A New Zealand Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa


A Multitude of Voices

A Prayer Book for the Church of the Province of New Zealand, including as it does Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa, and the island nations of the South Pacific in the Diocese of Polynesia, must be a deliberate attempt to allow a multitude of voices to speak.

When the General Synod of 1964 established an initial Commission on Prayer Book Revision ‘...to plan and prepare a revised Book of Common Prayer, either in stages, or as a whole, in the light of the needs of the Province and of contemporary liturgical development,’ that may have seemed a relatively straightforward task of liturgical revision. Since then successive Commission members have realised that it was indeed a major undertaking.

In the last twenty-five years the fabric of New Zealand society has changed. We live in a different and, to many, a strange world. There has been an increasing awareness of the delicate ecological balance within our country, interdependent with others. New Zealand has adopted an anti-nuclear stance. The basis of our economy has radically changed. The re-emergence of a sense of identity within the Māori people has seen the Māori language approved as an official language of the nation.

These words are still true:

“We are living in a new world: it is ours, if we are true to the faith that is in us, to seek to make it a better world. ...New knowledge and new ways of life bring with them new customs and forms of speech unknown before.”
(Preface to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer)

Within the Church there have also been profound changes since 1964. Women have been ordained as priests within this Province since 1977, and this has ensured a continuing dialogue on the equal partnership of women and men within the Church. Thus there has been an increasing need to choose language which is inclusive in nature and which affirms the place of each gender under God.

Through the decisions of General Synod the Province is committed to affirming the partnership between Māori and Pākehā, and has maintained that the life and governance of the Church stand upon our Constitution, and the fundamental principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

There have been other shifts as well. There has been an increasing recognition of the ministry of all the baptised people of God ministering in God's name. We know that we can function as more effective disciples in the world when there is no sharp division between those with different functions within the Church.

Through all these insights we have come to new understandings of who God is, and how God acts, among us in our world.

Many of these movements in Church and society are reflected within the services contained in this Prayer Book. This is now the context in which we seek to worship God.

We are fortunate that liturgical change in this country does not begin with the publication of this volume. We have experience in renewing liturgy over many years.

The first experimental New Zealand Liturgy issued in 1966, broke new ground in being one of the first Anglican eucharistic liturgies to address God as ‘You’. This represented an attempt to close the gap between liturgical language and the words of everyday experience.

This was followed by the more definitive The New Zealand Liturgy 1970 which gained wide acceptance within the worshipping congregations of the Province. An edition of this in both Māori and English languages was produced in 1977. The New Zealand Liturgy remained in place until the adoption in 1984 of Liturgies of the Eucharist. This was produced as a result of widespread experimentation around the dioceses, and is the basis for the present work.

Other separate booklets of services were produced for the Church's use during the decade 1970-1980. Orders of Services, containing Morning and Evening Prayer, canticles and Psalms for Worship, Christian Initiation, and Marriage Services (containing three forms), Funeral Services, The New Zealand Calendar, and Services for use with the Sick and on other Pastoral Occasions, were all produced, some with a number of expanded editions.

This steady flow of liturgical material from the Commission means that the Anglican Church in New Zealand does not now have to undergo a radical change with the introduction of A New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. We are not in the situation where the normative worship of the Church has been that of the Book of Common Prayer, and where the shift to an alternative prayer book involves a massive dislocation for the parish worshipper. Those dissonances have already occurred during the last twenty years.

Many parishes are already familiar with the style and content developed within the Commission's previous work, and a variety of usage now prevails around the Province.

With the exception of the Commination the services in the 1662 Book, and all alternative services approved by the Church since then, remain fully authorised for public worship by those congregations who wish to use them.

The publication of this Prayer Book, now presented for use by the Church, is the result of over twenty years experimentation, usage, evaluation and criticism by many individuals and groups. Diocesan liturgical committees and parish groups have all contributed through their insights and drafts. The fruit of their labours has been gathered together and incorporated by the Commission.

Thus this Prayer Book is a gift from the Church to itself.

Since the establishment of the Commission over fifty individuals, women and men, ordained and lay, have served on it, contributing their energy and skills. We have been continually enriched by the attendance of observers from other Churches at our meetings.

We have also gained great benefit from the liturgical revisions of other parts of the Anglican communion, particularly those Provinces which have already published alternative service books.

In more recent years we have had to wrestle with the issues of justice and mutuality. Social assumptions are critical in writing liturgy, for we are apt to ascribe to God attitudes and prejudices which are ours alone. These become embedded within, and perpetuated by our liturgical usage. The dialogue about inclusive language has now moved beyond merely referring to humanity. Like the early Commission we are back to exploring ways in which it is possible to address God. This issue was there long before we faced it. We have gradually been compelled in our pilgrimage to start searching for ways to address God in language which is other than masculine and triumphal.

The purpose of liturgy is not to protect particular linguistic forms. It is to enable a community to pray. We know that some people will consider we have moved too far in the language we have chosen: others will insist that we have not gone far enough. What we present is one fragile moment in the relentless on-going process of liturgical change.

Liturgy describes the People of God. Liturgy expresses who we believe we are in the presence of God. Liturgy reveals the God whom we worship. Liturgy reflects our mission. Since the earlier experimental orders the imagery describing God has become more vivid, and more personal.

For members of the Commission, the experience of writing these services has been an intensely personal experience, representing immense spiritual growth. We discovered together that the material we were handling had the effect of enlarging our vision and experience. As a result, our work has steadily become less 'formal' and more devotional, both in breadth and in intensity. New voices are emerging.

Earlier work shows that the task before the Commission then seemed to be 'to provide revised services for the Church'. Later work reflects an attempt to provide deliberately for those private moments of prayer, for devotional experiences of a more intimate nature beyond what is common in New Zealand.

Whereas earlier services provided relatively fixed forms, the later liturgies offer more variety and options, encouraging flexibility in their use.

There is freedom within the heritage. Continuity is always in tension with liturgical change, but continuity there is. The intention is to extend, not break, the richness of our heritage.

New words and new voices encourage the exploration of new ways of acting liturgically.

It would be a tragic temptation to imagine that liturgy comprises words alone. Liturgy is not primarily what we say, but what we do, and the provision of new services will never by themselves renew the worship of the congregation.

Even new words are only a vehicle for the worship of God, so that we might reach for the things beyond the words in the language of the heart.

If worship is the response of the people of God to the presence of God, then the first function of liturgy is to provide conditions in which that presence may be experienced.

Musical settings, the sensitive use of silence, and careful imaginative preparation by the leaders of worship will be necessary if the words in this Prayer Book are to be allowed to speak so that an experience of God results.

Some services will seem very familiar. This should not discourage the exploration of new modes of expression which might now be the most appropriate. The very freshness of others might invite new paths to be explored, and new songs to be sung. The Lord's song has been sung in this twice-discovered land since before Samuel Marsden first preached the Gospel on that Christmas Day in 1814 in Oihi Bay.

With the publication of A New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa the song is continued, the task of the Provincial Commission on Prayer Book Revision is completed, and new voices begin to be heard.

It is our hope that the use of these services will enable us to worship God in our own authentic voice, and to affirm our identity as the people of God in Aotearoa – New Zealand.


R.G. McCullough

College House, Christchurch,
Feast of St Augustine,
26 May 1989
For the Provincial Commission
on Prayer Book Revision