New Book of Common Worship

 Provisional Rites of the Church of the Province of Uganda:

Book of Common Worship,

Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2013, ISBN: 978-9970-25-252-7, pp. 322.

This is a new comprehensive prayer book written by members of Uganda Christian University on the centenary of the Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology. It is commended by the Archbishop in the preface and sits alongside the use of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 which is widely used in Uganda in various vernaculars and in modern English.

The book is divided into five sections followed by the catechism and various historical documents. The first section is Daily Offices which includes a worship service, youth liturgy, lunch hour service, and collects. The worship service broadly follows the pattern of the prayer book but omits any canticles. The rubric after the psalms suggests further songs and the possibility of dance. The sermon comes immediately after the ministry of the word and after it includes the possibility of an altar call. Provision is made for an offertory before the Apostles Creed and the prayers. The youth service has similar components and can include a skit or dance. There is also a space made for testimonies. The lunch hour service is a shortened form with the ministry of the word and sermon. It begins with the comment ‘our ancestors in faith worship God in specific times: morning, noon time, and evening’. This is an adaptation of the prayer-book tradition that fits into the requirements of modern Uganda, not least including space for an evangelistic appeal, testimonies of faith, and expressions of faith in skits and dance.

The second section is called Passiontide Offices. 3 services are included, the blessing of oils, the renewal of ministerial commitment and a penitential office for Ash Wednesday. The blessing of oils includes oil of anointing, oil for catechumens, and oil of chrism. It was not clear from the baptismal rite where the oil of catechumens would actually be used. The renewal of ministerial commitment includes a renewal of commitment of the spouses of the different orders. The penitential office for Ash Wednesday includes the imposition of ashes, but with a prayer over the ashes rather than a blessing of them. The penitential litany in this service includes penitence for selfishness and tribalism, mismanagement of environment, envy, for the abuse of widows and orphans, for the abomination of defilement and infidelity, and for the abomination of homosexuality and their promoters. The latter is qualified by a statement that this is a ‘negative erosion of our good African values’. While there are good things in it, including confession for wrongdoing within the family, it is strange that in a Ugandan context there would be many in any congregation who were promoters of homosexuality.

The third section is Sacramental Offices. There are three forms for Holy Communion. The first two follow the modern ecumenical shape. The third form begins with the peace and as such can be added to other services. One surprise in the service is the offering of the gifts to the Father ‘we offer you these gifts’ and an epiclesis clearly upon the elements. Given the evangelical background of the Church of Uganda one might have expected greater sensitivity in this language. The third form has a warrant (not the narrative institution) followed by the prayer of humble access and then a prayer of consecration with an anamnesis and epiclesis immediately after the narrative. Thus it has no introductory dialogue.

The introduction to holy baptism assumes that the candidate is a child. The godparents are exhorted to bring the child for confirmation at the age of 12. There is an exhortation that there be a sufficient amount of water used in the administration of baptism and suggestions that the mode of baptism could be immersion or sprinkling. The sign of the cross after baptism allows the optional use of chrism. The questions at the presentation are in fact addressed to the godparents and parents, as is the profession of faith. There is a prayer for blessing of the water and oil (presumably this last section is omitted if oil is not used). There is giving of a light after baptism and before the prayers. There is no service of confirmation in the book.

The fourth section is Pastoral Offices. Here there is considerable work that has been done on inculturation and this is very welcome indeed. The first service is reception and reaffirmation. The reaffirmation includes the possibility of the candidates being those who were baptised as children. A number of different marriage services are included, the first being a ‘marriage introduction service’ where the couple meet after the bride gifts have been negotiated. There is then a service of farewell for the bride or groom as they leave their home which may include rites of passage to manhood/ womanhood. The marriage service itself includes an exchange of symbols which may or may not be rings. There is also a service for the blessing of a customary marriage and for the reaffirmation of marriage. This is a rich provision for a variety of contexts.

The next service is perhaps a surprise, a service for the circumcision of men. While male circumcision is practised by a good number of tribes, it is not universal in Uganda. The active circumcision is after three days of various celebrations. The actual words said are ‘I circumcise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, these being said by the circumciser. The funeral liturgies include a service for one who has committed suicide, a common problem with young people. There is also a service for the installation and blessing of an heir. This may well be connected to the funeral service indicating the change in family hierarchy with the death of a person. There is also a service for the commissioning of parish councillors and churchwardens. This section ends with a reconciliation service which comes after a mediation process. In it public confession and a symbolised act of reconciliation are included with general confession and absolution. This section of the book shows a real concern for inculturation and produces a series of rites relevant for the contemporary church and inclusive of local rituals.

The final section is the Ordinal and Episcopal Offices. This includes the induction of various leaders, the commissioning of the diocesan synod and a coronation service for ‘cultural leaders’, kings or chiefs. The ordination services follow closely the 2011 ordinal of the Anglican Church in North America. The ordination prayers are thus in an imperative form rather than a petition. Anointing is included in the ordination to priest and bishop, and the use of stoles and chasubles is included as a part of the service.

These services are followed by the catechism which includes a section on other sacramental rites, and a collection of historical documents, with the articles of religion being those as revised by the general convention of PECUSA in 1801. The final historical document is the Jerusalem declaration of 2008.

It is much to be welcomed that the Church of Uganda revised its liturgy for the present context and this is a good step in that direction. Of particular interest are the pastoral offices and their inculturation to fit the needs of African Christians. It is slightly unusual that this book does not include a confirmation service, only a renewal of baptismal vows. I suspect this does not mean however that the church is adopting a radical position and abandoning confirmation. It can also be seen that the book is shaped in response to the present divisions within the Anglican Communion. The ordinal and the historic documents show a reorientation to be in association with the Anglican Church in North America. This political realignment has unfortunately not resulted in significant work of inculturation of the ordinal, where questions of dress might need some rethinking in light of African culture. Chasubles were, after all, in origin only a Roman garment that people wore to keep warm in winter.

Revd Phillip Tovey, at one time a teacher in Northern Uganda, is a liturgist working in the Diocese of Oxford.