On Sunday morning we went to the local Anglican church near our holiday house. It was a delightful little place. At first we thought we had doubled the size of the service we attended, although more people arrived later and it turned out to be a bustling little country church. The people were uber-friendly and sang with real gusto – more than in any other church I’ve been to for some time.
Now, before I go on I need to put one thing on the record: I’m not an Anglican. I’ve been to Anglican church services not much more than about half a dozen times in my life, of which only about three used the Prayer Book explicitly. The third of these times was yesterday morning. This reminded me of what I both love and hate about services that use the prayer book and have the congregation follow along in it. 
What I love is that the service is largely conducted as a prayer to God – almost everything that is said is expressed as a prayer. And it’s so theologically excellent – even though the ‘sermon’ we sat through was so bad and really just used the passsage as a jumping off point into what the priest wanted to say, the congregation afffirmed many biblical truths during the course of the service.  Sitting in on a prayer book service always makes me realise that we could do better in the way we conduct services in less traditional protestant churches – we could do much better at affirming biblical truths in even the normal things we say during the service. And prayers in particular were very good – even the prayer offered by a member of the congregation was theologically excellent, was full of praise to God and affirmation of who he is, and covered so much ground as well – I was quite challenged to improve my praying at church after listening to it.
On the other hand, the service as a whole was utterly inaccessible. Even Tegan, who grew up in an Anglican church and who followed along in the prayer book better than I, couldn’t quite understand some of what was going on in the communion – the difference betweeen kneeling and standing, and whether you ate the wafer and then drank from the common cup, or whether you dipped your wafer in the wine and then ate that.
And following along with the prayer book is, I assume, meant to be easy – but it is absolutely not. There was nothing in there that told you which parts to sing, which lines to repeat while you’re singing, it’s hard to know which parts to skip and when to turn the page when the priest could choose from several options in the text of the book, and then there are lines here and there which the priest and congregation say which aren’t in the book – all very confusing. Having been to a couple of these things before, I could follow along reasonably well – not perfectly though – but one of our friends who had never been to a prayer book service before found it extremely difficult to follow along.
Now, we were all Christians who were there – and if we found it that hard, I really wonder how an outsider who is checking out Christianity and the church for the first time must find it. I imagine that it must feel as though you have entered some kind of sect – it’s that different than anything else I’ve observed in modern society. One of the congregation members said to me that it was good seeing so many young people (there were six of us there) in church, and mentioned that they had troble attracting young people to church. Now that I think about it, I’m not surprised.
The sign at the front of the church said “Visitor’s Welcome”. While the people were certainly welcoming and warm and friendly, perhaps the sign should have read, “Visitors Welcome – But if you’re not Anglican, don’t expect to understand anything about the service.
1: The church we were at was quite High Anglican, so I guess that’s a factor as well.
2: Of course, this raises the question of how you know that they’re biblical truths if the preaching plays, in my opinion, fairly fast and loose with the Bible itself. I guess you would hope that people are reading the Bible for themselves and can evaluate whhat they’re reading against that. And I trust that the authors of the prayer book considered the Bible very carefully and wrote only things that the Bible affirmed to be true.