“Must We Mean What We Pray?”
Lay Chaplain to the Bishop of Ely and Visiting Scholar, Sarum College (UK)
The words of a minister in a newly formed church community under the umbrella of the Church of England (Anglican) give rise to this paper. The minister explains why the Church’s authorised liturgy is unusable for the people gathered under his leadership: it fails in a number of respects to express their experience of God and the context of their lives. I ask whether that sort of expression is the purpose of prayer, and this leads me to wonder what it means to ‘mean’ what we pray. This explains the title of the paper, which borrows from an essay by Stanley Cavell entitled, ‘Must we mean what we say?’ Exploring the question involves considering ways other than accurate words which enable the commitments we make in public prayer, and which form liturgical identity. By taking this route, the paper suggests that scruples about authenticity and sincerity of intention (scruples whose origins go back a very long way in the history of Christian worship) can be taken up in a richer picture of meaningful participation, less protective of individuality, and sometimes unexpectedly creative in what it achieves.