During my doctoral program at Oxford, my wife and I had the good fortune of attending a wonderful Anglican church. Located just across from Christ Church, St. Aldate’s has a history going back to the twelfth century and St. Frideswide, which spoke to me given that I was writing on the canons regular to which the Oxford saint belonged. What drew us to St. Aldate’s was not the historical connection (wonderful though it was), but the fact that it was a charismatic Anglican church.

One Sunday I invited a good friend to join us saying that I simply loved the liturgy. My friend happened to be pursuing ordination in the Church of England. After the service he informed me that he hardly recognized the liturgy and would prefer to go elsewhere. St. Aldate’s was, in British jargon, a “happy clappy” church in the Anglican tradition. The liturgy for Eucharist was sung by the congregation as they were led by a band. For some Anglicans, this was anathema, not only because it potentially raised the specter of lay presidency at the Eucharist, but also because the singing altered the words ever so slightly. The charismatic influx into St. Aldate’s had altered the performance of the liturgy.

As I later learned, St. Aldate’s was an example of a broader phenomenon within Anglican churches impacted by the charismatic movement. This impact has led to some forms of liturgical renewal, or, at least, change. Whether such changes count as a kind of renewal depends on your perspective. Nevertheless, St. Aldate’s was just one of many Anglican churches whose liturgical life was altered in the wake of the charismatic renewal, especially as it came through John Wimber and the Vineyard churches.

There is a basic order to a Vineyard service in which the liturgical movement of the congregation ends in intimacy with God. Many Vineyard songs centered upon intimacy with God as the pinnacle of Vineyard worship. The basic order of a Vineyard service follows this pattern:

Call to Worship

Engagement

Exaltation

Adoration

Intimacy with God

The point of this order is to move the worshipper ritually from praise to encounter with God. There is a basic continuity with the push in Pentecostal circles to journey ritually from congregational singing to preached word to encounter at the altar, which is really a standard low church evangelical pattern. The difference for Pentecostals is that the ritual pattern can be interrupted at any point as the congregation seeks to respond to the Spirit’s presence. One can find this in all Pentecostal churches, but such spontaneous bursts have been incorporated into the structure of worship by the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). Most COGIC worship experiences will include a “praise break” where the ritual movement pauses while the musicians move into high gear, the congregants begin to dance, and the preacher starts shouting. Pentecostals accentuate the spontaneity to the point where ritual order becomes part of the background structure rather than an explicit and up front pattern.

This liturgical cycle has replaced the Eucharist as the moment of encounter with a time of ministry in which persons come to the front of the church to be prayed for or to pray. There is usually a point in the Vineyard service where an epicletic prayer goes forth with the words “Come Holy Spirit,” which makes an important connection with the calling down of the Spirit upon the elements in the Catholic Mass or other liturgical settings.

In my discussions of this phenomenon with Mark Cartledge, a charismatic Anglican theologian at the University of Birmingham, I discovered that many charismatic Anglican churches will follow a basic three-fold structure of sung worship, preached word, and ministry time. Thus some Anglican churches have become more Vineyard in their worship style and practice as a way to accommodate the charismatic dimensions of worship. The Eucharist could be incorporated as part of the ministry time thereby placing the sacramental encounter with Christ in the broader context of a charismatic encounter with Christ.

I have also notice that some African Catholic theologians are calling for liturgical pauses that allow distinctive African forms of worship, which are more demonstrative and include dancing, to become part of the worship experience. For example, in a number of works, the Nigerian Catholic theologian Donatus Pius Ukpong has suggested a need to incorporate liturgical space for spontaneous expressions of worship in keeping with African modes. This does not change the Eucharist as the focal point, but it does suggest a continuity between an overarching charismatic dimension to the liturgical movement that culminates in the epiclesis, the prayer for the Spirit to come and convert the elements.

Finally, while I have refrained from discussing the Orthodox contribution to all of this, it has become clear to me that the theologically robust understanding of the Spirit’s presence in the Divine Liturgy has been a constant stream that a number of theologians from Pentecostal, Anglican, and other traditions have drawn from in order to engage in a theological analysis of worship.

The changes to the performance of the liturgy I experienced at St. Aldate’s in the 1990s were part of a broader discussion about the relationship between the charismatic renewal and liturgical renewal. What intrigues me are the common themes of a liturgical movement toward intimacy and encounter coupled with a corresponding invocation of the Spirit (the epicletic climax of the worship).

The fact that liturgical movement has encounter and intimacy as its goal has offered Pentecostal and charismatic theologians an opportunity to return to sacramentalism and bring the Eucharist back into the life of these churches. At the same time, it has allowed theologians in more liturgical settings to reflect more on the charismatic structure to the liturgical event. I suspect, and this is only a hunch, that were Classical Pentecostal churches to become more liturgically inclined on a broad scale they would look like what’s happening in some Anglican parishes impacted by charismatic spirituality.

Articles by Dale M. Coulter

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