My parents are Anglicans, and so were their parents before them. In the natural flow of things, I would then become an Anglican, and that is exactly how things happened. I grew up in the Anglican Church, I went to church every Sunday as a child and at the time there wasn’t much I understood except that I was a member of the Sunday school and later a member of the St Mary’s girls guild.
We often went to church on Sundays dressed in our prettiest dresses only to suffer from ‘old people’ constantly asking us, ‘how old are you?’ ‘what’s your name?’ ‘what grade are you in?’ I was constantly reminded about my growth, how tall I was etc. Interestingly this reminder would come weekly from the very same people who had reminded you the week before. Going to church seemed futile to me or rather ritualistic until much later in life when I received my first 1989 Anglican Prayer Book, adapted from the then 1954 South African Book of Common Prayer. Through it, I began to gradually understand and appreciate the richness, presence and purpose of our holy, catholic and apostolic ecclesial inheritance. An inheritance that contained beautiful characteristics of a spirituality that continues in the fellowship and teachings of the apostles, such as friendship and fellowship, humility/lack of hierarchy and love. I started to feel and give thanks for my membership in this universal family of Christ. I discovered an avenue of life where there is teaching, evangelizing, praying and sacraments.
However, my own Anglican identity and my reason for remaining an Anglican lies in its liturgy. John Wesley, former cleric and leader of a revival movement within the Church of England called Methodism, once said:
‘’I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, rational piety than the common prayer of the Church of England.’’
This has been my stance as well. I have discovered so many gems within the liturgy that put a stamp on my Anglican membership. Four stand out:
- Ever found yourself in a perpetual cycle of mundane daily activities, coupled with a crippling fear of being stuck in a rut? Weakened by the heavy load of your personal problems, so much that you couldn’t find the words to talk to God? What then? Where do you find the words? I rely on the words from the collect of purity ‘’…to whom all hearts are open, all desires known…” and I am assured that God already knows what I need as written in the Gospel according to Matthew 6:8 ‘’Your father knows what you need before you ask him”.
- We often find ourselves bound by the shackles of lack of growth and development. We ask ourselves why am I here? Am I serving my purpose? Am I living to my full potential or am I just a waste of space? How do you break the chains of feeling trapped in a world of uncertainty and endless unanswered questions? I am comforted daily during The Office of Morning Prayer by my favourite words from the collect of peace ‘’…to know You is eternal life, to serve You is perfect freedom’’ (APB, 1989: which links up so well with what the Bible says in Galatians 5:1 ‘’it is for freedom that Christ has set us free’’. Thanks to Christ we are now free to live unselfishly: this is a lovely reminder that whatever we do, however successful we may be, what matters most and frees us most is doing things that serve, honour and glorify the Lord- “to serve Him is perfect freedom.”
- We often ask ourselves if we are worthy of God? Whether we are ‘holy’ enough, clean enough or good enough for the institutional Church? We find ourselves on many occasions intertwined with our deceitful ‘friend’; sin, then we struggle to approach God because we are ashamed. We know that God has no tolerance for sin and our own consciousness of our guilt and shortcomings makes us think we have been removed from His house. However God loves us, even with our defects, as written in the Bible, ‘’ but you Lord are the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness’’ Psalm86:5. We falter and come short of His will, but God is merciful. The Anglican liturgy holds these two truths together to assure us of God’s mercy in the prayer of humble access ‘’we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Your table…but You are the same Lord, whose nature is ALWAYS to have mercy” (APB, 1989)
- The world we live in is increasingly degrading. The soaring reality of poverty, violence, inequality, injustice, prejudice, selfishness and endless pain permeates and knows no boundaries. One then wonders, how can we see God when we are obstructed by so much darkness? Do we still go to God consciously, willingly, reverently, and joyfully? or do we go grudgingly? Do we even believe that He is there? Does He see us, hear us?
On December 5th 2021, I was fortunate to attend the consecration of our then new Bishop, Bishop Vicentia Kgabe. I watched as our Bishop blessed the city. Part of the prayer she said was ‘’May God the son, redeemer and brother of all humankind…” this provoked much thought and convinced me that if Jesus be our brother then indeed God is our Father who loves, sees and hears us at all times in every situation and I am encouraged to stay on course.
So, I agree fully with Wesley’s point on Anglican liturgy, it is ‘perfect’. In my Anglican Prayer Book, whether it be in the offices, the canticles, the catechism, the mass or collects, I have found victories, reminders, encouragements and blessings too plentiful to count which have not only informed but they have fed my faith immensely. I would argue that if theology is defined as faith seeking understanding (Mignolo, 2001), then my Anglican Prayer Book gives me the means through which I seek that understanding.
Yet one might still wonder; is the perfect Anglicanism of the prayerbook the same as what we practice in our parishes, dioceses and communion at large? The question which probes my reflection rises out of a question as to whether the theory and theology found in the APB matches the praxis found in the pews? I believe it can be. The word of God in Matthew 17:20 promises ‘’..if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain ’move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing is impossible for you’’. Because of all the ugliness and dirt we have seen, hope and faith are in short supply, but if we exercise the little faith we have it will soon be replaced by certainty. St Gregory of Sinai says ‘’The seeds of future blessings are present in the hearts of the righteous…”(Kadloubovsky, 1983). It is therefore incumbent on us to execute the vision of our liturgy. Our journey continues, it does not end here, and the Anglicanism we dream of can become a reality. As Anglicans, we ought to take seriously the implications of our liturgy so as to not reduce our faith and worship into a ritualistic exercise which does not lead to a change of heart.
If your friend is celebrating a birthday or a milestone that warrants a gift; buy them an Anglican prayer book. It is a most significant and consequential gift that can impact and change a life for the better, and it is a powerful discipleship tool for those who wish to share the Anglican story.
Reitumetse Hlongwane TSSF
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