A few years ago, the Synod “welcomed” the report of the Sydney Anglican Doctrine Commission on the Theology of Christian Assembly, including its recommendations. This outstanding report acknowledged how we will need different forms for what we do in our different congregations. Let me quote:
Not every assembly should try to do this in the same way or with the same component parts, nor in the same style. An assembly of 20, for example, will provide different opportunities for individuals to speak God’s word to one another and offer mutual exhortation, than an assembly of 150. Similarly, size and context will usually affect the level of formality in a gathering—the easy-going informality of a home Bible study group will be different from the greater degree of organization and structure required for an assembly of 200. However, regardless of style, context, size and culture, all assemblies should build toward maturity in Christ by prayerfully speaking his word, fellowship in Christ as we listen to and respond to his word, and be a testimony to Christ by our love and unity.
The report also made this vital theological point:
In planning and leading the regular Sunday assemblies that are the most common feature of our corporate life, we would do well to consider the entire time we are gathered as ‘the assembly’. In particular, the common practice of having ‘the formalities’, preceded by the various activities of arriving and being welcomed, and followed by morning tea/supper, should not be regarded as delineating ‘the service’ from the ‘fellowship’. Instead, we should give careful thought to how the different phases of the gathering could most usefully fulfil our purposes in being together. For example, it is not easy to help busy, distracted people to turn their attention to the God who is addressing us and to whom we bring our prayers. During the whole time we are together, from arrival to departure, how might we speak God’s word to each other, and respond to him together—in a larger group, in smaller groups over food, and informally one-to- one?
Well, what have we done so far? We have produced a book with some new orders of Common Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Marriage and funerals. That may prove useful and helpful. We also have a website with some guidance and teaching for those leading our gatherings. However, there is so much more to be done.
As a matter of urgency, to use the language of the report, we need a range of new templates, not just formal liturgies, to be prepared. These need to provide guidance and various resources. These will include: large congregations, smaller congregations, congregations where the average educational level is less than the norm, congregations in which English is a second language, congregations that are so small that they meet in homes, and many others.
It is unfortunate that the liturgical group uses different language from the report when describing church. The report moved away from the language of ‘worship’ and ‘services’ in a very helpful way, to help us to see what we actually do when we come together in the Name of the Lord Jesus. But, this point made, the website is producing some helpful resources.
I look forward to the ongoing work of the panel, and the opportunity, with all synod members, to offer constructive feedback. Our focus should be on the theology of Christian Assembly when discussing liturgy, not on some predetermined way we believe liturgy should be used or how formal liturgy should be.