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Liturgical reform, ecumenical visits and more

29 November 2015

One of the unintended consequences of liturgical reform in the Anglican Church is that most of the traditional Anglian prayer books are out of print. This may not bother most Anglicans, since they use the revised service books, and the Anglican Church holds the copyright on the old and new versions, and see no particular reason to reprint books that nobody is using. What many may not be aware of is that the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer is in fact widely used by many different denominations that have inherited something of the Anglican tradition, but they can no longer buy copies.

This struck me forcibly today when we visited the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville, where the service was led by Deacon Enock Thobela. He showed me an exceedingly battered and worn copy of the Book of Common Prayer in Southern Sotho, and asked where he could get copies for the congregation, who had to sing the canticles from memory.

The service was traditional Anglican Mattins, and on the way home we found ourselves humming the tune of the Te Deum, and then wondering if we would see missiles flying around the sky, as it reminded us of the Tom Lehrer song

We will all char together when we char
And let there be no moaning of the bar
Just sing out a Te Deum when you see that ICBM
And the party will be “come as you are”.

But, on a more serious note (though what could be more serious than global thermonuclear war, which seems more likely now than at any time since the 1960s, when Tom Lehrer composed the song), I wonder if the people responsible for the publication (or non-publication) of such prayer books realise that they are probably used by far more people than they know. There is an Anglican “family” of African Independent Churches, where such books are still in demand.

One thing that strikes me is that in this part of the world the services are almost always in Southern Sotho, though most of the people in the congregation speak Northern Sotho, Tswana and other languages. Perhaps this is one of the parts of Orthodox tradition that has reached the (non-canonical) African Orthodox Church. South Sotho probably bears as much relation to North Sotho and Tswana as Church Slavonic does to modern Russian or Bulgarian, or Church Greek does to everyday spoken Greek.

I have a theory about why Southern Sotho is favoured as a liturgical language. The first Christian missionaries in this part of the world came from Lesotho, and spoke Southern Sotho, and they brought a hymn book with them, Lifela tsa Sione (Songs of Zion), which is, like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer widely used by many different denominations. So I think those early BaSotho missionaries left their mark — their language is regarded as a holy language, and most suitable for church services. Try to change it and you will probably get the same arguments as you would to proposals to replace Church Slavonic with modern Russian or Serbian, or Church Greek with Demotic Greek.

So if anyone reading this has a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in Southern Sotho that you don’t need, please send it to us, and we will pass it on to the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville, where it would really be apprecviated.

One reason for our visit was to ask if we could use the African Orthodox Church for our services. Their service starts at 10:30, so if we started at 9:00 we could be finished without interfering with their service, and we could make a contribution to their expenses — electricity bills and the like. Their church council will discuss it and let us know.

At the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville. Val Hayes, Artemius Mangena, Demetrius Mahwayi and friend, Deacon Enock Thobela of the AOC

At the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville. Val Hayes, Artemius Mangena, Demetrius Mahwayi and friend, Deacon Enock Thobela of the AOC

We have visited before, and have always found the people of the African Orthodox Church very friendly and welcoming. You can read about an earlier visit here, where there are more pictures of the church.

On the way home we saw lots of trees with yellow flowers in bloom. I always thought the jacarandas were the last fling of spring, but these ones are later still. They seem more noticable this year than in previous years, somehow.

Spring's last fling

Spring’s last fling

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 November 2015 10:41 pm

    I’ll ask around my book trade contacts… you never know…

    • 30 November 2015 6:37 am

      Thanks Phil. But you are probably not so likely to find them in the UK, and also they would probably be prohibitively expensive to send

  2. 30 November 2015 3:24 pm

    look like wattles..

    • 1 December 2015 1:15 pm

      Definitely not wattles! These are indigenous, and the flowers are much bigger. Wattles bloom at the beginning of spring, and these are right at the end.

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