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Common
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New Services for the
Church of England

On this page we look at Common Worship which was introduced in 2000. This follows the New (three year) Lectionary introduced in 1997.

The Alternative Services Book (ASB) ceased to be authorised for Services from December 2000 and services must be derived from the Book of Common Prayer or CW2000. All Anglican churches must comply.

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England is a new collection of worship resources which were published in the autumn 1999. At that time the Methodist Church produced a new worship book, while other churches such as the Roman Catholic Church have also been revising their services.

For the Church of England, the new material replaced the (ASB) from 1 January 2001. The ASB, already extended beyond its intended life, had come to the end of its period of use: it was always designed to be temporary and after twenty years, its weaknesses as well as its strengths had become apparent. The Church decided that there was a need to revise the ASB so that it could continue to draw on both modern and traditional services. The result is Common Worship - services which bring together the best of both ancient and modern, classic and contemporary.

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP, sometimes known as '1661', the traditional service book originally compiled in the sixteenth century) is authorised permanently and is completely untouched by this revision process. However the main services from it, slightly adapted to reflect the way they are commonly used today, will now take their place alongside modern services as part of the Common Worship range.

Why do we need new services?

Our world is constantly changing and our understanding of God is always developing. God may not change, but in every generation we find new ways of expressing ourselves to one another and to God. When the Church of England's only forms of service were those in The Book of Common Prayer, worship was theoretically fixed for hundreds of years. Yet people found other ways of adding variety and expressing themselves; they added hymns and songs; they added extra ceremony and actions; and they added extra services and festivals such as Christmas Carol Services, Remembrance Sunday and Harvest Festival.

Over the past decades there has been a great deal of thinking and experimentation with new services across all churches. This has continued in recent years and has culminated in the latest round of new worship materials.

Classic and contemporary

One of the most striking aspects of Common Worship is that it contains both traditional and modern language forms of service side by side. It signals an end to the rigid separation of ancient and modern. When the ASB was introduced, containing almost entirely modern language material, the confidence that the Church had in it led some to feel that traditional services in The Book of Common Prayer were being undervalued and that we were in danger of losing a vital part of our heritage.

The Common Worship services, by contrast, show that both BCP and modern services have a valued place in the Church today and are part of the Church's future, not just its past. The Church has learned from twenty years' use of the ASB and selected the best parts of it to go into the new materials. Some services, such as the modern form of Holy Communion (called Order One and similar to Rite A), are not greatly changed from ASB. Other parts of ASB which have not stood the test of time, such as the Funeral services, have been revised more extensively. So:

  • The new services bring together the best of the traditional services, the best of ASB and some newly written material;

  • The main volume of Common Worship contains both modern services and services based on BCP, including forms of Holy Communion and Morning and Evening Prayer;

  • All key texts (such as the Creeds, the Lord's Prayer. Gloria in Excelsis, the Prayer of Humble Access, Canticles, the Litany and so on) are available in both modern and traditional language forms;

  • The inbuilt flexibility in Common Worship allows local churches to make appropriate choices and to mix modern and traditional texts within one service (so that, for example, texts such as the Lord's Prayer and the Creed can be said or sung in traditional forms, even when the rest of the service is in modern language).

Connections

Common Worship emphasizes the structure of each service, within which local churches will be able to choose the materials which are most suitable for their ministry and community. At the beginning of each service, an outline structure is printed, so that it is easy to see how the different parts fit together. Churches will be able to choose between a wider range of prayers such as intercessions, and from a wider choice of seasonal provisions. So:

  • By permitting local flexibility within a common framework, the new services make connections with both the local context and the wider church;

  • By including both the classic and the contemporary, the new services connect with the Church's heritage and with its future;

  • The provision for local decisions and choices reflects a confidence in local church leaders to know best which forms of worship are most appropriate for the context in which a given church is set.

The main service book

The main Common Worship service book contains:

  • Holy Communion Services (in four forms, following both BCP and ASB patterns in both modern and traditional language);

  • Morning and Evening Prayer for Sundays (in modern and BCP forms);

  • A form of Night Prayer (Compline) in both traditional and modern language;

  • Baptism;

  • Thanksgiving for the gift of a Child;

  • Calendar, Lectionary tables and Collects;

  • Some seasonal materials, prayers for various occasions, the litany and other resources;

  • The Psalms, in a new translation designed specifically for use in worship.

The book deliberately does not include printed-out Bible readings, which took up much of the ASB. Nor does it contain occasional services. The intention is to have a more manageable worship book which will be shorter than the ASB but still contain the essentials of Church of England prayer.

Other Key Services

The Marriage, Funeral and Wholeness and Healing services were also published in the autumn (2000), in a separate book of Pastoral Services. Within the next few years, further material will be published, such as services for Daily Prayer. Services for Christmas, Easter and other times of year, which are currently available in books such as Lent, Holy Week, Easter and The Promise of His Glory are being put into a single Times and Seasons volume.

As well as the main books, there will also be a number of services published as booklets and cards. These include Holy Communion, Baptism, Marriage and Funeral. There is also a large format President's edition, a desk edition, leather-bound presentation volumes and some services available in large print.

Quality and cost

The aim is to ensure that every aspect of the content, design and presentation of the new services is of the highest quality. This is in keeping with the belief that in worship we should offer God our very best. The Common Worship services in all formats are tools to facilitate excellent worship at the local level.

The Church also recognizes that many churches are under very tough financial constraints. The aim is to enable every church to have access to excellent resources. This has been done by keeping the cost of the books as low as possible consistent with the aim for a good-quality product that will stand the test of time. The most frequently used services have been produced in the form of affordable booklets. Furthermore, all the services are available in electronic form on disk and on the internet (the latter free) to make it easier for local churches to produce their own printed orders of service. Many will choose to keep costs down by producing booklets specially for their own congregation for at least some of the services, perhaps also buying a smaller number of copies of the books.

The publishing is being done by the Church's own publishing arm, Church House Publishing, so that the process can be monitored closely and costs kept within reach of parishes. The aim of the publishing process is not to generate large profits, but to cover costs. Any surpluses generated will be returned to the Church, rather than going to private publishing houses.

What matters most

What matters most is the next step - churches using the Common Worship in ways that fit the local situation, turning words into living worship. There will be decisions to be taken: each church will need to work out how it uses the new materials in its own way. It is hoped that people will take the opportunities offered by the new services to re-think, renew and refresh their worship. The aim is to glorify God and to connect our worship with the worship of every time and every place - and with the never-ending worship in heaven.

Based on an article by Rachel Boulding - Senior Liturgy Editor at Church House Publishing. The article draws on material prepared by the Revd Mark Earey, Praxis National Education Officer. Reproduced from Guidelines, BRF Sept-Dec 2000.

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July 2015

Wolborough & Ogwell Parishes, Newton Abbot