prayer book

Enjoy the Silence



Last night, at Olafur Arnalds’ concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Icelandic musician introduced the song Nyepi from his latest record Re:member. The song is named after a Hindu tradition he encountered whilst in Bali, Indonesia. (The same tradition is known as Ugadi in India.) Nyepi is a Day of Silence, when usually busy roads and beaches are empty, houses are quiet—and the internet is switched off—lights are kept low, and people are encouraged to spend their time in reflection and fasting in preparation for the new year.

Here is the song, performed in Berlin…

Lag fyrir Ömmu

Interestingly, the concert was full of silences, most notably at the very end, when the song Arnalds played as an encore, Lag fyrir Ömmu, from his Living Room Songs, subsided into a long time when nothing happened. The song, he explained, was written for his grandmother, just after her death. At the end of his performance of the song last night, the however-many-hundreds of people in the concert hall sat totally still, absolutely silent, for three/four/five/more? minutes. It was unusual, strange, rich…

Unlike in this video, filmed when he played the song at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in Melbourne the audience fell into silence…

The great silence / The sermon of stillness

Many liturgies invite experience of silence. For example, here’s the note from the Church of England’s Morning and Evening Prayer:

But in the age of personal computers, and the possibility of orders—or sequences for screen— being put together locally, notes like this, and rubrics that enact them, are easily lost. And even where present in books where books are still used, they are widely ignored. To great loss.

Here are two lovely examples. First, from the (Anglican) Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer of 2004. After communion, “the great silence”:

Then, from the Uniting Church in Australia’s Uniting in Worship 2 of 2005, Service of the Lord’s Day 3, with its “Sermon of Stillness”. After the reading of scripture:

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(Note the suggested length of time—”at least five minutes”—and encouragement of posture “conducive to meditation.” And note above the sermon of stillness itself, a “bluebric” (right-hand side historical or source note to accompany the red choreographical rubrics) commending the kissing of the Bible—a practice approved by Zwingli, a Protestant Reformer often cited for his bare ceremonial sense!)

We need artists to remind of the beauty of these practices which religions prize.

A review of Arnalds’ concert at the Sydney Opera House last week:

Jottings: Evelyn Underhill’s Prayerbook


“bring…the books, and above all the parchments”—2 Timothy 4.13 [the Bible]

June 15 is the commemoration of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) [1], a remarkable figure in twentieth-century Christianity. She is best known for her quite different books Mysticism (1911) and Worship (1936), between which she had a Christian conversion experience that led her to focus her thinking and prayer much more christologically. Over time she moved from some dabbling in the occult to traditional and institutionalised Christianity.

Underhill was a pioneer in many ways: among the very first women in Britain to graduate in theology from university, the first woman to teach theology in an English university, the first women to teach the clergy of the Church of England, the first woman to be given an honorary doctorate in theology in a British context—and so on. She also gave unprecedented momentum to the retreat movement, becoming a highly revered retreat leader and spiritual guide. As Ann Loades notes as the very first point in her book Evelyn Underhill (London: Fount, 1997), Underhill’s achievements were all the more remarkable given that she had no institutional or ecclesial base from which to do her work. 

A “new” publication of Evelyn Underhill has just emerged this year, from the hand of Robyn Wrigley-Carr, who now teaches at the (Pentecostal) AlphaCrucis college in Sydney, Australia. Robyn did her own doctoral work (at St. Andrew’s, Scotland) on Underhill’s spiritual director, Baron von Hugel, and it was while visiting Pleshey, the retreat house in Essex where Evelyn Underhill gave many retreats, that Robyn unearthed a handwritten book with a homemade cover  that turned out to be Underhill’s own. It was a book of prayers which Underhill had written out by hand, coded and ordered in her own way, and sourced from prayer books across a wide range of —and in a couple of cases, beyond— Christian traditions. Underhill used this personal book of treasured prayer herself and with those she led on retreat. Extraordinarily, a second such book then turned up—sent to Robyn from Canada by someone who had found it in an op-shop! So Robyn has drawn the two handwritten books together and compiled them in a beautifully produced new book: Robyn Wrigley-Carr, ed., Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book (London: SPCK, 2018). I’ve been using it in my morning devotions.


An interpretation of 2 Tim. 4.13 beloved of many Anglicans (and popularised by seventeenth century bishop of St. David’s, George Bull) has been that in that verse (pseudo-) Paul was asking for both his books (perhaps the scriptures, and authoritative sources) as well as his own jottings on the books (the “parchments”), in which he made the books his own—his margin notes, side notes, grace notes, as it were...

Evelyn Underhill’s personal prayer book is such a set of “jottings”—gathering as it does fragments scavenged from sources far and wide. And now, in the age of digital technology which enables prayer books from around the world to turn up instantly on any seeker’s desk, Underhill’s prayer book project can be a model for any person, prayer group, or parish. Given Andrew McGowen’s contention [2] that daily prayer, as a “central but neglected” Anglican tradition, “could yet be fundamental in the next stages of rassourcement and of aggiornamento”—that is, both returning to sources and bringing up to date of the tradition—maybe more parishes, prayer groups and persons should make a “new” prayer for their own contexts?





A Prayer Book for Australia: That Was Then, This Is Now

I have just had an article published in the Australian Journal of Liturgy (16.1, May 2018, pages 20-40) which the editor of the journal, Dr. Angela McCarthy, suggests in her editorial may “bring some vibrancy to discussions” among some readers. In the article, I consider the possibilities of prayer book revision in Australian Anglicanism.


The essay was first a lecture at St. Francis Theological College, Brisbane, part of Charles Sturt University, in February this year, and below is the summary from a recent postgraduate seminar in the University of Divinity. So here is the abstract, dot-points along the way, and the concluding paragraphs (without all the footnotes).

One of my primary concerns is with ministerial formation fit for the challenges of mission. As I say in one the footnotes towards the end (that don’t appear with the main text below), “sitting in classrooms and learning theology is a precious opportunity, much to be cherished, but in and of itself is neither formation nor training for either parish or pioneer ministry.” What kind of resources for common prayer do we now need? And what do students of liturgy need to be taught, see modelled, be part of, learn to shape, and be able to engage others in?


(Following image: Station of the Cross by John Bayton, Trinity College, Melbourne. Photo: Stephen Burns. Photos at the foot of the page: Facebook page of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne— , except photos of pages 221 and 812-3 of APBA by Stephen Burns).



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)
—“waiting”? (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)
—inter-Anglican consensus
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.