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Hallo again to all.

We think that several times a year you ought to attend a church that is not your own. Whatever churches of the Anglican Communion are called in your country, be it Episcopal or Anglican or Church of England, we think you ought to make a point of attending a different one from time to time.

If you always attend the same church with the same people and the same traditions and the same quirks, you run the risk of settling into a belief that all churches are like your own, or that the practices of your own church are normative, or that what is customary at your parish is required elsewhere. Or you might come to believe that a certain practice at your church is normative while most others would regard it as heretical or at least non-canonical.

In the middle ages, the church developed Ordinal and Customary documents. Roughly, the Ordinal specified what got said and by whom, while the Customary specified who did what, and where. The Ordinal might call for a certain prayer, while the Customary specified where that person was when he said it, how he got there, and what he did when he had finished. The oldest and most famous Ordinal is the Use of Sarum, but even that fabled document is these days mostly historical.

The Book of Common Prayer (and its successors such as the Church of England's Common Worship) have largely replaced Ordinal documents. You can find Anglican Ordinals in some libraries as historical documents, but we've never seen an Ordinal in use in an Anglican church in our lifetime. Customaries are another story. We know of some churches that publish Customaries, and we suspect that most parishes have unpublished informal Customary documents taped to the back of the vestry door, for reference by acolytes and altar guilds and choristers.

Our parish is currently without a rector. An excellent supply priest took this morning's service, but when she was two or three words into The Great Thanksgiving, a churchwarden stood up from his third-row seat, interrupted the liturgy, and explained that in our parish we customarily noted wedding anniversaries and birthdays after the Peace and before the Holy Communion. The priest was good-natured about it, asked to be provided with the appropriate local liturgy, read it, and carried on. She then restarted the Great Thanksgiving and the service continued to completion. There was some minor fuss at the altar rail about how to differentiate ordinary wafers from gluten-free wafers, but only those nearby at the rail even heard that fuss.

The service ended with a strange hymn, which caused nearly everyone to forget the interruption. But we went to talk to the churchwarden afterwards, to hear his thinking about why he had interrupted the priest and to discuss with him the notion of a published Customary for our parish that could have been provided to the supply priest, and whether having one would have made things smoother.

We suspect that if our churchwarden had made a habit of occasionally attending Sunday-morning services at other parishes, he might have had a different view of the importance of our liturgy being exactly customary, even in the absence of a formal Customary.

We've probably attended a hundred Anglican churches that are not our own, in a dozen countries. Most of them did not seem to have formal published Customaries, though surely there were mimeographed instructions available somehow. Never once did we see a processional with motorcycles or skateboards, but many times we've seen liturgies disrupted by people who feel passionately that it Ought Not Be Done That Way.

We think Jesus would have laughed. And, come to think of it, we've never seen a Customary that said anything one way or the other about skateboards. There is some institutional memory involved, too.

All of the Customaries that we know about that are published online are from North America, mostly big high-church parishes. If you know of an Anglican parish's Customary that's online somewhere, we'd love to hear about it. They make such interesting reading.

See you next week. Right here, as customary.


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All of us at Anglicans Online

2 August 2015

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