APBA: that was then, this is now
“There is… no real ‘prayer book for Australia’.” —-Muriel Porter
“Many of our parishes are missing at least two generations, if not three.” —-Godfrey Fryar
In 1995, A Prayer Book for Australia (APBA) was the first revision of an Anglican prayer book in the twentieth century (revising An Australian Prayer Book of 1978). Now, the Anglican Church of Australia is the last of all the churches in global western Anglicanism to revise its liturgical resources. The pioneer has become stuck. Persons involved in the processes have been candid about the difficulties of both i) APBA’s production and ii) its initial reception—and those difficulties had longstanding precedents in historic polarisations in the Anglican churches in Australia. But these have intensified since 1995 such that, for a variety of reasons, common prayer no longer exists. At the same time, understanding and practice of common prayer has developed in new ways around the Anglican Communion—not least with a new missional consciousness—leaving Australia missing marks that now characterise Anglican liturgical “family resemblance.” Given that, as the Liturgy Committee of the national church acknowledged at the last General Synod, maybe less than half of Australian Anglican parishes use APBA, my reflections enquire about the future of sacramental common prayer in Australia, making some modest proposals.
1. Scope and focus
2. Appreciation of APBA
3. That was then: assessments of APBA at the time
—“inadequately incorporated pluralism”? (Gillian Varcoe)
—“inadequate for the church’s liturgical life”? (Evan Burge)
4. That was then: a longer view
—bishops Broughton, Barker, Tyrell...
—Bathurst Book vs. Vestments Ordinance, etc
—“two denominations in one organisation”? (John Davis)
5. This is now: “sleepwalking”?
—“Sydney writ large”? (Muriel Porter)
—“catholic… loss of nerve”? (Porter)
6. This is now: “seriously engaged in mission”?
—“new disturbances”? (Godfrey Fryar)
—“pressing missional needs”? (Fryar)
7. This is now: a wider view: “common prayer does not in fact exist” (Mark Earey)
—what makes worship “Anglican”? (Earey)
—“loyalty to the doctrine of the Spirit at work in the encounter”? (Lindsay Urwin)
—“persuading Gamaliel: helping anglo-catholics engage with Fresh Expressions”? (Steven Croft)
—“liturgy designed for this place”? (Rowan Williams)
8. From this to what next? Some modest proposals
Extract—from the final section
…to move to suggest some contours for conversation about what, in particular, needs revision: My first clue picks up from noting that APBA was not the only thing to happen in 1995. That year also saw an important, influential, gathering of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, whose deliberations were not able to be reflected in APBA itself, as Gillian Varcoe notes. One of the main outcomes of that particular gathering of IALC was a clarification of the ordo of eucharistic worship, worship which is, on some accounts (Patterns for Worship included), somehow central. The 1995 consultation proposed that all subsequent liturgical revision in the Communion should embrace a fivefold progression in eucharistic services which had often been there, albeit sometimes obscured, but which could be brought to greater visibility, in part to reveal an Anglican “family resemblance” between rites but also, we might add, to lift up the missional shape of eucharistic celebration. That is, eucharist is a gathering around word and sacrament—both means by which “Christ giv[es] himself away in mercy at the heart of the liturgy” —turned to the world in prayer and culminating in a sending out on mission. That pattern is now clarified in manifold revised eucharistic rites around the Anglican Commission (deftly narrated in Common Worship ), as well as much more broadly, and has sometimes been accompanied by special accent on the sending. That this pattern is there, but cluttered, in APBA is, to my mind, in itself a good enough reason to get on with revision, for APBA’s lesser clarity on the ordo makes it now out of step with many other churches of the Anglican Communion, quite apart from the ACA’s need of help to motivate both missional worship and missional worshippers. But I also want to suggest some further things that need attention in future renewal.
None is more important to my mind than APBA’s rather weak expression of the baptismal ecclesiology that has come to mark revised rites around the Communion over the last several decades. This is nowhere more evident than in APBA’s ordination rites, which disturbingly only once mention baptism. Clues to what needs put right are all over the place and a fascinating path—or web—can be tracked from TEC’s Book of Common Prayer 1979 and what it called “The Baptismal Covenant” consisting of Apostles’ Creed followed by various “so what?” questions (as Jeff Lee calls them ) about Christian behaviours that corresponds to Christian belief. Canada, New Zealand, the British Anglican churches, and it could be noted the Uniting Church in Australia’s UiW2 have all employed versions of these questions, about participation in prayer and communion (echoing Acts 2.42), about repentance, and about the worldly calling to witness to Christ in word and deed, serve the needy, and advocate for justice. Sometimes the questions of the Baptismal Covenant have been restyled as “an affirmation of commitment” (possibly used daily), a “commitment to Christian service” or a “commitment to mission”—and sometimes, sadly to my mind, they have undergone adjustment which weakens some of their original verve. But they are all a significant advance on the optional words a bishop may—or may not—say to a confirmand in Australian initiation rites. A related weakness is that neither does APBA include anything akin to the response proposed by NZPB to the question, “who are the ministers of the church?”: “laypersons, deacons, priests and bishops.” Australian reserve about a statement identifying laypersons as ministers may well be shaped by fear that such an affirmation might somehow lead to a slippery slope to Sydney’s proposed/sometime/suspected practice of other than presbyters presiding at eucharist. But whatever such reserve protects, it also harms, with debilitating fallout for the vocation of laity, and free fuel for clerics taking over the liturgy, so bungling its very nature as work of the people. That liturgical revision might make good at least some of what is lacking about ministry as a baptismal category in APBA is another compelling argument for liturgical change.
I could make a much longer list, but add here, and briefly, just two more things. The first recalls Burge’s comparison of local material in New Zealand and Australian books, in which the former fares relatively well, but not the latter. The need not least for better recognition in prayer of the multicultural reality of Australian society is now pressing, quite apart from openness to renewal of the Anglican church in this country coming in significant part, if at all, from migrant communities of Anglicans and other Christians from elsewhere arriving as guests and managing to shape for good the so-called “host” culture of the church, not least with the riches of their own liturgical experience in their homelands. In addition to that, questions should be provoked about the adequacy of APBA by even the slightest analysis of Australian census material. In 1996, fifteen percent of the population was born overseas; in 2016, more than twenty-eight percent. Whatever APBA in its day offered by way of stability of liturgical form to people in this country, it cannot possibly do so now, as less of the population has been in this country to experience such (supposed) stability.
Contending with the census also leads to my final point. In 1996, twenty four percent of the Australian population identified as Anglican; just twenty years later, only thirteen (of course only a minority of whom are in a habit of regular worship in an Anglican congregation). A skein of hard questions that need to be faced include: whose “tradition” is APBA preserving? Who is “us”? Who are we? A church of (lay and ordained) ministers embracing their mission? While I affirm that continued use of APBA or something like it will be very important in pastoral accompaniment into late old age of a certain kind of Anglican in Australia, I very much doubt that APBA, as it is—and certainly not as it has oftentimes come to be used, shrunk down—has much to offer the countless others who need to encounter a church in mission with liturgical approaches, liturgical convictions, and liturgical resources apt to that, and leaders who are open to renewal and formed to understand and trained in practice with those resources. To advocate for moving on from APBA is by no means to appeal to move on from sacramental common prayer, but rather to see the need to get much more engaged with the invitation into such prayer and care about the pathways to it. My hope of such movement is, admittedly, I confess, a long way from where my Australian experience suggests a lot of the slow, waiting, sleepwalking or whatever church “is at,”/stuck, but I hope that there are enough others left who will wrestle with the challenges to make worship and mission collide among those with whom they share the journey of faith and the calling to witness in the world we assuredly believe God loves.
[AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF LITURGY: https://www.liturgy.org.au/ ]