Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will present options to General Convention on possible prayer book revision

Posted Dec 6, 2016

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) plans to present the 2018 General Convention with four options regarding the possible revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, said the Rev. Devon Anderson, commission chair.

The options, discussed in detail on the SCLM’s blog, are:

  • Revision of the prayer book beginning after the 2018 General Convention;
  • Creation of a book or books of alternative services beginning after the 2018 General Convention, with no accompanying revision of the prayer book;
  • A postponement of the decision on the prayer book and supplemental resources until the completion of a church-wide conversation on liturgical theology and practice during the 2018-2021 triennium
  • A step back from liturgical revision and a commitment to exploring the theology of the current prayer book in greater depth.

“We want to give General Convention everything it needs to give the SCLM very detailed direction and sufficient funding to follow that direction,” Anderson said. “We want to call the church to a collective discernment that leads to a decision.”

Resolution A169 of the 2015 General Convention directed the SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.”

The commission is taking a data-driven approach to its work, and hopes to use several methods of gathering the information and opinions that will shape its conversations, Anderson said.

These methods include collecting and analyzing bulletins to gauge current practice in the church; interviewing Anglican partners who have recently revised their prayer books; holding small group discussions about the prayer book across the church, beginning at the 2018 General Convention; and sponsoring conferences on the prayer book at Virginia Theological Seminary and the School of Theology at Sewanee, the University of the South.

These methods can be tested in the next two years and deployed church-wide between the conventions in 2018 and 2021, Anderson said.

The commission is also hoping to commission a church-wide research project in cooperation with the Church Pension Group to determine Episcopalians’ current attitudes towards the prayer book. The study would follow “grounded theory” methodology, which seeks data not to confirm a previously conceived theory, but to find testable theories within the information gathered.

Anderson said data gathering is an essential step if either prayer book revision or the creation of supplemental liturgical resources is to proceed.  “The Book of Common Prayer is the fullest statement of our faith, and the deepest expression of our theology,” she said. “If we are going to revise it, it is essential that people from across the church can share their thoughts, their anxieties and their hopes with us. That is why we are focusing, at this point, on hearing the voices of our people.”

The SCLM blog also includes updates from subcommittees working on the Book of Occasional Services, the Calendar of Commemorations, congregational song, and liturgical resources that speak to issues of racial injustice and reconciliation.

 


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Comments (82)

  1. All this delay feels avoidant. Oh well, at least the 2034 prayer book should be quite nice.

    1. Stephen W. Houghton says:

      What delay? more than a hundred years is the typical period between prayer books.

  2. The Rev. D F Lindstrom says:

    Step back from any further revision of the Prayer Book. Sometimes doing nothing is the right thing to do. You rightly said “The Book of Common Prayer is the fullest statement of our faith, and the deepest expression of our theology.” Making changes should only be done after the most careful consideration.

    1. Karen Morgan says:

      I agree with the thinking of The Rev. D. F. Lindstrom – the corny adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”, in my opinion makes sense. I suffered through the 1979 revision which caused a great deal of contention in parishes, especially, and I am one who believes this way, that the “little people” had no say in anything – it was just done and handed to us with the instructions to use it. I do thoroughly understand the purpose of the revisions – the three-year cycle which shares a greater amount of the Bible with the congregations – the 1928 BCP was definitely limiting in the exposure of Biblical sense, however, the modernization of the liturgical word was okay, and I’ve gotten used to it, but Celebrating Rite I is a Blessing – that beautiful prose is very comforting. I could go on – i.e. eliminating some hymns or putting them into a musical setting no one can sing or play on a pipe organ – we use some versions from the 1940 hymnal still – I am a church organist, so am able to “control” some of the music – my plea is to not do anything in haste – consider all changes carefully and not single out specific groups – we are all part of the Episcopal Church and need to feel what we have prayed and sung for our entire lives isn’t thrown out for reasons that aren’t totally valid or just because…

    2. Carolyn Swallow says:

      Thank you! My sentiments exactly. A new prayer book is just another way to divide the church.

    3. E. Jerry Walker says:

      I wholeheartedly agree Rev. D F Lindstrom. I became an Episcopalian after decades of being a fundamentalist christian. I see trouble on the horizon if there is any changes to the BCP. It’s unnecessary. All of this seems interesting to me since it’s coinciding with Bishop Curry’s “Revivalist” meetings for 2017-18. Any leanings to the right by TEC will mean this member will leave. I became a Episcopal Christian for the liturgy, BCP and the theology. I must admit I have reservations about our new bishop. That he will take all of these things and push the to center right or further.

  3. I find the “Options” concept very strange since in reality there is no actual recommendation but rather a broad spectrum of choices from doing virtually nothing to providing much greater variety.

  4. The Reverend Dr. Jim Shumard says:

    I would be interested in hearing the motivations behind revising the book of common prayer. Are we talking about addressing some language and gender issues or more dramatic revision?

    1. Corban Qualls says:

      I’ve had many discussions with fellow Episcopalians, and no one I’ve talked with has ever been able to give me valid reasons for Prayer Book revision. “It’s been too long” isn’t a good reason to do anything–let alone revise the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book has been a radical source of orthodoxy since its inception, and I fear any changes would threaten its distinctly Anglican theological heritage.

      I would be okay with replacing references to mankind with references to humankind, ridding a few collects of their periods, and fixing the few spelling mistakes in the Prayer Book. But I can’t think of anything else that could be changed.

      1. Stephen W. Houghton says:

        Not only is “it been to long” not a good reason, it is not true. The typical period between prayer books is more than a hundred years.

      2. Alan Christensen says:

        Some people are still calling 1979 “the new prayer book,” so maybe we should hold off a bit longer.

  5. Why is there no single member of the SCLM who represents the Association of Anglican Musicians? This body, which is made up of both lay and clergy members of the ECUSA, offers an important point of view and reference point, both musically and theologically, to any discussion of liturgy and music in the church. If there is no canonical way to include such representatives, then the canons need to be revised so that an important voice is not marginalized or ignored.

    1. Jessica Nelson says:

      Hi Robert,
      There are a handful of AAM members on the SCLM: The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Jessica Nelson (me), Stephen Plank, Ellen Johnston, and Martha Burford are the names that come to mind immediately.

    2. susan zimmerman says:

      and Jesus was in the Temple ‘singing’ daily?

  6. The Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston says:

    First option; complete and total revision. It’s time – 50 years was long enough for the 1928 book, which we started to revise in the 1960s; it’s long enough for the 1979 book, so it’s time to start revising. Also, this way someone can form a new “Prayer Book Society” to preserve the 1979 book and we can relive that part of the past, too! Oh … and we can end up with a book with THREE variations, so-called “traditional” Rite 1, the 70s lingo of Rite 2, and now a contemporary 21st Century English in Rite 3 (and the mislabeled so-called Rite 3 of the current book can be called “Rite 4” just to add to the confusion). [NB: I do hope people will recognize facetiousness when they read it. I’m actually in favor of the fourth option.]

  7. James Graham says:

    Oh please, haven’t you thoughtless people done enough to dumb-down and gut our Church, it’s Liturgy and Theology? Do you have any idea of how many of the good people left in TEC are hanging by a thread, and who will finally bail and transfer to Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and breakaway Anglican congregations if you take this madness any further? Jesus Movement indeed! You are fooling no one. You think you will make up for the membership you have lost through ill-conceived, reckless changes, by recruiting evangelical types and implementing their style of worship. It’s all about money. Soon you’ll be lookin for a Jim Bakker type to get the low-brow dollars pouring in. How do you get to sleep at night? Do none of you have so much as a twinge of conscience for the ruin you have perpetrated?

    1. Douglas Carpenter says:

      Why the angry responses? I think we need to pay attention to people like J. D. Vance to better understand the anger in our society, politics and church. It is widespread. Is a pastoral response appropriate?

      1. James Graham says:

        Sometimes an expression of anger, or rather frustration, is appropriate. One can remember the Lord’s response to the money changers in the temple. (Or should we remove that inconvenient image from Scripture and Liturgy also?) Peaceful compliance, for the sake of peaceful compliance, to travesty, is not reasoned behavior.

        1. Douglas Carpenter says:

          James Graham, you misunderstand me. I didn’t say we should not express anger. I said that we should try to understand the source of it. One of the shortcomings of the Democratic
          Presidential candidate was that she didn’t probe more into the source of the widespread anger and respond appropriately to it. Again, I think J. C. Vance is worth reading.

      2. Stephen W. Houghton says:

        Douglas, some of us lived through the last prayer book revision fight and were wounded by it. I was nine when the new book was adopted and I am still bitter about it, especially that it was done in the name of “keeping the youth” when the youth were not consulted.

        1. Douglas Carpenter says:

          Again, I am being misunderstood. I think it is important for me to know and understand why you were “wounded” by the ’79 book. I think it is wrong for me to enjoy it without understanding, really understanding, how it has hurt you.

        2. Douglas Carpenter says:

          Stephen, I am being misunderstood. I think it is important for me to know and understand why you were “wounded” by the ’79 book. I think it is wrong for me to enjoy it without understanding, really understanding, how it has hurt you.

        3. Douglas Carpenter says:

          Stephen, I am being misunderstood. I think it is important for me to know and understand why you were “wounded” by the ’79 book. I think it is wrong for me to enjoy it without understanding, really understanding, how it has hurt you.

        4. Douglas Carpenter says:

          Stephen, I am saying that is is important for those of us who appreciate the ’79 Prayer Book to know and understand why you were “wounded” by the ’79 book. I think it is wrong for me to enjoy it without understanding, really understanding, how it has hurt you.

        5. Douglas Carpenter says:

          Editor, please allow this to stand. Stephen spoke directly to me and I am answering. Stephen, I am saying that is is important for those of us who appreciate the ’79 Prayer Book to know and understand why you were “wounded” by the ’79 book. I think it is wrong for me to enjoy it without understanding, really understanding, how it has hurt you.

    2. susan zimmerman says:

      can evangelicals handle ‘high church’?

    3. Les Smith says:

      You are very much on point with your comments.

  8. Andrew Katsanis says:

    Thanks for all of your good work. Most people are very pleased with the changes and additions.

    1. Stephen W. Houghton says:

      Speak for yourself. Look at the Anglicanism Reddit, the comments are running strongly against revision.

  9. James Calabro says:

    There is much to learn from the 1979 BCP! Please don’t revise it until we are really ready. I’ve been brought to TEC under the Rites Ii and Rite I liturgy and prayers. Let us continue to be a Communion focused on bridging the divisions within before making such a massive change. Please don’t sow further divisions in the Church! I want there to be a church around when I grow old. Please don’t forget the lessons after the 1979 revision! If there are people who want options within the Church (liberal or conservative), please find room for them without forgetting us who just want there to be peace within God’s Church. Please!

    1. susan zimmerman says:

      …we used to call it the via media…remember?

  10. Stephen Houghton says:

    Option four step back from prayer book revision. Those who want to experiment with the liturgy can have their parishes spend a year using each of the following books 1549, 1552, 1662, 1789, 1892, and 1928. Then they can spend a year using each of the Eucharistic prayers in Rite 1 and Rite II. Then they can experiment with Matins as the principal service on Sunday. Then they can spend a year with the uses of Salisbery and York. Then they can actually follow the whole 79 Prayer Book Liturgy: Matins, Litany, Mass, Sext, Evensong, and Compline EVERY Sunday. When they are done with this in two decades or so, they can report back.

    1. Stephen W. Houghton says:

      I supposed I sdhould also link to my article, “Why I Oppose Prayer Book Revision, Even Though I Have a Proposed Revised BCP”
      http://proposedrevisedbookofcommonprayer.blogspot.com/2016/01/why-i-oppose-prayer-book-revision-even.html
      and a Link to my “A Proposed Revised Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments. 2015/2024”
      http://proposedrevisedbookofcommonprayer.blogspot.com/2016/01/how-this-book-is-organized.html

  11. Father Fred Fenton says:

    The fourth option seems the most intelligent and responsible approach to me. I was a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles when the 1979 BCP was adopted at the Denver General Convention. There have been many groundbreaking biblical and theological studies in the 37 years since then. A thoughtful approach to the much-needed revision of the BCP would be to “step back from liturgical revision and a commitment to exploring the theology of the current prayer book in greater depth.”
    My question would be whether we can find theologians and liturgists up to the challenge and if it would be politically possible in a divided nation and church to get a new book through General Convention. Do you remember when Episcopalians loved their Prayer Books and carried leather-bound copies with their names stamped in gold on the cover? A compact book with poetic language and an absence of burdensome images from the past could once again become a uniting rather than a dividing force in TEC.

    1. Fr. Carlton Kelley says:

      I would agree with Fr. Fred. But I would caution that we are never going” to get it right” to suit all needs and purposes. I believe it is urgent for the church to do basic theological work first. For example, our Baptismal Liturgy presents a very robust theology of Holy Baptism that, nonetheless, may need to be changed. Yet we have clergy teaching that baptism is not an absolute requirement for reception of the Holy Eucharist. It seems we have missed what it means to be a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. First things first. I fear that the meaning of Christian hospitality has been sorely confused and abused.

  12. Father Fred Fenton says:

    The fourth option seems the most intelligent and responsible approach to me. I was a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles when the 1979 BCP was adopted at the Denver General Convention. There have been many groundbreaking biblical and theological studies in the 37 years since then. A thoughtful approach to the much-needed revision of the BCP would be to “step back from liturgical revision and a commitment to exploring the theology of the current prayer book in greater depth.”
    My question would be whether we can find theologians and liturgists up to the challenge and if it would be politically possible in a divided nation and church to get a new book through General Convention. Do you remember when Episcopalians loved their Prayer Books and carried leather-bound copies with their names stamped in gold on the cover? A compact book with poetic language and an absence of burdensome images from the past could once again become a uniting rather than a dividing force in TEC.

  13. I too am grateful for the good work that the SCLM is doing. In the parish it is difficult to get consensus on worship, how much more difficult to reach consensus with the greater church. Thank you for all the listening!

  14. Arthur Lee says:

    I would favor another option, somewhere between options 1 and 2. First, a modest revision incorporating the changes clergy already are making in their use of the BCP (e.g. gender-neutral language for God, while keepong male language for Jesus; elimination of some awkward phrasings; some additional forms of blessing; etc.). Second, an evolving companion volume, with both alternative and supplemental materials. This supplement could be similar to the Book of Occasional Offices, but larger and with more options. This would recognize that we have both people who love the regularity of fixed forms of service, and also people who love and need the stimulus of more variation than the BCP in its present form encourages.

    1. I´m with Arthur Lee. Modest revisions (at least as alternative language) in the current BCP, with continued development of Alternative /Supplemental Liturgies responding to our demographic and cultural needs for witness and new forms of corporate prayer. And please be sure that the latter editions are simultaneously available in Spanish and English!

  15. Bob Chapman says:

    Technically, we aren’t using the 1979 BCP anymore, anyway. There was a revision made to the text in the 1979 BCP because of changes caused by the adoption of the RCL. There are a few more things like that which can and should be done.

    That said, as a survivor of the last Great Prayer Book Wars, there was something positive to be said for it. The discussion around the adoption of the 1979 BCP shaped the Episcopal Church up to this day.

    However, the times are changing. Rite I was seen as an accomodation at the time, but is favored by many today. Maybe the current generation would like to think about a BCP to reflect the different mood? I doubt it would be a great revision. (And then they can stop blaming the Baby Boomers for what they don’t like.)

    Beyond that, though, we really need to think about how to deliver the services in the Book of Common Prayer going forward. The Rule of Prayer is the Rule of Faith. Previous to the current times, the BCP was in every pew rack, so the rule of faith was there. With printed services and PowerPoint, I’ve seen changes that are theologically quesitonable made to the texts. How do we stop that?

  16. Bruce Garner says:

    We often forget that the 1928 Book of Common Prayer was not considered a “final” product but a work in progress. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer was also an ongoing work in progress. That is how the worship of the people is done.

    I have to laugh when I hear comments that change is what drives people away and that we need to keep what we have. I laugh because when I think about how Jesus went about His ministry He was very clear to send people out to spread the Gospel. He sent the 70 out. He sent the disciples and apostles out. No where is there an indication that those who followed Jesus were to sit and wait for others to come join them. “Build it and they will come” was not the model.

    Yet, what are we doing now? We have “built” it and we think sitting back and waiting for people to come to us is the answer. In case no one is paying attention, entire generations are NOT coming to us. It’s time we learned about evangelism and really became a Jesus movement.

    I was baptized and confirmed an Episcopalian in 1965 at the age of 16. I had escaped the theological tyranny of Southern Baptist churches. Some of my best experiences were the multitude of studies we undertook as we worked toward the 1979 BCP. It wasn’t just the Green Book or the Zebra Book or whatever color the variations were. It was the Prayer Book Studies series that helped us understand what was to be changed and why. In the Diocese of Atlanta we had a bishop who led the way and pretty much insisted that we engage the process. And over the years it was easy to tell which dioceses and parishes had actually undertaken a period of study and discernment with the proposed liturgies and changes….there was far less friction.

    Sadly, our failures with prayer book revisions as well as the ordination of women and the multitude of issues surrounding human sexuality were usually traceable to bishops and priests who either failed to lead, refused to lead or simply did not know how to lead. The prophetic nature of ministry has deteriorated over the decades as we became more concerned with not preaching and living the “red letter words” of Jesus (if you remember such Bibles). Where there was leadership and teaching, the issues were far less dramatic and destructive. That’s not to say that everyone has always agreed with everything but at least they knew the history behind it.

    So rather than whining and wringing our hands, let’s get to work on the mission God has given us to do on this earth…..and that does NOT mean remaining the “frozen chosen” sitting in pews waiting for people to come worship with us. We have builded it folks, but they ain’t coming!

    Bruce Garner, L5 (2018) L3 (2015)
    Atlanta

    1. Stephen W. Houghton says:

      Bruce I will engage with the rest of your argument when you apologize for engaging in name calling. The “frozen chosen” indeed, you sure know how to be open and welcoming.

      1. As I understand it, “God’s frozen people” and “the frozen chosen” are light jokes that do have some truth to them. I wouldn’t take it as personal name-calling.

  17. F William Thewalt says:

    In fine Episcopalian tradition the Committee has decided to kick the can down the road and do nothing. I tire of attempting to get everything politically correct so no one is offended. Why not authorize some rubrics to clean up gender issues and keep it the same? Then, spend our efforts teaching church goers why we worship from the Book and how to use it. I think its pretty good even if quaint by 21st century standards.

  18. Chaz Brooks says:

    We did a big survey on hymnal revision in 2012 and found overwhelming opposition to a new hymnal, with opposition particularly high among the young. The 2015 Convention tersely received the results and decided to push revision anyway. Why should the Prayerbook be any different?

  19. Dick Mitchell says:

    From time to time I encounter experimental liturgies, that decline to call God “Father,” that refuse to call Jesus “Lord,” and otherwise abandon Biblical standards of faith and practice, and my reaction is to refuse to participate in Communion, and frankly to encourage others to do the same. If these experimental liturgies become the practice, it will be an abandonment of the Creeds and a source of schism.

  20. I think less is more. Option 4 with out current supplements and generous episcopates to consider parochial needs is more than ample to accommodate the spectrum of liturgical needs.

      1. Stephen W. Houghton says:

        You have inadvertently coined our rallying cry, “less is more, chose option 4.”

  21. There is quite a bit of anxiety in the church over this. Some of it is related to other anxiety about things that have happened in the world and other anxiety is due to concerns that deeply held values will be violated by thoughtlessly sweeping away important things in liturgical practice that makes a huge difference in the lives of many. Anxiety could be lessened if it were made clear what categories of changes would be considered and the limits of them.

    Any change is significant, and it is particularly tone deaf of the committee as putting forth a change from “rulers of creation” to “stewards of creation” as merely technical. That change is clearly based on theological/ethical concerns, and while I would support it, it is not a “technicality” it is a theological issue. I would encourage option 4, unless there is substantially more transparency from the committee and more trust developed within the church.

  22. Richard McClellan says:

    Please leave the 79 BCP alone. PLEASE!

  23. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    I love the theology of the 1979 BCP. But I yearn for gender inclusive language. I’m tired of being left out, and I’m tired of being treated (by the world) like I’m not as valuable as a man. I want the liturgy for my SSM included as well. I’m fine with option 2.

    Should we commit “to exploring the theology of the current prayer book in greater depth”? Many of us have been there and done that. Not that more reflection would hurt, but with option 2, people who haven’t inwardly digested the 1979 BCP can still do that while the rest of us move into liturgy that is more life giving.

  24. If a choice is inevitable, mine would be option 4, 2, 3, 1 in that order, My reason is very simple. Our denomination is in decline in terms of members, attendance, finances and influence. Since this is NOT something that is absolutely essential right now, I think postponing it indefinitely and doing a lot of foundational work (including lots of listening) in our congregations is essential to stem the out-flow of members. I’ve been a Priest of the Church for 45 years. As I’ve said in an article on Linkedin, I like the Farmers Insurance Ad Line. “I think aI know a thing or two because I have seen a thing or two.”

    1. The Rev. Dr. Jim Shumard says:

      Nice.

  25. Susan Salisbury says:

    Don’t change it. I like it the way it is. I do not like the New Zealand service or any of the alternatives I have seen. They tend toward psychobabble and self centered prayer.

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