千里之行始于足下 (‘a thousand-mile journey begins beneath one’s feet’), in the words of Laozi. Or as the Proverbs say, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. The way we live is trained by patterns earlier established. Thinking about integrating Morning and Evening Prayer into a parish’s life, I wondered how any normal parishioners living in the modern world would make it to Morning Prayer especially. All Anglican clerics are obliged to say the Daily Office anyway, so questions concern mainly the how, not so much the whether.
How, indeed, could you establish a pattern for people to go to church early in the morning every day? Many people, after all, don’t consider themselves morning people, though like my dad they may shlep themselves whithersoever they need to go. Parents, moreover, have family duties of every kind, so often a disposition toward public prayer will come to nothing in a secularized society where no one’s expected to attend any services at all.
Becoming part of family life
If family be a hindrance, then maybe family is the key as well. Working parents with schoolchildren know the experience of droping off the kids at school before work and picking them up at the end of the day. If drop-offs happened in the same place as Morning Prayer before work, things could be a lot easier. If parents could go to worship with their children in the morning and not have to take them some place else before work, they could have more time to grow together with their families and have a time to be still before God and peacefully to entrust themselves and their children to his mercy.
These are advantages of parochial schools. It surprises no one for a Christian school to have morning chapel, and if that was how the public day began for parents as well as students, I should hardly think anyone would be worse off. There’s something eminently worthwhile in giving parents and children the daily opportunity to confess their sins together, to hear God’s pardon together, to render thanks to him together, to set forth his praise together, to hear his holy Word together, and to petition him together. The schoolchildren, of course, would also learn the ways of the Bible and the prayerbook. There’s a liminal quality to such a daily ritual, similar to the way in which pubs and cafés bridge public work life and home life: sent forth to the work of the day, the parents, teachers and students all apply themselves to their godly vocations.
Building up the people
A simple, sober service edifies the people. The weekday services need not be weighed down with morning sermons, but the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. This low-pressure service has evangelistic potential, too, especially for unbelieving parents of some of the schoolchildren, who though not actively joining in have space to sit and think; the schoolchildren themselves, of course, can be quite welcoming even to their peers whose parents have already dropped them off.
Eventually, the community notices this morning service, and a few who are curious may even sit in the back and hear the holy Scriptures for the first time. Some may flip through the prayerbook and even return for Evensong. As these services become known, things change, because God’s word suffuses community life. I recognize that this isn’t within the current means of many parishes, but I do think it can happen. Is this a good idea? How could it be improved?