The Anglican Worship Template

At General Synod 2002 Anglican worship history was made. A church, built on common prayer, with a tradition of lex orandi, lex credendi (our prayer expresses our faith), authorised a "Worship Template". The Common Life Liturgical Commission had been working on this Template since 1996. They discovered that services had a beginning, a middle, and an end. They called this Gathering-story-going out. For two years prior to General Synod 2002 a draft Template was circulated to clergy, parishes, and Ministry Units. At GS2002 Gathering-Story-Going out was passed "with a view to it becoming a Standing Resolution".

Although several submissions prior to General Synod 2002 were critical of the abandonment of common prayer, and the way that the Template appeared to authorise absolutely everything, the report to General Synod only mentioned that those critical "read the document as an attempt to be prescriptive about which elements went where. This wasn't intended." (GS2002 R18). The Commission acknowledged those who thought the Template was too tight (sic!), they failed to mention those of us who thought the Template was far too loose.

From the two years of consultation, absolutely nothing had been changed or altered. Even the American spelling had been retained! ("baptizing" - rather than NZ's tradition of "baptising"). Two "examples" had been added: a eucharist and a liturgy of the word framework.

The Worship Template as passed by GS 2002

There was no indication of the relationship between this Template and the "formularies", the officially authorised services. Was everything now allowed? The answer often given after the Template was passed was, "yes". If the church had a formulary, an authorised service for something, was that to be used? And was the Template for situations where there was no authorised service provided? Were the authorised services there for "traditional" Anglicans? And contemporary Anglicans could now feel comfortable and endorsed in their experimental creativity?

In 1992, the then Liturgical Commission produced a collection of experimental services which covered a liturgy recognising the end of a marriage, healing from abuse, blessing a relationship, and a new beginning. These rites have been used by people at every level of the church. Some of the same people who worked at producing these 1992 liturgies also produced the Worship Template. Did the passing of the Worship Template on 16 May 2002 beat the apparent making of history by the Diocese of New Westminster in officially allowing "The Blessing of a Relationship"?

Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship (pdf)
Liturgy of Healing from Abuse for Women (pdf)
Liturgy for Recognising the End of a Marriage (pdf)
A Liturgical Resource for Addressing Experiences of Abuse in the Church (pdf)
New Beginnings (pdf)
These five are also available from the following link (external to this site) "For life events" on the Dunedin Anglican diocesan resources page

The reaction to the Template has varied, including discussion in the national Anglican magazine, Taonga. One might have thought that those who label themselves "Evangelical", with a stronger tradition of free-spirited worship, might have provided the strongest voice in favour of it. In fact, one of the strongest voices critical of the development was Bishop Brian Carrell in his Latimer Fellowship Presidential address, October 2002, he said:

"In my address last year I mentioned the ill-considered move General Synod had taken in authorising for regular Sunday use the utterly flexible eucharistic worship provided in the New Zealand Prayer Book under the title, A Form for Ordering the Eucharist.  Since our last Annual Meeting, General Synod has taken this process a step further and authorised "A Template for Anglican Worship", to (I quote) "allow the prayer book to more adequately serve the mission of the church in the 21st century". We are advised that soon to follow this will come similar templates for other frequently used services, including baptism, and also resources for an even greater range of variety that the worship leader can introduce into these services. We have sold our birth right for a mess of pottage. Diversity has triumphed over unity, freedom over order. Where now is the "common prayer" that once bound us together as a denomination? Where are the safeguards against clerical eccentricities that laity once could rely upon? Where is the assurance that whatever prayer is used and theology expressed in Anglican services has first passed the scrutiny and now possesses the authority of General Synod? We have sold our birth right for a mess of pottage. Diversity has triumphed over unity, freedom over order. The gates are now open for that very clerical control of the content of worship that the Reformation and Elizabethan Settlement had preserved us from. The laity again become passive bystanders, potentially mute accomplices of the latest whim of a worship leader. Who can now be sure as to the content of next Sunday's liturgy? And there are no grounds for redress if theology drifts off course."

There has been argument that the Worship Template, in fact, contravened the Church of England Empowering Act, and hence, even though General Synod thought it had passed it, it was of no (legal) effect, as General Synod had no legal right to pass it. This led on to examination of how worship regulations are passed. There is dispute, now, whether the Inter Diocesan Conference has authority to authorise experimental services. Do bishops actually (legally) have this authority? All this depends on interpretations of the Act of Parliament.

This is the confused situation that confronted the Judicial Committee as it prepared for GS2006's desire to make the Worship Template a Standing Resolution. Instead of reworking the Template, the Judicial Committee added a rider at its start which was passed by GS:

“This template is designed to assist those conducting forms of worship to make better use of existing prayer book services.  They are reminded that, when conducting services for which there are prayer book forms, they must still follow the specific instructions given there for each service, concerning the order of service and the forms of prayer, etc, which must be used.  This template does not contradict any of those requirements.”

I will wait for the laughter to die down...

This patch on the Template now declares that the Template has been produced to help "make better use of existing prayer book services." And, anyway, we should follow the Prayer Book, its instructions, order, and forms of prayer, etc. We have saved ourselves the embarrassment of saying we were wrong and abolishing the Template, but we have turned it into something that now says nothing.

The Anglican Worship Template, an idiosyncratic document that lost the balance between Word and Sacrament, that appeared to give equal value to "symbolic actions involving candles, images, greenery" and the un-Anglican concept of " sacramental actions such as a blessing and breaking bread" (Anglicans consecrate or give thanks with bread - AND wine!), this Template is essentially dead. Whether it was legally alive between 2002 and 2006 is for you to decide. Prior to that it survived two years of "consultation" without even its spelling mistakes being corrected [and then it was retyped into the GS report with at least one error].

The Worship Template comes just at a time when clergy training, study, and formation, especially in the area of liturgy and worship, is at a low point. And so is the liturgical formation of our communities generally. In the hands of well-formed worship leaders and worshipping communities a framework for liturgy which provided clear slots, memorised responses, and flexible options for material to insert into the "slots" could be a wonderful way to move forward into the twenty first century. Instead they were offered merely three "slots": gather, story, depart. No shared responses. No shared resources.

Legally, the Template may be dead. Its spirit, however, lives on in the worship experienced in our churches. In my opinion, whether the Inter Diocesan Synod, or bishops have the right to authorise liturgically, or whether the Worship Template was ever legally worth the disk it is stored on, is currently irrelevant in practice. The actions of General Synod appeared to condone and reinforce the dying of common worship, common prayer, and the Anglican understanding of worship as the shared expression of our faith.
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