“Announcements! Announcements! Announcements!” You may have a certain little ditty that plays in your head when you see a three-fold repetition of the word “announcements.” If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you’re to be envied. In any event, I trust you do not hear this little ditty at your local Anglican church. Yet even when avoiding such excesses of frivolity, what we call “parish notices” can still feel somehow disruptive in worship. Aren’t upcoming events a bit mundane and distracting for divine liturgy? After all, we take worship quite seriously as Anglicans, and our liturgies are nothing if not majestically reverent.
This challenge is not unique to Anglicanism. In the Presbyterian and Continental Reformed churches in which I participated for much of my life, the placement of announcements was often discussed. Notices had long been given before service (often with Sunday school just prior), and everyone agreed that saying them in the middle of the service, as many broadly evangelical churches did, was inappropriate. The position that became the reformed norm was immediately after the service. That was the practice in most of the Anglican churches I visited when beginning my journey into our tradition.
It surprised me then to discover that the classic prayer books (1662, 1928) prescribe announcements in the middle of the Ante-Communion, or service of the word before the Communion. My purpose is not to argue that all must return to giving parish notices at this point, but rather to explain why I have come to find the practice helpful, though at first considering it rather strange.
The classic English Prayer Book (1662) apparently reflects a concern about decorum in what might be said in parish notices, restricting them as follows (emphasis added):
Then the Curate shall declare unto the People what holy Days, or fasting days are in the week following to be observed. And then also (if occasion be) shall notice be given of the Communion: and the Bans of Matrimony published, and Briefs, Citations and excommunications read. And nothing shall be proclaimed or published in the Church during the time of divine Service, but by the Minister: nor by him anything but what is prescribed in the Rules of this Book, or enjoined by the King, or by the Ordinary of the place.
The traditional American Prayer Book (1928) is more lenient, with mention, after spelling out the standard matters, “of other matters to be published.” The American rubric certainly does not intend to open the floodgates of frivolity though. No “announcement” ditties such as some of us were treated to in school were involved. Instead, it better reflects our societal context, and will more likely reflect our actual practice.
But why follow either of the traditional rubrics strictly? After all, there is nothing unfaithful about parishes giving notices after the service. Nor should we base a mid-service placement on an arbitrarily strict adherence to the rubrics of our ACNA and GAFCON formulary (the 1662 Book of Common Prayer). Instead, there are two positive advantages to recovering this practice. The first applies primarily to parishes, like mine, that use traditional language (‘thee’s and ‘thou’s). The second applies to any Anglican parish, whether using traditional or contemporary language.
First, in a parish that uses traditional language, there is a somewhat heightened danger of the liturgy becoming something we merely recite, rather than something expressing our minds. I admit that as someone happily employing a traditional-language liturgy. It is not a necessary error, but one that we can fall into with any fixed liturgy, and, for that matter, even with more spontaneous expressions of Christian worship. Our hearts are tempted to trust in our performance of rituals, whether of a low or high church variety, and if we have been failing to make a traditional liturgy, for example, the language of our hearts, it becomes important to have moments in the service that remind us that we are not just reciting a form, we are real people at worship. The Sermon should certainly do this, and so should the parish notices.
To explain how they do so, I go on to my second and more general reason that mid-service notices are not only an acceptable, but a beneficial practice for modern Anglicans. When we mention births, baptisms, parish dinners, picnics, midweek meet ups, marriages, funerals, graduations, and whatever else is of interest to the whole parish that can be announce with dignity, we remind ourselves that we are not only sharing in common prayer, but in a common humanity. As the introduction to Morning and Evening Prayer puts it, “we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands … and to ask those which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul,” as well as, “to set forth his most-worthy praise, and to hear his most holy Word.”
As foreign as Christian liturgy inevitably feels to people living in a secularized society, one of its purposes is to bring our secular lives back into contact with their divine origin and destination. As the eucharistic prayer in the holy Communion puts it: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee.” Parish notices, coming just after the grace of God is set forth in the New Testament readings and summarized in the Creed, and just before our lives are directed and shaped by the Sermon, and our offerings and concerns are presented in prayer, remind us of the varied things of life, all of which we offer up to God in gratitude for the “full perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction” that Jesus made once on the Cross. And that one offering “for the sins of the whole world” is, above all, what we announce.
- The Book of Common Prayer from the Original Manuscript: Attached to the Act of Uniformity of 1662 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1892), 239. ↑
- The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church (New York: The Seabury Press, 1976), 71. ↑