Liturgical Formation and Global Agreement IALC 2019

Last month (January 2019), I chaired an international gathering of liturgical representatives from around the Anglican Communion (the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, a network of the Anglican Communion) at which we worked, cross-culturally, on the tasks of reflection on and composition of two documents: one on prayers for unity within the Anglican Communion, and the other on the essential basics of liturgical formation. I thought it might be of interest to the readers of Pray Tell to share some of the second conversation as things Anglican might be a bit ‘foreign’ to many Pray Tell readers.

IALC is composed of Anglican members of Societas Liturgica, the international ecumenical liturgical association, and provincial representatives (which might mean diocesan bishops, archbishops, liturgical officers for a province or diocese, or someone who has expressed an interest or aptitude for liturgy in a particular geographical area). I hoped for three groups to be present in the conversation: provincial representatives who are often parish priests or lay leaders responsible for doing liturgy ‘on the ground’; bishops, who have the authority to implement liturgical decisions and who also see the larger picture; and liturgical scholars, who bring the history and theological breadth to bear on the conversations. We were fortunate that all three of these groups were present at the conference and engaged in each working group.

Why were we doing this? We were responding to growing concerns around the Anglican Communion about the very mixed preparation of candidates for ordination with regard to liturgical formation and training. In other words, fewer and fewer ordination candidates are going to major seminaries in the Anglican tradition (and fewer seminaries have a trained liturgist on staff). Instead, there are a variety of training schemes, many of which have no liturgy formation at all, others a very minimal practical course on “how” to do what a priest should know, and even fewer on ”why” we do what we do. Even in a country with more resources like the United States, national statistics reveal that just 50% of ordination candidates for the priesthood were going to a major seminary of the Episcopal Church, others were at ecumenical or other denominational schools, or training at diocesan-level schools (usually local, part-time, and a combination of in-person and online), as well as other more ad hoc arrangements. In other countries, there is often no available teaching staff for seminaries, no money to support the students, or simply not enough people academically trained in liturgy to go around. For an ecclesial communion which continues to profess an identity in its liturgical practice and in the authority of a book of common prayer, this is a problem beyond simply not being able to add electives to a core curriculum – liturgy, theology and practice – is core curriculum.

In response to this, a culturally, geographically and ecclesially diverse group of Anglicans met for 5 days in Hong Kong and worked collegially and diligently on compiling and arranging what we thought might be the basics, the essentials, for what should be covered in instruction both in preparation for ordination and in continuing education for clergy. The document, still in the process of being edited and therefore not ready for publication, begins with formation for the whole church, specifically formation with and for the laity as worshiping members of the body of Christ and as lay liturgical ministers. The groups asked in different ways how all of us are to continually grow in our primary christian vocation of offering praise and thanksgiving to God, what approaches to contextualized liturgy shape us in recognizing the primary dimensions of our faith, and what is helpful catechesis around the liturgical rites themselves. The work of the document then moves to liturgical formation for the diaconate (here for permanent or vocational deacons) and finally to liturgical formation with and for presbyters.

Many provinces or regions (as well as schools and dioceses) have already compiled lists of competencies for priests, which we drew from, but much of our energy in the presbyteral section of the document was on the contextual breadth (liturgy does not stand alone – priests need to understand liturgical practice in its theological and historical contexts) as well as the contextual specificity (priests need to understand the cultural and pastoral setting – this people, this place, this time) which affect the writing, the celebrating, and the receiving of liturgies. Trying to reach a manageable list of these types of contexts was the challenge – we had way too many good ideas! What learnings need to come first before liturgy? What learnings continue to accompany formation in liturgy? What skills are essential for leading with confident authority and for including the whole gathered people in their roles in the liturgy?

Like many ecclesial communities, we continue to reshape and reform aids to teaching and formation of those who will be leaders and catechists and presiders themselves. Fundamental to this is faith in our Triune God, a passion for God and for God’s people, a life of prayer and caritas (love in action), surety that our ritual and symbolic worlds are real and efficacious, and confidence in the sacramentality of the world in which our sacramental practices live and bear fruit. Even this short list would be a good start on the essential syllabus!

Featured image: The altar in St. Mary Anglican Church, Redcliffe, Bristol.

One comment

  1. What a project. You may already have consulted this for comparison, but the Roman Catholic document, In Fulfillment of their Mission, might also be helpful to your task. It lays out the main duties of a “novice priest,” and then details the components to be addressed in seminary education.

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