[Episcopal News Service] The church’s calendar of saints has been in a state of extreme flux for years, and the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music is recommending a way for General Convention to remedy what it calls a “situation of great confusion.”
The SCLM’s proposal is contained in its Blue Book report to convention. The subcommittee report on the calendar can be found via the side navigation.
The committee said in its report that it inherited a “situation of great confusion about what the calendar of the church was, and what General Convention wanted the next steps to be.” The Blue Book report outlines that multiyear confusion.
“The SCLM’s first step was to pause, take a breath, and determine a clear narrative for where our calendar has been, what has happened to it over the past 10 years, and what General Convention asked us to do this triennium,” the Rev. Devon Anderson, SCLM chair, told Episcopal News Service.
“In some instances, the SCLM received conflicting directives from General Convention. Our Calendar Subcommittee, chaired by Liza Anderson, charted the calendar’s past course in order to interpret and engage the work we were asked to do this triennium, and propose a clear path forward for next triennium. So, what you will see in the report is clarity. We have graphs!”
The 2015 General Convention sent the SCLM 11 resolutions related to the church’s various lists of saints that it has chosen to remember and honor. Those resolutions, along with feedback from the church, led the committee to decide that it ought to prepare a new edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which would better reflect the diversity of the church and could work in conjunction with A Great Cloud of Witnesses, which the last General Convention voted to “make available” but did not authorize.
Efforts have been ongoing to create a calendar that reflects the church’s diversity to replace the current list of commemorations that, in the committee’s words, “still skews overwhelmingly clerical, white, and male.” Even the process begun in 2003, which resulted in Holy Women, Holy Men, added 100 commemorations, but they also tended to be white, male clergy.
The SCLM is recommending that convention authorize for optional use its revised version of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which reflects what it calls “judicious pruning” of names made possible by the idea that A Great Cloud of Witnesses can include some of those names. The report said pruning is needed because convention has been “dramatically increasing the rate at which it adds commemorations, with no signs of slowing down.”
Yet, it said, Episcopalians are concerned about the sheer number of commemorations and their scope, including having multiple choices of people to honor on some days. “Given the inability of the calendar committee to bend space and time in order to create more days in a calendar year, the only solution we see is to keep the commemorations on the main calendar to a manageable number, and to use A Great Cloud of Witnesses to include an even wider scope of individuals,” the SCLM wrote.
The committee also considered the issue of the criteria by which the church decides to include people on the calendar.
“General Convention kicked the calendar back to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which included the criteria for inclusion in Lesser Feasts and Fasts,” Anderson said. “It also passed a resolution directing SCLM to include former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (and General Convention deputy) Thurgood Marshall on the calendar, with an emphatic ‘Now!’
“But under Lesser Feasts and Fasts’ criteria, Marshall could not be included, as at least two generations have not passed since his death in 1993. Our calendar committee struck the difference, placing Marshall, in addition to Pauli Murray and Florence Li Tim-Oi, on the draft calendar in brackets, and submitted a resolution that the brackets be removed and the three become a permanent part of our calendar.”
The committee recommended that convention authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts for “optional use throughout the church,” noting that the idea of “trial use” does not canonically apply to anything other than revisions of the Book of Common Prayer. A process of “optional use” with the next iteration of the SCLM monitoring feedback will allow for refinements at the 2021 meeting of convention, the SCLM said.
The members added a caveat, saying that while they recognize the sometimes irresistible “temptation to tinker with the calendar on the floor of convention,” they generally believe that “the church will ultimately have the highest-quality document if significant revisions can wait until the church has had the opportunity to test this new volume, and if all of the anticipated necessary revisions can be accomplished organically rather than by a process of individual resolutions and amendments.”
The SCLM plans to post on its blog a series of essays about the various projects it worked on during this triennium and will host online discussions there.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.