Prayer Book Non-Revision

In a previous post, I outlined the arguments for and against the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. This is a follow-up to that post with updates of what has happened and what it means for the Episcopal Church.

The House of Deputies amended resolution A068, which called for spending just under $2 million over the next triennium to begin the process of revising our current prayer book, and sent it to the House of Bishops for their consideration. The intention was for the committees of the national church to spend the next three years gathering liturgical resources and input from around the church in preparation for the intensive revision process.

The House of Bishops had a hearty debate about the resolution on their floor, which led them to completely rewrite the resolution and offer a different way forward for the church. The amended (rewritten) resolution A068 came to the floor of the House of Deputies yesterday, July 11, and the House of Deputies concurred with the amended resolution. This means we passed the resolution without further amendment. The final version of A068 is as follows:

A068 Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention, pursuant to Article X of the Constitution, authorize the ongoing work of liturgical and Prayer Book revision for the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. And, that it do so upon the core theological work of loving, liberating, life-giving reconciliation and creation care; and be it further

Resolved, That our methodology be one of a dynamic process for discerning common worship, engaging all the baptized, while practicing accountability to The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 79th General Convention create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR), the membership of which will be jointly appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and will report to the appropriate legislative committee(s) of the 80th General Convention, ensuring that diverse voices of our church are active participants in this liturgical revision by constituting a group with leaders who represent the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church, to include, 10 laity, 10 priests or deacons, and 10 Bishops; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a Prayer Book of the church preserving the Psalter, liturgies, The Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and Trinitarian Formularies ensuring its continued use; and be it further

Resolved, That this church continue to engage the deep Baptismal and Eucharistic theology and practice of the 1979 Prayer Book; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church, and that each diocese be urged to create a liturgical commission to collect, reflect, teach and share these resources with the TFLPBR; and be it further

Resolved, That the TFLPBR in consultation with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons is directed to propose to the 80th General Convention revisions to the Constitution and Canons to enable The Episcopal Church to be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission, attending to prayer book revision in other provinces of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That liturgical and Prayer Book revision will continue in faithful adherence to the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of 1979 Book of Common Prayer, mindful of our existing ecumenical commitments, while also providing space for, encouraging the submission of, and facilitating the perfection of rites that will arise from the continual movement of the Holy Spirit among us and growing insights of our Church; and be it further

Resolved, That such revision utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, class and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship; and be it further

Resolved, That our liturgical revision utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity; and be it further

Resolved, That our liturgical revision shall incorporate and express understanding, appreciation, and care of God’s creation; and be it further

Resolved, That our liturgical revision take into consideration the use of emerging technologies which provide access to a broad range of liturgical resources; and be it further

Resolved, That the SCLM create a professional dynamic equivalence translation of The Book of Common Prayer 1979 and the Enriching Our Worship Series in Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole; and that the SCLM diversify the publication formats of new resources, liturgies and rites to include online publishing; and be it further

Resolved, That this church ensure that, at each step of the revision process, all materials be professionally translated into English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole, following the  principles of dynamic equivalence and that no new rites or liturgical resources be approved by this church until such translations are secured; and be it further

Resolved, that the TFLPBR shall report to the 80th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That there being $201,000 in the proposed budget for the translation of liturgical materials, that the Executive Council be encouraged to identify additional funds in the amount of $200,000 to begin this liturgical revision.

Ok. So what does that all mean? First, it means no new prayer book, not for a long time. This resolution seeks a path that leaves the current prayer book intact while pursuing alternate liturgies to better represent the whole of the church. The language of the resolution is that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will be "memorialized." The challenge is that we do not have that language elsewhere in our polity and, therefore, there's no real definition for "memorialized." I think the intention is to set the 79 prayer book apart as a work to be honored and respected as the primary liturgical resource for the church. That said, I'm not sure what the result will be. I can see the 79 prayer book continuing as the gold standard for primary use but I can also see it relegated to the status of artifact, finding its way to being displayed under glass, idolized and mythologized but rarely used. Editorially, I will point out that Episcopalians are generally thrilled by the release of new translations and interpretations of the Bible but pitch a fit at the prospect of prayer book revision. It's quite a commentary on our real priorities.

Even though the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will be memorialized and left untouched, the church will be embarking on liturgical exploration and the production of alternate liturgies. A task force will be formed, consisting of thirty members: ten lay members, ten priests or deacons, and ten bishops. Specifically, the resolution calls for this task force to be fully representative of the diversity found in the Episcopal Church. The work of this task force will be twofold and they are to report to the next General Convention in 2021 in Baltimore.

First, the task force is to collect and process work that is to be done by each diocese. The dioceses of the church are urged to create their own liturgical commissions to collect alternate resources already in use in member congregations and to encourage liturgical exploration. The task force will take these alternate liturgies and use them as resources in their work to compile liturgies that they will recommend for use by the whole church at future General Conventions. Locally, that means churches like our own will be encouraged to explore liturgical options as best suit our own community, under the direction and approval of the bishop.

Second, the national task force is to examine the canons of The Episcopal Church and recommend changes to the next General Convention that would "enable The Episcopal Church to be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission, attending to prayer book revision in other provinces of the Anglican Communion." One of the issues this tries to resolve is that the church doesn't have an official category for liturgies called "trial liturgies," or "alternate liturgies." Given the number and variety of new liturgies that will come out of the work of this task force, it will be even more important for the church to have a clear understanding of these categories. Questions are bound to arise around the whom, when, and where for the use of these liturgies. Will all liturgies be approved for the entire church or will their usage be dependent on Episcopal (bishop's) oversight and approval? Will they all be allowed for use at principle Sunday services or only for weekday or weeknight services? I can imagine any number of concerns and questions that may bubble up from this new approach and hope the task force will shine a light on an orderly path forward.

We aren't the only province in the Anglican Communion to struggle with this issue. For as precious as we can be about our prayer book, imagine what it must be like in England, the home of the original prayer book, to discuss prayer book revision! The task force called for by this resolution is to consult with other Anglican provinces to learn from their recent experiences and hear about their solutions.

Two other concerns that came up during debate on the floors of both houses were satisfactorily answered in the amended resolution. There was great fear in the House of Deputies that the original resolution would pull too much money and too many resources away from the work of translating the current prayer book into the other languages of The Episcopal Church. The approved amended resolution cuts the cost by 90%, reducing the budget for the work from almost $2 million to $200,000. First, this relieved strong objections in both houses about the originally proposed amount and how that would create a financial drain that would adversely affect other ministries of the church. Secondly, it specifically assured our non-English speaking members that the work of translation of current liturgical resources is a priority. The amended resolution further affirms the importance of translation by ordering the task force to provide translations of their reports throughout their work.

I am interested and cautiously excited by this resolution. I think this approach will expedite the process for bringing vibrant and expansive liturgical options into the life of the church. At the same time, I am resistant to the idea of The Episcopal Church having so many options that we cease to be a people of common prayer. If you have thoughts on this resolution or ideas for our liturgy that you would like to be a part of this experimentation period, please come and see me. I welcome those conversations and ideas.