When Jesus ascended to the Father, he sent his apostles out into the world to preach the good news of God's saving love. Over the years many people became Jesus' friend through the apostles' preaching. Little churches sprang up throughout the Roman Empire as more and more people came to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. To start with, these churches tended to identify with one of the apostles. In the Bible book of Acts we have a record of the churches set up by Paul the apostle. Many of the books in the New Testament are letters written to particular churches.
As the Christian church spread throughout the Empire it inevitably came to Britain. Christianity was probably introduced into Britain from Gaul, where Christian Churches flourished as early as 170 A.D.
The first historical record we have of the Christian church in England, is the martyrdom of St.Alban in 304 A.D. We also know that 10 years later, three bishops from Britain attended a Christian Council in Gaul. About 450 A.D. we hear of the British missionary Patrick. He was to became the apostle to Ireland. In 597 A.D. Columba, the Irish missionary who lived on the island of Iona off Scotland, died. That same year Augustine, with forty monks, came from Pope Gregory of Rome, to be a missionary in Britain. Under the influence of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury 700 A.D., there came to be one church of England. It is interesting to note that this took place 150 years before there was one king over the whole land.
At this time the church of England came more and more under the influence of the church in Rome. Unfortunately the Roman church had slipped from New Testament truth, purity and simplicity. The greed of the church for money, false teachings, the worship of saints and images, prayers and masses for the dead...,, led the people away from the Bible.
Through the work of Wycliffe, and other translators of the Bible, some of the errors of the church became known. In England, from the days of William the Conqueror, there had been much resentment at the Pope's interference in the country. On the Continent, Martin Luther's opposition to the Pope led to a widespread desire for a free church.
The people of England were ready for a change. Henry VIII took the first steps when he tried to have his first marriage annulled. The Pope's failure to oblige, Henry's impatience with the delay, and the influence of rebels against Rome's power, led him to break away and make the church in England an English church instead of a church ruled from Roman. So, although authority passed from the Pope to the King, the Christian church in England continued without a break, but now it was Protestant and Reformed.
As the years went by, the English church went to sleep. When an Anglican clergyman named John Wesley rediscovered the great truths of the Reformation, a new revival swept England. The 18th century was a time of missionary enterprise and reform of social life in England. In Australia, the Church of England was the first church in the colony. The first ministers in Australia came out of this revival movement. They were called Evangelicals.
For many years the Church of England was the largest church in Australia, but with migration, the percentage of CofE's fell. There has also been a fall in the numbers of those who attend church, although some 35% of the population still see themselves as members of the English church.
Some thirty years ago we changed the name of our church from The Church of England to The Anglican Church. This was to reflect the fact that our church is an independent Australian church and is not governed from England. Today our church is going through great change. Many are no longer sure we should continue to use the Prayer Book for our services. In some churches the services are very free, with bands and song leaders. In other Anglican churches the services are still very formal.
From the earliest days of the Christian church, men and women have met for prayer, Acts 2:42; 12:5. By 140 A.D. we know that services of worship took regular forms. When Augustine came to England in 597 A.D. and found a different form of worship from the Roman form to which he was accustomed, he was advised by the Pope, "to select from each church those things that are pious, religious and rightful; and when thou hast collected them into one whole, instill this into the minds of the Angles for their use."
The service forms, or "Uses" as they were called (written in Latin), varied from region to region. The Service of the Diocese of Salisbury known as the "Sarum Use", was the most popular. It consisted of a number of separate books: a "Breviary" (for Daily Services), a "Missal" (for Communion) and a "Manual" (for Baptisms, Marriages, etc.). In existence also were "Pontificals" (for Confirmation etc.) and "Primers" (brief handbooks of devotion and simple religious instruction).
Although the people no longer spoke Latin, this was the language used in the English church. This was to change, First there were the "Horn-books" (written on vellum, with horn covers) containing the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. These were used from at least the 8th Century. Henry VIII authorized a "Primer" in 1545 which contained the Litany almost as we have it today.
The translation of the Bible into English soon led to an English Prayer Book.
A special committee of bishops and clergy had worked on the service books from 1542. By 1548 they had revised the services and so a new Prayer Book was passed by Parliament in 1549. They aimed to have more of the Bible, and the whole of the Psalms in the daily Services. All services were to be in English, combined in one book, giving one national form of worship.
Criticism by foreign "Reformers" led King Edward VI to have the new Prayer Book revised in 1552. Queen Elizabeth I authorized a few more alterations in 1559. Even the Pope was ready to permit the use of this Prayer Book if only the Queen would submit to him; however she would not.
The revised Prayer Book of 1662, with very few changes, remained the book used in Anglican churches up till the 1970's. A further revision was rejected by the English Parliament in 1928.
The Church of England in Australia in 1966 published a Revision of the Book of Common Prayer and several New Services for trial use. In 1978 our new Australian Prayer Book was published and a new revision followed in 1995.
The Prayer Book is wholly based on Scripture. It provides for the systematic reading of the whole Bible, and uses the Bible extensively in all the services. There are services of Morning and Evening Prayer, a special family service, daily services of prayer, litany, prayer at the end of the day, and the Communions for Sundays and Holy Days, along with the set Collects (prayers), Epistles and Gospels for each particular Sunday of the church year. Then there are special services which follow the life-cycle of a member of the church - Baptism, Catechism, Confirmation, Marriage, Sickness, Death.
The Prayer Book is a handbook of Public Worship, a manual of instruction in the faith, and a guide to personal devotion.
Learn the first part of the Apostles Creed (the first two lines).
Start to familiarize yourself with the Catechism. You do not have to memorize the answers to the questions, but you must be able to answer the questions, giving the sense of the answers printed.
O God, we praise you for the revelation of yourself to our world, and for your commission to the church to proclaim the gospel of Christ to every person. We bless you for those missionaries, known and unknown, who first brought the Christian message to our shores, and were faithful to their Lord's command. May the earth be filled with the knowledge of your glory, as the waters cover the sea. Amen.