When I first began writing this column, we were in the midst of quarantine. The “14 days to flatten the curve” gradually crept into month one or two and I began wondering how to sanctify the time during days spent between Zoom calls and homeschooling. However, each week and frankly each month, I managed to excel in wasting time instead of sanctifying it.
Sanctifying time is hard. It takes a purposeful and calculated effort to discipline the body when it comes to physical exercise and exercising the body spiritually is no different. After all, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit – yet for most of us, it reflects the ruins of a pagan shrine (both physically and spiritually).
How do you build the body of Christ while exiled in the Age of Social Distancing? Lifting the Book of Common Prayer of course.
Forgive the dad joke, but in all seriousness, observing the disciplined life of a common rule will shape you both physically and spiritually. Observing the Friday fast along with maintaining the daily office will form you. Additionally, for parents, it is crucial to make time to sanctify the minutes and hours we pass through as our children are watching us and learning. Unfortunately, the only church many are experiencing hinges solely on whether their family is faithful in creating space and time for worship since so many parishes remain closed or limited in their ministry.
Raising the family when the church is closed due to COVID-19 should spur parents to spend more time in worship and prayer together. It’s your duty parents. Now more than ever.
Regardless if you have children, married couples and singles alike long for the day they can hear preaching in-person and not live-streamed or recorded. Fortunately, many are taking up the daily office and are being formed by the prayer book and the lectionary. How can we use this time as an opportunity for formation and strengthening in the faith? How can we catechize and supplement live-stream services to strengthen discipleship for homebound Anglicans?
During my time in exile – er, quarantine – I began reading books long gathering dust on my shelf. I noticed my edition of the Lutheran Book of Concord and John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion both contained one-year reading plans. It reminds me how our Reformed brethren use the Heidelberg Catechism over the course of the year as it is broken up into 52 portions – one for each Sunday of the week. Each reading plan is an easy way to catechize congregations and families.
Why don’t we do the same as Anglicans? The Anglican Church in North America has attracted many new Anglicans who are learning the riches and depths of the Christian faith and the Anglican way. Surely someone could use a guided plan working through the formularies and other Anglican works? Such a plan sanctifies the time, disciples oneself on the ancient well of our faith, and assists in learning doctrine – just as the daily office aids in memorizing the Holy Scriptures.
Inspired by the publishers of my editions of Concordia and the Institutes, I set out to draft a suggested reading plan of the Anglican formularies geared towards new ACNA members, catechumens, and for life-long Anglicans to be formed by our formularies. Please accept the following proposal as a suggestion for use during the offices of Midday Prayer or Compline since the daily offices for Morning and Evening Prayer are rightly focused on reading the Scriptures.
I would suggest instilling the discipline of the classic Anglican offices -Morning and Evening Prayer – should take precedence prior to engaging in this additional discipline. After all, reading Holy Scriptures via the daily office is fundamental. My goal in organizing this reading plan is to: (1) walk the catechumen or new Anglican in the fundamentals of our faith (the catechism – anchored on the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments), (2) move through the catholic expressions of Christianity (the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds), and (3) familiarize oneself with the Anglican way (Articles of Religion, Prayer Book, and Homilies). It culminates with Bishop John Jewel’s classic, The Apology of the Church of England, a staple for understanding why we retained our catholicity because we are reformed.
There are several other readings I could have added in addition to Bishop Jewel’s classic, but I decided to keep the list limited to the formularies of North American Anglicanism and merely end with Bishop Jewel’s Apology as it was held is incredible high regard upon publication. Sticking with a limited number of readings that are accepted as fundamentals of the Christian faith and the formularies for the ACNA ensures the reading list is manageable and can be completed once every six months. Certainly, there are many other works one could add to a must-read list for Anglicans but the purpose of this exercise is not to create an exhaustive list of works for Anglicans to read but the core readings universally agreed upon. After all, while Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a must-read for all Anglicans, it deserves a one-year reading plan unto itself!
Ironically, although the idea of an Anglican formulary reading plan was inspired due to my recent reading of Lutheran and Reformed works, in my research I discovered I am reinventing the wheel to a certain extent:
Thirdly, To these Articles (of Religion) also be adjoined the Apology [writ by Bishop Jewell] lately set forth, after it hath been once again revised, and so augmented or corrected, as occasion serveth.John Strype, 1562 Convocation, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion p. 317
There to be (viz. the Catechism, Articles, and Apology) joined in one Book, and by common Consent to be authorized, as containing true Doctrine, and enjoined to be taught the Youth in the Universities and Grammar Schools throughout the Realm.
The reading plan begins with the simple yet profound 1662 Catechism and builds from that spiritual milk to the more detailed ACNA Catechism, which is an introduction to Christianity. It continues to the meat that are the catholic creeds, the Anglican formularies, and ends with the Anglican doctrine from the approved Homilies and The Apology of the Church of England. This program requires reading through the majority of the 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer and gain a familiarity with its content and teaching. It requires a walkthrough of services that may be rarely used, depending upon the context of the parish (where baptisms may be rare – God forbid, or funerals the exception – Lord willing). Ultimately, the nature of this reading plan is to help novice and lifelong Christian memorize their faith by completing the plan twice a year.
It is no secret that I prefer the classic prayer book and may come as a surprise to some that this suggested reading plan is based on the ACNA Book of Common Prayer and catechism. However, the reality is many new Anglicans are joining parishes using this prayer book and I would hope this guided reading plan assists catechumens, our youth, and new Anglicans into familiarizing themselves with the discipline of the prayer book life and to peek beyond our recent history to the rich theology and tradition of Anglicanism. Forming classical Anglicans requires reading classical Anglican sources. Ad fontes, my friends.
Note that the benefit of the materials I chose for this reading plan is that they are all available online so if one does not own a particular book they are not unable to participate. I hyperlinked the publicly available sources in the reading plan for ease of use and in case the user does not own one of the assigned books.
Should this proposal reading plan be welcomed by the Province, it would be wonderful to see the suggested readings published as a single volume, as Archbishop Parker ordered in his 1562 version. (Crossway, Anglican House Publishers, I would gladly serve as editor – hint, hint…). I pray this plan is fruitful in sanctifying the time for each of us and strengthening our spiritual exercises while in exile.
Editor’s Note: a version of the reading plan will soon be available utilizing traditional BCPs.