Plans to be created for prayer book, hymnal revision

General Convention rejects open communion resolutions

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Jul 3, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] General Convention 2015 took a step toward revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982, directing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare plans for revising each and to present them to the next convention in Austin, Texas, in 2018.

Among other liturgical issues, the convention directs bishops to find ways for congregations without clergy to receive Communion, but the House of Bishops defeated proposals to allow unbaptized people to receive Holy Communion or to study the issue.

The convention approved making available a revised version of “Holy Women,
Holy Men” with additional saints’ commemorations but left “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” as the church authorized supplemental calendar of commemorations (see article here).

The revised “Holy Women, Holy Men,” is called “A Great Cloud of Witnesses.”

The convention also made provision for using what is commonly called “Rite III” during principle Sunday services, with certain restrictions; authorized materials for honoring God in Creation; updated the prayer book lectionary to conform to the Revised Common Lectionary; authorized continued work on the World Music Project and support for the Leadership Program for Musicians Serving Small Congregations; and approved continued revision of the Book of Occasional services.

In liturgical matters referred to the special legislative committee on marriage, General Convention approved two new marriage liturgies with gender-neutral language that same-sex or opposite-sex couples may use as well as continued use of the rite for blessing same-sex relationships that General Convention 2012 approved.

Prayer book and hymnal revision

Resolution A169 directs SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision” of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and to present it to the next General Convention. It says the plan must “utilize the riches of our church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship” and “take into consideration the use of current technologies which provide access to a broad range of liturgical resources.”

In preparing the plan, SCLM will “consult with the side breadth of cultural expression and participation throughout our church,” said the Rev. Devon Anderson, deputy chair of the prayer book, liturgy and music legislative committee.

Bishop Thomas Breidenthal of Southern Ohio, a committee member, told the House of Bishops that the resolution “commits us to a theological, liturgical and ecclesiological conversation. I hope we can move forward with boldness to say we are ready.”

“It’s become increasingly apparent that the 1979 prayer book is a product of its time, of reflecting the best … scholarship of the mid-20th century,” the Rev. Ruth Meyers, SCLM chair, told the House of Deputies. After 40 years, “it’s time for us to take stock of our church and context in this century” and prepare to revise the prayer book “to support our work of evangelism and contribute to the vitality and growth of our congregations and our church,” she said.

Predicting the resolution would pass, Deputy William Murchison of Dallas said he wanted to warn the house that it likely was making “a serious mistake.”

“Some of us are old enough, unfortunately, to remember the turmoil that beset this church during the last prayer book revision,” he said. “Many Episcopalians, sadly, left the church. … My primary concern, nevertheless, is that further revision of the prayer book along the lines that are embedded in this resolution will give us something other than common prayer … a book that provides nothing but a variety of options.”

The Rev. Canon John Floberg, deputy from North Dakota, supported the resolution, asking only that, when the prayer book is revised, it is made available to non-English speakers in a timely manner.

“Among the Lakota-Dakota people of the Plains, it takes on average 40 years to substantially translate the prayer book once it’s revised,” he said. “Don’t forget about us.”

The convention also directed SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of “The Hymnal 1982” with D060.

During legislative committee discussion, the Rev. Jeremiah Williamson of Ohio, said he was “a little torn” because he saw the need for hymnal revision but also noted that SCLM had what “seems like an incredible amount of work right now.” He also questioned whether developing a hymnal-revision plan was premature, given that planning was about to start on prayer-book revision.

The Very Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh of Maine, however, said he thought it made more sense for plans for a new hymnal to be part of the planning process for a new prayer book.

“It would be remiss not to include the hymnal in the mix,” he said. “It would be strange not to include music as part of that discussion.”

In other music-related resolutions, the convention approved A060, the continuation of SCLM’s Congregational Song Task Force to “further the mission of The Episcopal Church by enlivening and invigorating congregational song through the development of a variety of musical resources” and developing and expanding the work of the World Music Project.

The convention also endorsed A061, the continuation of the Leadership Program for Musicians Serving Small Congregations.

Holy Communion and Open Table

Several resolutions related to allowing unbaptized people to receive Holy Communion – a practice some refer to as open table or open communion – failed in the House of Bishops.

The bishops rejected an attempt to amend Canon I.17.7, Resolution C023, to allow unbaptized people to receive Holy Communion if it was “with the intent of beginning or strengthening a relationship with Christ and eventually being baptized” and the clergy are providing “counsel as needed” or when “congregations inviting the unbaptized to receive communion must do so as a part of an evangelistic plan to welcome all people to Christ’s table and to strengthen them in their relationship with Christ and the church.”

The bishops narrowly defeated Resolution C010, asking for a task force “to study and facilitate church-wide dialogue concerning the practice of inviting all persons, baptized and unbaptized, to receive Holy Communion.” The resolution failed 79-77 after an amendment was added calling for the task force to “include a balance and diversity of perspectives.”

Bishops spoke for and against the resolution, with supporters saying that the legislation was not about endorsing the practice, but rather about creating a task force as an appropriate way to launch discussion about it.

The bishops also rejected Resolution A065 to direct SCLM “to develop a liturgical resource on Christian initiation.”

The intent, Meyers told ENS before the convention, was to produce a liturgical resource similar to the materials SCLM previously developed for blessing same-sex relations that contained essays and pastoral as well as liturgical materials.

“It’s important to consider both the church’s understanding and practice of confirmation and its understanding of admission to Communion, all in light of the theology of baptism,” Meyers had said.

In a related matter, the convention referred Resolution C050 to the SCLM to study the theological implications of allowing adults to be baptized and confirmed at the same time.

In another Communion-related resolution, A044, General Convention directed “the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority in each diocese to discern and implement ways in which small congregations within their diocese who are without benefit of clergy may receive Communion on a regular basis.”

The original text had asked that lay ministers be licensed to distribute previously consecrated sacrament in Sunday public worship in the absence of clergy and that an accompanying liturgical rite be created for such circumstances.

The legislative committee heard impassioned testimony about the resolution, with some describing how congregations could go extended periods of time without Holy Eucharist because of a dearth of available clergy.

The convention also agreed, in Resolution D050, that bishops “exercising ecclesiastical authority” can allow congregations to use “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” (BCP pp. 400-405) at a principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if the Eucharistic Prayer is written and submitted in advance of its use to the bishop.”

The resolution notes that the prayer book does not forbid such use.

During hearings and committee discussions, some argued that regular use of such creative liturgies – sometimes called Rite III – can be especially valuable for emerging church communities or when leading worship involving children.

As explained here, “This rite is in the form of an outline that allows the participants to prepare many of the liturgical texts that will be used in the Eucharistic celebration while maintaining the same basic structure of the Eucharistic liturgy that is found in other rites.”

Creation liturgies

General Convention authorized A058, “Liturgical Materials Honoring God in Creation” and specified that they be made “freely available.” It directed SCLM to consider the materials for inclusion in a revised Book of Occasional Services.

The convention referred to SCLM Resolution C015, asking for authorization to add a sixth question to the Baptismal Covenant “concerning our responsibility as baptized Christians to care for God’s creation.”

Book of Occasional services

General Convention passed Resolution A059, directing SCLM to continue working on revising the Book of Occasional Services.

The convention also directed with D036 the SCLM to include a rite for the changing of a person’s name in the revision of the Book of Occasional Services. During hearings, several people – especially members of the transgender community – passionately testified about the importance for such a rite.

And the convention referred to SCLM Resolution D046, asking for authorization for trial use “or for use in special study sessions,” with the permission of the diocesan bishop, liturgical materials and prayers in Janet Morley’s book “All Desires Known” and for SCLM’s consideration of including them in a revised Book of Occasional Services.

Additional resolutions

Among other liturgy-related actions, General Convention approved resolutions to:

  • Direct SCLM “to continue to collect, review, and disseminate materials to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts,” A063;
  • Adopt criteria for recommending Bible translations for public worship, A063;
  • On second reading, revise the Book of Common Prayer lectionary to conform to the lectionary of the Revised Common Lectionary, previously adopted as the church’s authorized lectionary, A067; and
  • Direct SCLM to begin work on translating the prayer book and/or other authorized liturgical resources into French, Creole and Spanish, A068.

— Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.


Comments (30)

  1. Chaz Brooks says:

    They conducted a big survey about the hymnal at the last General Convention and discovered overwhelming opposition to any revision. Now they are going ahead with a revision anyway. So much for democracy!

  2. Rev. John Wesley says:

    I hope that, if the Convention is intent upon revising the hymnal and the BCP, it will offer the revisions as Supplements to the existing Books rather than requiring small and already financially strapped congregations to purchase new prayer books and new hymnals.

  3. r h lewis (VTS 1963) says:

    There seems to be no compelling reason to revise the !979 Book in that I am not convinced that we have fully digested it in our regular practices. There is also the reality that many of our newest
    members have so little operational awareness of what constitutes the BCP. I am not refusing to
    consider revision so much as wondering if we have fully read , learned, marked and inwardly
    digested the current BCP. r h lewis

    1. Philip Jones says:

      “Society for the Preservation of the 1979 Prayerbook”. Any takers? I find it richly ironic that so many of my generation (I’m 69) still call it the “new Prayerbook.” BTW I love the Episcopal Church the way it is and I am excited about our future.

      1. Sean Storm says:

        I completely agree.

  4. Len Freeman says:

    We seem determined to kill trees, as most congregations I encounter print out the entire service rather than use the BCP sitting there in the pews….. guess it will be big-screens (or little iPhones, as at this General Convention) next….

    1. Debbie Lawson says:

      I felt privileged to be asked and able to put together and type up the weekly services for a small, yet beautiful, Episcopal Church near my home. This was an honor, I felt, and it made me feel even closer to God and to the whole Trinity.

      I do agree with you, though. Save the trees. I love God’s creation – our wonderful, great outdoors in all its splendor. We could really do well to use the wonderful BCP books, etc., that are already in place at our Episcopal churches.

      God Bless and Peace,


  5. Gerard K Hannon says:

    Will the Standing Commission be addressing the practices of some clergy who use Church of England language, or other Anglican Communion churches, instead of our Book of Common Prayer? When we had the battles royal in the mid 70’s about modifying the 1928 BCP, some (such as the beloved late former Rector of St. Thomas, in NY) elected to use a bit more modern services from CofE rather than the hide-bound 1928 book, with its language not spoken for multiple generations. That was understandable then, and a good lead-in to the 1976 BCP, but the 1976 BCP, and the later Book of Occasional Services, provide many choices, in varieties of language styles, for Rectors today, yet some persist in creating their own books of perhaps uncommon prayer.

  6. D.L. Bowley says:

    I’m glad to see the church addressing the issue of trained, licensed lay ministers being able to provide communion with previously consecrated elements in the absence of clergy. It is not just small churches with no priest that need this flexibility, but small churches with only a priest and no deacon, and with no budget for a supply priest (which are usually in short supply, anyway). We train lay ministers to assist at the Eucharist and we train them to bring communion from altar to home. If they are to be licensed to deliver communion under some circumstances, they should be licensed for most circumstances under specific guidelines. Currently when our priest is away on business or vacation, we can only conduct Morning Prayer despite the ready availability of previously consecrated elements. This seriously cuts down on attendance, so much so that our priest doesn’t let the congregation know he’s going to be gone. We also have multiple weekly services with Eucharist, which have to be turned into prayer services when the priest is away. These too would be better attended if a lay minister could deliver communion. By no means should a lay minister be used instead of a priest or deacon, only when there is no other clergy alternative.

    Also believe the decision to not offer communion to those who are not baptized is the correct one, although very surprised the vote was only 79-77. I don’t see how one can fulfill the sacrament of communion without being baptized. The two are inexorably linked.

  7. Gerard K Hannon says:

    I don’t know your locale, but nowhere that I have worshipped in Western NY, or Central NY, or NYC, or Long Island, or Downeast Maine, and nowhere in the Central Gulf Coast of Florida, where we live, are parishes of the Episcopal Church what might be described as “Morning Prayer” churches.

    In fact, most are very traditional Eucharistic churches that would be comfortable for any Roman Catholic (assuming they get over Vatican denials of our valid Apostolic Succession) visiting these parishes; I am less familiar with Lutherans. If our BCP were to be revised to incorporate merely some new ways of expression, in the same format as our current services, I doubt there would be much of a problem with that. My own problems are with those Rectors who might adopt their own liturgical style of “Chinese Menu” by taking the first part of a Eucharist from Anglican Communion Member-A, then going to a “Creed” (certainly not Nicene or even Apostles) from Anglican Communion Member-B, and finishing with an Offertory and Consecration from Anglican Communion Member-C. After all, we are a Prayer Book Church, and not some Congregational Church where the pastor might play around with the language of his or her service in any way, and at any time. Other than that one aberrant parish, I do find TEC very much of a Eucharistic Church, rather than as you described, so I wonder if your experience with TEC parishes is focused upon some very limited, and very aberrant, area?

    1. Gerard K Hannon says:

      Thanks, John; no doubt there are remnants of the more Protestant side of the Anglican Communion, and it seems you have found one of them, and I hope to avoid visiting that parish. But, even with some parishes where the Priest still faces an altar and faces away from the congregations, one being St Andrew’s in Tampa FL and another Trinity in Fredonia NY, these are Eucharist-oriented parishes. Indeed, I’d suggest that you might find more parishes which are like the Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised, pre-V2, among Anglican parishes. I’ve been at Eucharists at two, one in San Diego with a name I can’t recall and one in London, Church of the Annunciation, which still have the “Last Gospel” (“In the Beginning was the Word…”), and others such as St.Mary the Virgin in NYC and All Saints Margaret Street in London which have far more incense than any RC parish I’ve visited for weddings or funerals. I would submit that there are more very high church parishes than low church parishes, and that the super majority of parishes in the US, and in England, are very traditional Eucharist-focused parishes, neither truly high nor low. But, we sure have variety, don’t we?

  8. Milner Seifert says:

    I am very thankful that approval has been given for the SCLM to provide a plan for prayer book revision. The time has certainly come! And, as was done for the last revision of the BCP, revision of the Hymnal must follow very closely. I look forward to this journey!

  9. William A. Flint, PhD says:

    Many parishes are using electronic presentations for Liturgy now. It appears the BCP may well be outdated anyway. I think we need a BCP and I think we need to encourage its use in the services. People need to learn how to use it and not be spoon feed a printed program. As far as optional use I disagree with that idea, it is good to know that no matter what Episcopal parish one worships the Liturgy is common. Just my thoughts.

    1. Chris Harwood says:

      If truly “common” i.e. everyone doing the same liturgy is what you’re hoping out of the next BCP, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. The current BCP has several options to choose from and the next will probably have more. Other than removing gendered wording throughout, including references to the Trinity, the next BCP will be filled with more options to “include” more people who don’t fit into the church now. Besides a new BCP, one of the other things the committees are supposed to start studying now are rites and services for people who don’t fit into current family styles, e.g. they live together but don’t want to get married, etc. Those will probably be added to the next BCP.

    2. Rudolph Rassendyll says:

      What he said. I find myself an Episcopalian without a church to attend….

  10. William Adams says:

    If the preparers of weekly liturgies have been using the trial Eucharistic Prayers etc. that have been available for some time, then the shock of revision should be very minimal. As for printing a weekly booklet I believe it is user-friendly and not a matter of “spoon feeding” anyone. For too long we have had our “top of the class” folks who had all the juggling down and perhaps resented just anyone coming into their church and actually being on the same page as them. As for the bishop’s voting down the resolution to have total and completely open Communion. . . Shame on them! The precedent is in the Gospels themselves. In my 30 years of ordained ministry, I have found that open Communion is profoundly important to many of our visitors, and has contributed to retention of those visitors and larger Confirmation classes.

    1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      Last I checked we do have open Communion to all baptized persons.

    2. Chris Harwood says:

      Precedent for Communion without being baptized/a Christian is in the Bible? What non-Christian, besides Judas, was at the Last Supper? The bishops were upholding the importance of Baptism, which many churches are not requiring for the Eucharist or membership. Some of our churches in the diocese that have CWOB have gone years without an adult Baptism.

  11. Michael Grear says:

    If we Episcopalians spend the same amount of time in evangelization as we do arguing over gay marriage, women bishops in the church, who can distribute communion, hymnals and prayer books, we would have full, healthy Christ-centered houses of worship instead of the “Dens of Bickering” we now have from coast to coast.

    1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      Michael do you not know that the theme is: “Be we High or be we Low, the Status is still Quo.”

  12. Daniel Anderson Toler says:

    If Rite I goes I am out. Its one of the reasons I became an Episcopalian, I am only 31 and became a member at 16, so there are those of us younger people out there who still like it. Had one priest try EOW and , AVSAT went from 100 to 47 in a month and a half. The priest stopped using it and went back to BCP Rite II and Rite I for Lent. Mind you our parish is not that big, and we do seat 235 but, we have 7 other Episcopal parishes to contend with in a town of 120,000 people. One parish in town being our Mother parish St James has 3000 members, and uses only Rite I and Rite II. So not all people want a new prayer book.

  13. richard benson says:

    As a millennial who chose to become Episcopalian largely because of the tradition and beautiful liturgy as well as openness, I don’t understand the need for a revision from 1979. Millennials don’t want to be marketed to. We are marketed to every day in every possible way. Those of us who choose church want authenticity and relevance.
    I’ve read that we may be getting rid of creeds in the services except at baptism and getting rid of references to the Trinity. Are we ceasing being a Christian Church, then? If I wanted a liberal group of people to philosophize with once a week, I would go to a Unitarian Universalist Church. They are good people, but I want to keep Christ at the center of my spiritual meditation. My parish usually uses “God” instead of “Him” so that change is easy. Do we really need a whole re-write? Can’t we just do a minor update? As for marriage, why not authorize a liturgy along side the one that exists and allow people to choose?
    Maybe it is just that this is all new and cool to me. Perhaps if I grew up with it I would feel like a liturgy change is needed.

  14. Robert Horwath says:

    We do need a reform of the current text of the BCP since our denomination is evolving away from the doctrine of uniformity-a uniformity which in ritual, praxis, and doctrine historically never really existed in our tradition. The prayer book tradition per se is dying and we need to evalute as a catholic Church if we really need it anymore. Common prayer seems to make sense in the context of a pre-Anglican communion reality, but now with the broad scope of BCP variants in the several National Churches and multiplication of options of prayers, rites, and liturgies throughout the Anglican world-does our doctrine of uniformity really make sense other than being a historical relic? Being a catholic Church does not mean being trapped in forms or traditions which no longer work ecclesially in the modern context…although we should sustain the right of each parish to practice any form of ritual and liturgical praxis which meets the needs if the local church…even keeping the tradition of prayer books or missals for those who out of nostalgia or comfort need them.

  15. Robert Horwath says:

    I am able to see a rejection of Baptism as the door to receiving Holy Communion in this Church if we repudiate our emerging understanding and implementation of Episcopal baptismal ecclesiology. Our high view of the necessity of Baptism for entry into the ecclesial community and its covenental implications should prevent us from the abuse of offering communion to un-initiated or unbaptized believers in Christ or those who would take the Eucharist without understanding its reality and social-covenental dimension not to mention the mysteriological Presence of the Risen Christ in the Elements of Communion. While I agree we should abandon Confirmation as a separate rite and allow presbyters to perform it with Chrism or laying on of hands at Baptism…doing away with Baptism as a necessity for receiving Holy Communion is an abuse which I hope our Church rejects. If this Church approves of Communion for the unbaptized in a future GC: it we would be rejecting one of the last practices which connect us to the catholic Church throughout the ages and our Church would become a de-facto liberal evangelical ecclesial community which rejects the necessity of sacramental life in favor of pietistic or private notions of spirituality which neglect the constant sacramental tradition of the Church catholic.

  16. Frankie Davis says:

    I belong to the ACC and we still use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer….no changes here. Looks like with the newer edition in the future, what is Rite 111??? You know, I could have excepted woman priest’s, even bishop’s, but when they went to the 1979 Prayer Book and put in that table, I left the church. I know a lot of people like it as of now…but you start messing with a newer version of the prayer book that you have….might want to think about it a little more. What do I know, I am just a old traditional ex-Episcopalian that truly enjoys the ACC format. Change is good, but only if it is done for the right reasons….and not just try to please everybody concerned, for that will never happen and will cause more problems than solved….Thank You for your time…

  17. Stephen W Houghton II says:

    My thoughts on prayer book revision are here, at my blog on why I oppose it and how I would do it.

  18. Sean Storm says:

    First…I want to say I completely believe in inclusion of all people into the Church ministry and sacraments, but I draw the line on certain issues. Inclusive language has always been a sticking point to me. Last night was the Great Easter Vigil and I watched a video of an Episcopal Church reading the Creation story and calling Almighty God…She. The Nicene Creed read at the National Cathedral the clergy said Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly Human. First of all I’m not never PC when it comes to words. I acclaim and am so very happy we have women and all manner of people in the clergy now. Maybe I can get used to referring to the Holy Spirit as She, after all She is Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom….but the Father and the Son will always be the Father and the Son, and I say we don’t need to change all that. Be inclusive about people but please leave Almighty God alone.

  19. Scott Cranmer says:

    Lord Have Mercy! What is wrong with Morning Prayer? It was the old Virginia way to have morning prayer three Sundays of the month, and Communion one. In some instances, Communion was held only quarterly (i.e. four times per year). In many cases, the reliance upon Morning Prayer was born out of necessity, principally the lack of ordained clergy or the need to share clergy among several churches or parishes. Although I would not suggest limiting Communion so severely, Morning Prayer is a beautiful service that offers one opportunities for engaging with the divine that can be every bit as worshipful as Communion. The service of Morning Prayer offered once or twice per month as the “principal” service compliments Communion nicely.

  20. Andrew Davis says:

    As I browse the websites of Episcopal congregations in a major metropolitan region, I notice infrequent use of the terms “Rite I” and “Rite II”. Without these terms, I don’t know whether my preferred service is offered. Furthermore, I don’t want to call each parish to ask which rite they use at each Sunday service.

    Based on my observations, I wonder whether the use of the terms “Rite I” and
    “Rite II” has been banned by the ECUSA or by the diocese whose websites I’m browsing.

  21. Arla DeVeau says:

    What liturgy could be more beautiful and meaningful than the 1928 version of the BCP? When the 1979 BCP was adopted, I attended church a few times and asked myself: ” What church am I in?” The new service was very much like that of various Protestant faiths. Although I did not accept all of the beliefs of the Church of St. Dunstan (an off-shoot of the Episcopal Church), I attended their services until I relocated. Unfortunately, there is no St. Dunstan church here so I no longer attend any services. How I wish that the 1928 BCP would be re-adopted.

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