Monday, July 4, 2016

Clergy, and our Ordination Promise of Diligence in Public Prayer

Clergy, and our Ordination Promise of Diligence in Public Prayer

This morning I celebrated Morning Prayer, as I do every day (publicly most days), and I also celebrated a private eucharist for a small congregation for Independence Day, a major feast in the U.S.A. according to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  Indeed both of these services were celebrated according to the 1979 Prayer Book, all in accordance with my ordination oath to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

At ordination I promised to "be diligent in prayer, both public and private."  The most important duty of a "cleric" (i.e., all members of the ordained clergy, and those in some places called "lay clarks" or the like) is the public worship of the Church.  In the Anglican churches, the public worship, or services appointed for divine worship are Morning and Evening Prayer every day, and the service of Holy Eucharist, a.k.a., "Mass" or "The Service of Holy Communion", on Sundays and major feasts.  If there are none prepared and present to communicate, then Ante-Communion, a "Liturgy of the Word" in the language of the 1979 BCP", is to be offered.  This obligation of daily public prayer goes back long before the Prayer Book, to the founding of the Church of England by St. Augustine, and before that, to the earliest days of Christianity, and even back to ancient Judaism.

I was taught that when I as an ordinand in the Episcopal Church promised to "be diligent in prayer, both public and private" I was promising to celebrate and keep these services, to offer them in the place where I was assigned the cure of souls, to join in their public celebration otherwise whenever they were offered, or if there was no public offering, to celebrate them privately, with others if possible.  I was also taught, as a member of the clergy, to wear my cassock, or, in circumstances where that was impractical, like travelling, then to wear black clothing and my collar as much as I could.  It was in this way, by celebrating the public services of the Church, and in presenting myself as a cleric, especially as a priest, that I was to make my public witness to the faith, make myself available to those in spiritual need, as well as offering my life prayerfully for the salvation of souls.

The problem that I see is that this foundation stone of our common life as Anglicans has been forgotten.  It is not my purpose to lay blame in raising this problem.  All of us have short-comings, all have sinned according to St. Paul, and none of us have grounds for boasting.  I know very well that the lack of diligence in daily public prayer was a problem long before I came along, and that most of us were raised in an environment where this obligation was ignored or set aside.  The Roman Church had even dropped the legal obligation for its secular clergy to do so about the time of the French Revolution (following the example of the Jesuits). However, I think it is time for us Anglicans to take stock of the fact that the Daily Office and the Eucharist are essential to the Anglican Way as set forth in the formularies and the Prayer Book.  We find ourselves, in fact, in a time of crisis, of judgement for our failings—and our churches, by and large, are shrinking.   God's judgement is usually a matter of letting us experience the consequences of our sins.  Might not the failing state of our churches be God's judgement upon us, for, among other matters, our lack of faithfulness in public prayer?

For my part, I cannot see any authentic way forward in terms of the renewal and mission of the Church than for us to get back to the disciplines of daily public prayer , and to promote them.  Here, with the in-course public reading of Scripture, including the Psalter, with the daily sacrifice of praise to God and prayer for our people, here lies the foundation for our spiritual renewal, for this public and objective prayer also provides the basis for a renewal of private prayer.  When our people know that their priests are on their knees, praying for them publicly every day, and inviting them to join in, either bodily present or only in spirit, then I think we may see signs of renewal among our people, and a willingness in them to be witnesses to the Gospel.  Without such a sound spiritual basis, I fear that all we have are marketing and gimmicks, without substance, and without that authenticity which alone can truly win souls to Christ.  Without such a sound spiritual basis, our witness to seek and serve Christ in all people seems false, and becomes at best an exercise is second-rate social work, or at worst one in accrual of secular political power for ourselves or those to whom we give our support.  Our striving for inclusion and to show the love of God for all easily becomes self-serving and, in fact, exclusive, unless it is firmly grounded in the that objective love of God which we contemplate in a disciplined life of prayer.

For these reasons I recommit myself to these disciplines of the Anglican Way, and I strongly urge my fellow clergy to do likewise.

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