Hallo again to all.
The word Common is slippery in English. We sometimes use it in conversation as an adjective, often in ways not too distant from the meaning in Andrew Marvell's famous lines on the death of King Charles the Martyr:
By the OED, Common here means 'Of ordinary occurrence and quality; hence mean, cheap' or 'Having ordinary qualities; undistinguished by special or superior characteristics; pertaining to or characteristic of ordinary persons, life, language, etc.; ordinary' or 'of no special quality; mere, bare, simple'. A friend who had never before heard of the Book of Common Prayer once asked, with this meaning in mind, why Anglicans would use such a demeaning title for their prayer book.
One of the meanings we like better is precisely that used in connection with the BCP: 'Of general, public, or non-private nature' and 'Belonging to all mankind alike; pertaining to the human race as a possession or attribute'.
By extension from this meaning of mutuality—especially in towns designed by Anglophones in the Atlantic world in the 17th and 18th centuries—Common is often a noun referring to a green space owned by none and used by all. The extant commons of many New England towns in particular (and some in the UK) are the remnants of what were once lands used actively for shared pasturing of animals, assembly for oration or military drill, and marketing.*
Of late, it's precisely on just such a green common that we have begun to learn something fresh about the meaning and power of Common Prayer.
We've been worshipers, volunteers, and participants for some time at an innovative ministry centred on an outdoor altar around which all sorts and conditions gather. Named Chapel on the Green, this weekly assembly is open to anyone; although it was founded by and continues to be led and hosted by Anglicans, rostered Anglicans are as far as we can tell fairly thin on the ground.** Some of the worshipers are doctoral candidates, and many others are homeless; some are proud veterans of foreign wars, and some others would be fierce conscientious objectors; some have the best healthcare their community can offer, and others are dependent upon the regular visits of medical students and volunteer doctors to the Green. All of these differences disappear on the pages of the Gospel during the 90 minutes we share each Sunday afternoon.
Without regard for 'snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom'—we worship out of doors even when it's -10º C—we gather in a traditional eucharistic celebration using our Church's lectionary. There is a sermon, and a time for mutual intercession. The Sursum Corda and Sanctus follow, and then communion.
Then something different happens: some of those present erect portable tables, and the assembly queues up for a common meal—hot and nourishing in the winter, cool and refreshing in the warmer seasons. Having shared the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, the Body of Christ as the Church now makes small steps in the work of restoring our common life to the image of wholeness in which we were created. With our souls fed well from the usual liturgy, we feed bodies and souls equally well in an ongoing liturgy that does not separate stomachs from hearts. The tired and false distinction between action and worship is rejected, exploded, turned on its head, and redeemed in complete integration.
We thought we knew about Common Prayer before we started worshiping on the village common, and we were not entirely wrong. Our personal liturgical preferences remain on the stuffiest spots of the Anglican spectrum, and with God's help we shall never abandon the bright, calm joys of Evensong with the Coverdale Psalter and anthems by Stanford or Vaughan Williams or Elgar. But we have come of late to give deep and real thanks for the organic unity of form, substance, mission, and service in the common prayer we know on the common green. It is transformative, it is effective, it is life-giving, it is highly traditional, and it is the best we have to offer.
Come and join us if you can. Everything—and nothing at all—we do is common, and we'll keep a welcome.
See you next week.
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