One of the obvious features of the growth of the church in the non-western world is its charismatic and pentecostal nature. I’m using these words kind of loosely here but basically I mean them to say that worship services in the developing world are not generally staid and traditional affairs. Often, it is the charismatic churches that are growing the fastest.
This creates a problem for Anglicans, who have historically been defined by a set liturgical structure. In Nigeria, the Anglican church – seeing the independent pentecostal churches as a threat to its growth – has responded with becoming more flexible and adopting and adapting more charismatic styles of worship. One priest here told me, “If those other churches are singing and dancing, then let us do that too. Let the pastor jump around. Let us change the liturgy.” In fact, this same priest told me, “I’m not boasting but I’m better than any charismatic pastor. Now, they all want to be like me.” These changes create the same tensions in Nigeria that worship changes do all over the world – basically, the young people love the new style and the old people don’t. That leaves it to the bishop to sort things out. This priest was ordained in 1994 and he told me that when he was newly ordained, he used to “pray for bishops who support charismatic worship, but none did. Now, almost all do.”
I saw the effects this morning in church where the service alternated between old standards from Hymns Ancient and Modern, a communion anthem from Handel’s Messiah (no, really – and the choir did a good job of it too), and praise choruses from the band. There was an immense amount of energy and exuberance in the service. (At least at first. By about hour four, people were fading.) It was a communion service and the words of institution were said. But a lot of other words, many of which are not – gasp! – in the prayer book, were said as well. There was more than a fair bit of ex temporizing going on. I’ve been to a few non-communion services here which bear little resemblance to anything in any prayer book I’ve ever seen.
All this amounts to a challenge to Anglican unity – and you don’t have to come all the way to Nigeria to see this. There are charismatic, non-liturgical churches in the Church of England as well. One of the hallmarks of Anglican identity is said to be the common structure of prayer based, to some degree, on Cranmer’s Prayer Book. But the influence of pentecostalism in Nigeria and elsewhere challenges that. I asked one priest if he had a set liturgy for his services. He paused. “Not really,” he said. But, he hastily added, “it is within the ambit of Anglicanism.” (He really said “ambit.”)
Who gets to decide what counts as “the ambit of Anglicanism”?
(The influence goes both ways, incidentally. Unaffiliated pentecostal church leaders admire the vestments and do-dads that Anglican priests get. So you start seeing charismatic leaders in purple shirts or cassocks. As a result, vestment-making in Owerri is big business. Perhaps as Anglicans become more charismatic, charismatics are becoming more Anglican.)