Rites for a New Age: Understanding the Book of Alternative Services
A.J. Pell is editor of the Canadian Evangelical Review and an instructor
of Liturgy, Anglican Studies Program, Regent College, Vancouver.
In a world of constant, and often tumultuous, change, Anglicans in Canada are finding that itis no longer possible to seek refuge from change every Sunday morning in the centuries-old, familiar Book of Common Prayer. Now a new green book, the Book of Alternative Services (or B.A.S. as it is called) has appeared in church book racks. In a few parishes, ithas pushed the red Book of Common Prayer out of the pews and into basement storage rooms. This volume is written to help all Anglicans understand the new forms found in the B.A.S. The author, Michael Ingham, is an Anglican priest and rector of St. Francis-in-the-Wood parish in West Vancouver, B.C. Ingham begins his book with a chapter which sketches out the historical development of Anglican liturgy over the past four centuries. Then in each of the remaining seven chapters, he approaches the B.A.S. thematically, pointing out how that book provides a new, different view of and approach to the political orientation, understanding of community, male-female robes and relationships, spirituality, ministry, and sense of mission implicit in Anglican worship. At every point Ingham shows how the B.A.S. has been designed to re-shape the worship and minds of Anglicans to see the gospel of Jesus Christ in a new light in the closing years of the twentieth century. Specific examples are plentifully provided at each step to reinforce Ingham’s message.
This is a well-written book, delightfully easy to read. Thus itis easy to overlook the author’s too-simple generalizations about our culture and about traditional liturgical practices. For example, to help explain the predominant use of standing as the posture for prayer in the B.A.S. rites, he speaks of kneeling only as “self-abnegation” (page 127), just one (and not always the most obvious) of many possible meanings of and reasons for kneeling to pray or receive the bread and wine in the Eucharist. Such oversights, whether inadvertent or deliberate, combine to emphasize Ingham’s thinking that the Book of Common Prayer is wonderful but outdated, and the B.A.S., with a few minor flaws, is all that a modern, liberal Christian could wish. The issue is not so simple as Ingham would lead us to believe. Yet despite this serious fault, the discerning reader of Rites for a New Age can learn much about the purpose and scope of the Book of Alternative Services.