The liturgies gathered under the title of Common Worship include some of the familiar services of the Book of Common Prayer, unchanged since 1662, along with strikingly new versions.
The new services are authorized starting Sunday, and the 20-year-old Alternative Service Book will be retired at the end of the year.
``I suppose the motto for now is common worship, unity in diversity,'' said David Stancliffe, the bishop of Salisbury, head of the Liturgical Commission that wrote the new services.
``And I do want to stress the point about unity, rather than uniformity,'' he added. ``It's a strange person these days who thinks you can turn us into uniform Christians. There are some other communions in the world which have had a shot at it, and it doesn't really work.''
The first Book of Common Prayer, published in 1549, was a product of the first century of printing with movable type. The new book is available in print, but you also can find it on the Internet and CD-ROM, and the 13,000 parish churches are encouraged to cut and paste to make their own service books.
``One of the biggest problems with Common Worship is coming to terms with this framework and flexibility mix,'' said Rev. Mark Earey of the Institute for Liturgy and Mission at Sarum College, on the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral. The institute has run workshops and provided training material to help churches adopt the new services.
``My experience around the country is that most people are taking the opportunity to take a good look at worship, what they want to keep and what they want to change,'' Earey said.
The Book of Common Prayer had one communion service; Common Worship has four, with a choice of eight prayers of consecration.
Despite the inclusion of traditional liturgies, Common Worship has not been welcomed by the Prayer Book Society, which exists to defend the old book. The society calls it ``a hybrid variation we could not enthuse over.''
The Alternative Service Book, introduced in 1980 for what was supposed to be a 10-year trial period, is now being officially retired.
``The ASB was kind of a tester for the waters to see how the church would fare with the revised rites that emerged during the 1960s and 1970s,'' Stancliffe said.
He cited three factors that encouraged liturgical change:
Earey said the emphasis on structure arose from liturgical scholarship that stressed that the form of a service - rather than the precise words - was the inheritance handed down through the ages.
``If you go to a Catholic Mass, or a Lord's Supper service in the Methodist church, or communion in Common Worship, the structure is nearly the same,'' Earey said.
``The baptism rites of the 1980s were cheerfully used by some people as a means of selecting those whom they thought it was appropriate to baptize or deserved baptizing,'' he said. ``And the theology of exclusiveness that developed would be regarded by the majority as non-Anglican.''
The variety permitted by Common Worship makes it easier for churches to tailor services to their communities, Stancliffe said, but he doesn't see this as a cure for the church's rapidly declining attendance.
``I am always fairly suspicious of the people who think that worship is primarily about entertainment, and that worship is necessarily a thing that everybody will catch into or go to,'' he said.
``It is quite clear that there is a huge latent spirituality in people in England for whom public worship of any kind is a foreign language, and will probably remain so.''
Some variations between the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship include:
BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?
O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not: and in the night-season also I take no rest.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, and are so far from my salvation, from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; and by night also, but I find no rest.
BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
... Who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread; and, when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, take, eat, this is my body which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me.
Likewise, after supper he took the cup; and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: Drink ye all of this; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins: Do this, as oft as he shall drink it, in remembrance of me.
COMMON WORSHIP (ONE OF EIGHT OPTIONS)
... On the night he was betrayed he came to table with his friends to celebrate the freedom of your people.
Jesus blessed you, Father, for the food: he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said: This is my body, given for you all.
Jesus then gave thanks for the wine; he took the cup, gave it and said: This is my blood, shed for you all for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.