The Prayer Book and Wycliffe College

The Prayer Book and Wycliffe College

Bishop Stephen Andrews

(The Rt. Revd. Dr. Stephen Andrews took up the position of 10th Principal of Wycliffe College in Toronto in August of 2016. He is a long-standing proponent of the Book of Common Prayer, and during his time as Bishop of Algoma [2009-2016] he held the office of Episcopal Visitor to the PBSC. In the following article, written for the Lent 2017 issue of the PBSC newsletter, he reflects on the past, present and future place of the Book of Common Prayer at Wycliffe College.)

Wycliffe College’s association with our Prayer Book is a long and personal one. A founder of the College, The Reverend F.A. O’Meara, translated the Book of Common Prayer into the Ojibway language in the middle of the 19th century. The General Synod committee that was entrusted with the task of revising the 1918 book in the 1940s and 50s had as their Secretary the Reverend Dr Ramsay Armitage, Principal of Wycliffe College. An interest in liturgy seems to have been a genetic trait, since his father, William, also a Wycliffe graduate, had been involved in the adaptation of the 1662 BCP to the “changing conditions of our life in Canada” at the turn of the 20th century, which resulted in the 1918 text. He too was the Committee’s Secretary. While I have no claim to any liturgical expertise myself, I have had a hand in contemporary synod debates around liturgy since I started attending synods in 1998. Only, if anything, it has been to try to convince the Church to leave the Prayer Book alone!

Whatever else might be said of the work of the Revision Committee, the 1959 Book of Common Prayer was a kind of ecumenical achievement in accommodating both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical sensibilities, as recently noted by my colleague, Professor Jesse Billett, on the Anglican Church web site. Apparently, Dr Ramsay Armitage made a point of sitting next to the Reverend Roland Palmer for the sixteen years that the Committee met. Father Palmer was the Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Bracebridge, and a well-known apologist for all things Catholic. What is more, when the motion to adopt the revision came to the floor of the Synod, meeting in St Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, it was moved by a Trinity man (The Reverend H.V.R. Short) and seconded by a Wycliffe man (The Reverend Carl Swan).

These stories are not far from my mind as I attend the Daily Office at the Wycliffe College Chapel. I am conscious of the fact that, in many ways, Wycliffe has become much more liturgically comprehensive than it was at its inception. In the early 20th century, of course, one would have found the Holy Table against the East wall, set up for a celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the North side, and not a candle to be seen. Soon after the publication of the 1918 Prayer Book, however, it was being reported that some Wycliffe-trained clergy had taken to celebrating while facing Eastward. I don’t know when stoles began to be worn in the Chapel, but I remember that it was in the late 1990s that the space was refurbished. The chancel rail and pulpit were removed, the floor tiled, and the pews replaced with custom chairs. And now we do have candles … but no chasubles.

One of the reasons this interests me is because I am still trying to work out what the primary function of the College Chapel is. Seminaries are strange places. On the one hand, they are all about personal formation. And in this respect, there is much to be said for an unvarying repetition of a set words, especially if these words have been shaping Christian souls for the past 350 years. On the other hand, seminaries form people for the Church. And worship in the Anglican Church of Canada is becoming increasingly pluriform.

But is there much public use of the Daily Office? I should be glad of some hard data here, but I imagine that the average parish being served by our graduates will have an early Sunday service that may, or may not, be BCP; a main Eucharist that will invariably be BAS; and a midweek Eucharist that may, or may not, be BCP. The lections will follow the pattern of the Revised Common Lectionary. In my experience, Sunday Morning Prayer is very rare, while Sunday Evensong may be an occasional service that is more of a novelty. And I wager that the Daily Office during the week is more often observed in the study than the church. So, is the Daily Office in the Chapel meant primarily for teaching or for worship? How we think about this affects the way we lead.

Finally, there is the expectation that theological colleges are places for people to explore and experiment. I think that, for the most part, this is not Wycliffe’s ethos, for we believe that a recovery of the Anglican tradition is what is needed in the Church. Nevertheless, our students will face situations where they will have to adapt the liturgy, and it is important that they understand how liturgy works before they begin to modify it.

I realise that many reading this letter will have a very different experience of regular and robust BCP worship, and I live in the hope that the conditions are improving in many places for a ”rediscovery” of the BCP. Nevertheless, our graduates need to be familiar with each of our Church’s authorised liturgies. Consequently, we rotate monthly between BCP and BAS. Moreover, to help round them out, we have our divinity students receive instruction on how to celebrate the Eucharist according to ritualist tradition from Wycliffe grads serving in Anglo-Catholic parishes. I somehow imagine that Principal Armitage might approve of this.

Another complicating factor is the growing number of non-Anglicans coming to Wycliffe. While they are clear about the fact that they are attending an institution embodying the Anglican tradition, and not a few of them find themselves becoming Anglican while here, the number of Anglican students at the College is actually fewer than 50%. We often ask ourselves what is the best way of accommodating non-Anglicans, and how can we prepare them for leading worship in their own traditions. We hope that those who attend the Daily Office, offered at 8:30 am and 5:30 pm, Monday through Friday during term, will not find the liturgy an impediment, but rather see it as useful in ordering their own devotional lives.

Having said this, of the number of non-Anglican evangelicals who discover the riches of Anglicanism while here, many of them are, in fact, attracted by the Book of Common Prayer, and I regularly hear young people say that they prefer it to modern language rites. But there is more that attracts them. It is the way in which the BCP has shaped the College itself. In addition to the pattern of daily worship, the Six Principles that guide the College are a distillation of seven founding principles drawn from the language of the Prayer Book and the Articles of Religion. And the Introduction to Anglican Theology course, required of all Anglican M.Div. students, but open to others, is a kind of extended exposition of the BCP. Here, Professor Ephraim Radner uses the BCP as a lens through which to approach the sweep of Anglican theological thinking.

To be sure, there is a lot more that we can do to ensure that our students not only feel comfortable with the Prayer Book, but find in it a connection to a tradition that is nourishing and transformative. Having spent a year in the worship rhythm of the College, I will be looking for more opportunities in the year to come to feature the BCP. I would be grateful for your prayers to this end.

Wishing you a holy Lent,

+Stephen Andrews, Principal, Wycliffe College

(From the PBSC Newsletter, Lent 2017)

The Prayer Book and Wycliffe College