Traditional Anglicanism in a Post-Christian Missionary Context

Written February 2019, revised February 2021.


1) When conducting Holy Communion or Daily Office services, follow the classic Prayer Book tradition as much as possible (1662 IE, 1928, ASB, Anglican Missal, ACNA TLE).
2) Outside of Prayer Book services, ministry can be flexible and open to engaging with culture.

Personal Presuppositions

I am what is often called a Prayer Book Catholic. I am member of Forward in Faith. Having been formed in the Continuing Anglican & Reformed Episcopal traditions, I celebrate Holy Communion ad orientem using the 1928 BCP, 1662 BCP, or 2019 ACNA Traditional Language Edition. This forms the foundation of how I perceive worship and administration of Sacraments in the Anglican tradition.1 When engaging with a culture under rapid change (there is much written on this already), I envision contextualized—that is, missionary-minded—engagements subordinated to, and dependent upon, the traditional liturgical rhythm and practice of the church.

A Eucharistic foundation

The Eucharist transcends particular cultural tribes, ideals of children's programs, or generational and socioeconomic class differences. There are significant formational, theological, and historical risks to updating Holy Communion to attractional models of worship, which operate under a different formational model. The most obvious is risking cultural irrelevance in 10 years, as has happened in much of the Evangelical sphere, especially in the wake of the charismatic movement of the 1970s and 1980s.4

"Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere, always, and by all." (Vincentian Canon)

Lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of what is prayed [is] the law of what is believed)

It is essential to the health of the church that it have a stable foundation, like in Eastern Orthodoxy, where liturgy and worship that was familiar 50, 100, or 200 years ago, should be similarly familiar 50, 100, or 200 years from now.

For a flexible contextualization

However, once outside the Holy Communion and Offices, there is considerable room to establish programs and communities with forward-thinking mission, outreach, and missionary contextualization. Here lies the immense opportunity, ignored by many traditional Anglican churches, to be flexible in missionary expression of community, and encourage contextualized outreach according to the interests and talents of the core that God provides in a given church.

It could be more akin to a standard non-denominational format, playing contemporary songs with a non-lectionary teaching series, or it could be more of an experimental and postmodern engagement with the arts. There is great flexibility in this regard as long as any ‘alternative service’ remains consistent with the theological integrity of the Anglican tradition, a high view of Holy Scripture, and includes an evangelical imperative to make disciples of all nations.

A Case Study

If this picture is unclear, I will include a model case study. St. Timothy & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church in Virginia practices this symbiotic connection. This church offers an 11 AM Sunday service called "The Well."

The Well is a non-denominational, non-liturgical evangelical service format, with contemporary songs and teachings. Often these teachings will include a popular Christian book. It is open to all, and presented in an attractional manner, yet in no way contradictory to Orthodox Coptic theology. Books have included popular standards such as Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or a six-week topical series on Marriage.

The Church reserves Eucharist for the 9 AM Divine Liturgy, using their traditional liturgy and hymnody. The Eucharist is open only to those confirmed in the church. The church does not represent The Well as a church service, but rather as a branded ministry of the church that appears very similar to a non-denominational format. Inquirers interested in The Divine Liturgy or joining the church community in full are encouraged to begin catechesis.

Adapting to Anglicanism

Anglicanism, of course, is not as liturgically or Eucharistically constrained as Oriental/Eastern Orthodoxy, but this model of bringing ancient faith to a modern culture is compelling. This builds an Ancient-Future church rather than an Ancient-Future church service. What kind of outreach ministry this might be in a given setting (be it urban, suburban, or rural; demographically uniform or diverse) depends upon the people the Lord has brought to the community.

This separation of outreach & contextualized services from the Eucharist service encourages full participation of all people—not just clergy—in ministry. It upholds the priesthood of all believers, resists clericalism, and remains consistent with the sacramental priesthood. Further, this formulation can include women serving in ministry--including teaching--in a way that remains consistent with the canons of dioceses and traditions that do not ordain women.

Preventing division

This desired format necessitates celebrating only one Eucharistic service on a Sunday.3 This is to avoid the generational/tribal divide of multiple services and the inherent consumerism of selective, preferential attendance. It also necessitates a high sacramental theology, otherwise one is functionally operating two churches: it is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that compels someone to dive deeper into the life of the church, rather than the devotional life common to non-denominationalism, beneficial as it is. Many people approach the Eucharist with a consumerist mind, never preparing.2 Separating outreach and evangelism from the (Royal) family meal also resists latent consumerism of communion itself: it is more for the catechized and confirmed than the curious. Extending full participation in the liturgical life of the church to the unchurched--or denominational pilgrims--includes instruction in the the joy--not mere memorial or ritual!--that the Christian enters into every Sunday, and the grace received through such.

Church Planting

If one is fortunate enough to outgrow the space, then it is time to look towards moving to a larger location or empowering new leaders to plant another church in this model. This model does not work with the 20th century “two-flavors of Communion services”. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, canons only permit celebration of Eucharist once per day on a given altar. This is instructive for pre-modern formation: it brings the whole family of God in the parish to one Eucharistic meal.

February 2021 addendum, in light of a global pandemic and related controversy: Eucharistic services, including homilies, should have minimal online presence: no streaming. Streaming, online engagement, and archived teachings would best be reserved for the contextualized ministries. Video conferences such as Zoom--or better, Jitsi, which is open-source--remains a great place for ministry and community building.

  1. For a defense of traditional liturgy and classic Anglian practices operating as mission, please read Bishop Scarlett's paper on this

  2. The exhortation common in all orthodox Prayer Books (1662IE p255, 1928 p85, 2019 p147) is a tremendous asset, and hardly as jarring once in a traditional liturgical context. Since most Anglican parishes have an open-to-all-baptized approach, consciously including a caution towards proper preparation is helpful given the diversity of backgrounds. 

  3. If there is a strong desire for multiple traditional services, this is an opportunity to follow the historic Prayer Book practice of Morning Prayer, Litany, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer, rather than Said Low Mass, Sung Mass, High Mass. 

  4. Traditional services are not necessarily for those of riper years: "The Latin Mass has been especially popular with young Catholics, and it is too late to stop them from finding parishes that will allow it to continue." Bill Donohue, Catholic League (note added 7-15-21)