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Introducing the Daily Office into a parish's DNA

This is an exchange rising out of the postings on "Worship that swept us off our feet."
This is excellent and helpful. I am in a congregation where we are beginning to build and establish some of these assumptions. A Prayer Book spirituality is important to me. If there is not a practice of saying the Daily Office how do you introduce it into the DNA?

Grace and Peace,

Vicar, Christ Church Tulsa

Two responses - introducing the Office is pretty simple: offer some training and resources. Getting it into the DNA is trickier, and much more complex, but I think is a critical part of the strategy for developing a healthy and grounded parish. We need to work in our parishes on both things: immediate training and formation, and long-term development and alignment but I think sometimes we hesitate to take the first steps around building basic knowledge and competence, perhaps because it doesn't seem significant enough.

Teach parishioners about the role of the Office in prayer life and in Anglican Spirituality more generally, and then give them resources. In addition to the Prayer Book and Daily Office Books, there are apps for your phone as well as websites that contain the entire service for Morning and Evening Prayer each day. (I've provided a lot of resources at the end of this.) Show people how to use the Prayer Book, put it in their hands and help them find the information they need. Give them some basic information on how to adapt the Office: the primary elements are an assigned psalm, an assigned reading, and the prayers, especially the Lord's Prayer. Then have
them try it and see how it goes. Help them make adaptations that will allow them to incorporate the Office into their lives. Help them see how saying the Office on their own is still a corporate act, a way of offering our prayers in communion with millions of others, living and dead.

Saying the Office publicly at the parish is also great but is more difficult logistically to get off the ground. That said, it is generally much more possible than clergy sometimes imagine. Recruiting lay people to officiate, using a customary, and then training the officiants, works quite well and helps reinforce the idea that the Office is fundamental to Anglican spiritual life, not some quaint custom reserved for the priest. Offering it daily is also important. To offer daily prayer only on Thursdays, for instance, undercuts the role of the Office and sends a confused message. Helping parishioners say it daily on their own is therefore particularly important when the parish is not in a position to offer daily public services.

In terms of the training itself, it's important to offer choices. Invite everyone to participate, but don't compel anyone to do so (including your vestry). If you find that there aren't many interested, you can just start with those few who are, or you may decide you need to do a bit more priming of the pump and then try again.

I have seen some priests get agitated about the numbers and assume that unless there's a big group, it's not worth doing. The opposite can actually be true. Providing some resources for those few who are moving
toward an a stable Sacramental or Apostolic spirituality focuses energy where it can have the most impact. It's a way of nurturing the climate and tone you hope to have.

In terms of the more general DNA, that's connected to the parish's overall structure and processes, its worship and prayer life, its openness to where God is calling us, and the alignment of the parish's day-to-day life with
the elements of healthy shape: a culture rooted in the Apostolic core, that accepts people where they are and invites them to move deeper, and that sees its primary purpose as nurturing the renewal of baptismal identity in its members.

If it's in the DNA, it's owned by and natural to a critical mass of parishioners, lay leaders, and clergy. No parish will ever get to a point where everyone is there (that would be cult-like), but there needs to be enough weight, enough competence and commitment, to sustain what is important. That takes time, regular and repeated formation offerings, and frequent assessment of whether the parish's structures and processes
support the overall development of that DNA. It requires persistence in the face of (clergy) boredom and excessive concern with numbers and speed.

Clergy need to start with themselves-- are they demonstrating an acceptance and understanding of both Anglican spirituality and Episcopal culture? Do they live out the Church's traditions and practices? Do they
develop their own capacity for prayer life, emotional and social intelligence, and parish leadership?

Offer regular foundations courses in Anglican Spirituality. These should offer both opportunities to learn more about the underlying logic, as well as how to do the things taught. Provide opportunities to further
develop what comes easily as well as to develop capacity for the elements of spiritual life that aren't as attractive, a mixture of nurturing and stretching. Help people understand spiritual life as a system and teach
them to participate in the basic practices. Eucharistic and Office are fundamental.

Improve public worship. What is needed for your worship to be graceful and consistently excellent? Train servers by giving them specific feedback and incorporating practice and walk-throughs. Work on being welcoming while also inviting newcomers to experience Episcopal worship at its best. Identify your gifts as a parish and then come up with three things you can do to develop and strengthen those gifts. Identify a couple of things you're doing that undercut the gifts and try to stop those things or lessen their impact. Develop a discipline around evaluating strengths and weaknesses in light of (1) what you actually are, not what you wish you were in a fantasy life; and (2) with knowledge of and respect for what excellence means within the Episcopal tradition.

A parish's strengths and weaknesses are often connected. For example, a parish has a wonderful choir. The music is a significant draw. Yet over time, the choir has taken on a "performance" aspect, the choir director
"conducts," makes hand gestures at the congregation to tell them when to sing, and important liturgical elements are delayed or rushed to meet the needs of the choir. Many of the hymns are too unfamiliar or too difficult for the average member to sign. These performance aspects are an outgrowth of the centrality of the skilled musicians and are probably based in an inadequate understanding of liturgy and the role of music. The solution is neither to get rid of the choir nor to ignore the growing problems. Rather, the parish needs an ongoing approach that builds a general understanding of the role of liturgy in formation, clarifies that music is
an integrated element of the liturgy, not a separate component, and creates structures for routine feedback and improvement.

Elect future leaders with an eye toward the kind of parish you want to be. Over time, as you build an Apostolic core, it will be easier to find leaders who are also Apostolic. Develop criteria for leaders and work on building those criteria into the parish's consciousness. Focus on developing for the future, rather than trying to force existing leaders to fit the mold.

Work on aligning meetings and community events with processes that support the culture you want. Build in opportunities to both model and develop emotional intelligence competencies. Help parishioners learn to have conversations and practice the skills of listening for understanding. Learn to identify, as a community, ways to gather the data needed for specific decisions, how to evaluate the data in light of the parish's needs and mission, and how to disagree with people we care about.

iPhone apps



Daily Office and Eucharist Lectionary

The Daily Office: The perfect Lenten observance

The Daily Office Book



Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church

In Constant Prayer
Read an excerpt from In Constant

Many resources on this web page at St. George's, Ardmore

This site offers a detailed tutorial on saying the full Office. It's important though to remember that what's important isn't saying the Office in its "fullness" or perfectly. It is simply saying it in some form. The three
core elements of the Office are: 1) a psalm (as appointed for the day, 2) a reading (as appointed for the day_ and 3) the prayers provided by the church, especially the Lord's Prayer.

Michelle Heyne