At College, I have the great privilege of sitting in chapel three times a week. For many it’s an acquired taste. And I certainly wasn’t a big fan in my first two years at College. Happily, something sort of ‘clicked’ around the start of third year — although chapel and I do still have our … moments (usually when health, workload or whatever is weighing me down).
One out of three chapel services is run using the Morning Prayer service from An Australian Prayer Book (actually, it’s really only one in six I think — we only do this for half the College year).
And to be honest I love it! Not just because I’m a ‘young fogey’ — although I do appreciate the rhythms and reflectiveness of the Prayer Book, and I’ve come to relish the way reciting the Creed brings with it a sense of solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters who struggled for the soul of the faith.
The main thing that appeals to me about the Prayer Book services is the directness and economy of the exhortations. As we move through from praise to confession to prayer to hearing the Word and back to prayer, the Prayer Book is constantly concerned not only to help us understand what we’re supposed to be doing at each point but to actually do it.
And one of the crucial ways it achieves this is by keeping things simple. It doesn’t waste words. It certainly doesn’t hit us with whole slabs of Scripture. It simply exhort us with one or two sentences judiciously drawn from Scripture.
I think we can learn a lot from this — whatever the dangers of proof-texting it may bring with it. Many of the more contemporary services I’ve participated in involve quite a lot of explanation about what we’re doing as we confess our sins, etc.
Our desire to explain everything so that people understand is commendable. Unfortunately, all this explanation sometimes eclipses the real thing. We spend so much time thinking about what confession is that we never get around to actually confessing our sins. And that’s a tragedy.