[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.”
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.
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.