anglican church with that feeling of being where I am meant to be, being home. So thank you Rev. Fergus and all those who produced the lovely service yesterday – I adored it!