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The Anglican Ordinal: Gospel Priorities for Church of England Ministry

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Posted by Jon Evans, 23 Apr 2020

Jonathan Evans reviews Andrew Atherstone's booklet on the Anglican Ordinal.

In The Anglican Ordinal: Gospel Priorities for Church of England Ministry, Andrew Atherstone aims to provide a short and simple exposition of the Anglican Ordinal which he describes as ‘a beautifully clear and succinct ministry handbook’ [1].

The target audience for this book is primarily three-fold: ordinands and those discerning vocation, those responsible for ‘identifying and training those called to ordination in the Church of England’ [2] and for clergy. Atherstone does however also add that this book can be valuable for congregations seeking to know what to look for in a vicar. The book certainly provides for the target audience and I would undoubtedly recommend this book for all people seeking ordained ministry. As someone who is about to finish theological training for ordination, I am glad to have read this book before my ordination day, as it has helped me to reflect on what it truly means to be an ordained minister in the Church of England, as well as the magnitude of the gospel ministry I am about to enter.

To approach this exposition, Atherstone splits the Ordinal into three parts: Exhortation, Examination and Ordination. In each part he looks at the Book of Common Prayer Ordinal alongside the Common Worship Ordinal and explores what each section means for ministers today.

Beginning with exhortation, he addresses the four great biblical principles of being a minister: Messengers, Watchmen/Sentinels, Stewards and Shepherds. Through a study on these responsibilities the reader is led to the conclusion that the ministry is a ‘high calling and weighty work’ [19] which is not to be entered lightly.

The second chapter looks through the examination questions within the Ordinal which are grouped into eight sections [21]:
1. Called by God
2. Believing the scriptures
3. Devoted to prayer and Bible Study
4. Ready to proclaim the Gospel and refute error
5. Passionate for Christian unity
6. A model of godliness
7. Submitting to godly authority
8. Dependent upon the Holy Spirit

Through each section Atherstone not only gives clear explanations of these ‘serious and searching questions about their [the ordinands] personal theological and pastoral commitment’ [21] but also shows how these questions indicate that ‘every ordinand must declare their utter dependence on the Lord’ [42]. The reader gets a real sense of the seriousness and weightiness of the ministry, but in a way which inspires and encourages.

Finally, in the last chapter titled ‘Ordination’, Atherstone enters the discussion around whether the minister should be called a priest or presbyter. He looks at the history of the conversation in the Church of England and shows how through the Ordinal, the understanding of the Church of England ‘priest’ is that of a ‘presbyter’, which is pastoral and proclamatory. He then moves on to how in the Ordinal the ordinand is given the gift of the Bible after being ordained which shows the ‘Church of England is a Bible Church, and presbyteral ministry is a ministry of the word’ [49].

This book is ideal for anybody in the ordination ladder (either seeking or ordained) and also for anybody who wishes to seek what the Church of England Ordinal tells us about the Anglican doctrine of ministry and what to expect of our ministers. Atherstone wonderfully concludes that the Ordinal’s ‘reiterated focus is pastoral and teaching ministry, with the word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ at its heart’ [50] and this focus shines through throughout the book. If you are on the ordination pathway or know somebody who is, this book should be the first port of call due to the way it expounds the Ordinal with brevity and clarity. The book has encouraged and informed me as an ordinand who is about to enter ministry and I am sure it will you also.

Jonathan Evans is a Church of England ordinand training at Cranmer Hall, who will be entering curacy within Worcester diocese this summer.

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