April 3, 2013

One of the joys of being in residence at VTS is the opportunity to explore nearby points of interest and learn some US history as we go. Palm Sunday weekend I traveled with my husband to Williamsburg and visited the Jamestown Settlement. There in the exhibition I was fascinated to see an edition of the Book of Common Prayer (1662), which had belonged to the Bruton Parish Church since 1752. The book was open at Evening Prayer which was full of hand written corrections, in order to pray for the President and not the King. The corrections even changed the names for God – “king of kings” was replaced with “ruler of the universe”. It seems one couldn’t call God king as to do so would invoke thoughts of kings left behind in England.  It was a rather radical thing to do – to allow the society of the day and the changes undergone to dictate how we might understand God.

This principle, though, is one which has guided the editors of Anglican Prayer Books around the world ever since.  It is always a surprise to Anglican New Zealanders how much people across the Communion enjoy our prayer book: A New Zealand Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Our Prayer Book is very much anchored in the land and peoples of Aotearoa, New Zealand and the Pacific. It speaks to us of our land, peoples and history. The names for God are something that was worked on for a long time by the editors. There are over one hundred names for God used in the Prayer Book, in order to use the breadth of Biblical sources available to us, and to create in the minds of worshippers a depth of understanding of God. Even though we are a monarchy, King of kings is not a name for God you will find often, although it is there on page 539 amongst the prayers for Ascension Day. You will also find God as Mother, Father, Creator, Giver of life, Caring God, God of mercy, and so on.

In A New Zealand Prayer Book you will also find a lot of Maori language (the language of the native people of New Zealand), sometimes in separate services, often given as an option for celebrants.  Using Maori language in worship has helped many NZ Anglicans unfamiliar with the language to gain confidence in making simple responses and chanting the Lord’s Prayer. Our culture has shaped our Prayer Book and our Prayer Book in turn shapes our culture.

In the early days of the Anglican Communion we were all united by the use of exactly the same Prayer Book. The incarnational nature of Anglicanism soon meant changes had to be made to meet the needs of each country and culture. Now we are united still by our common worship, the Eucharist, the creeds and the daily pattern of prayer we have all inherited. We belong to a family of 85 million people worshipping the King of kings/ Ruler of the universe in the Anglican Way.

Very Rev. Helen Jacobi, D.Min.

The Very Rev. Helen Jacobi is a visiting scholar at the Center for Anglican Communion Studies in Spring 2013.  She has just completed 9 years of service as Dean of the Waiapu Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Napier, New Zealand.