Broadening the church calendar and commemorations

Legislative Committee takes on inclusivity, criteria and servanthood

By Sharon Tillman
Posted Jul 4, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Committee 12, the Legislative Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music, held its first open hearing the morning of July 4 before the official opening of the 79th General Convention. General Convention mandates that this legislative committee “receives and proposes resolutions on the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy and music of this church,” and today’s open hearing focused on revising the church calendar of commemorations, and the request to authorize the use of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018,” the proposed revised edition.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

The committee began working on the big issues around calendar inclusion criteria, definitions and servanthood early in General Convention, according to bishop co-chair the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander of Atlanta, to have the time it needs to fully explore the issues surrounding its mandate.

And as the Rev. Susan Anslow Williams of Michigan, committee co-chair representing the House of Deputies, put it on July 3 during the committee’s first gathering, the work of this committee is “more than deciding who is in and who is out,” referring to the Episcopal Church’s commemorative calendar and published resources.

Those who signed up before the 8 a.m. open hearing could speak to one of the nine resolutions regarding the church calendar and “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” that are before the committee. These include A065, which authorizes “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018” for optional use by churches and the collection of feedback on the resource – not a trial use, but close.

Resolutions also request the inclusion of new commemorations: A066 to add Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray and Florence Li Tim-Oi to “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018,” and D012 to add the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester to the church calendar.

It was D012 that garnered the most attention at the open hearing. Louis Cavaliere, board chair of The Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia, spoke on behalf of including on the church calendar the Dorchester Four, who he said, embody “holy innocence.” In 1943, the U.S. Army troop transport Dorchester was sunk off the coast of Greenland. The four U.S. Army chaplains, all from different faiths, gave up their life jackets and perished, saving the lives of four soldiers. “Behind every person who perished or survived that sinking is a story. And there are four people whose stories continued because of the four chaplains who gave over their life jackets,” Cavaliere said.

Seeking clarity

A criterion for inclusion on the church calendar is two generations, or roughly 50 years, since the death of the candidate. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in the last triennium recommended expanding the criteria to include, for example, non-Christian individuals who exemplify the Gospel, such as the Jewish chaplain of the Dorchester Four.

The committee is also working through how to increase inclusivity and diversity among those commemorated. One committee member suggested excluding words of power, such a patriarch and matriarch, for language of servanthood.

Questions around the calendars – of which there are multiple versions at this time – arose during the meeting. Another committee member observed that having different criteria for different calendars is adding to the confusion. “Holy Women, Holy Men” and “Great Cloud of Witnesses” were both developed to widen the inclusivity of the sanctoral calendar but have specific criteria for inclusion.

New Hampshire Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld noted that there is an ecology in the church that allows for people of diverse backgrounds to “come to the table.” Hirschfeld explained that people in his diocese have asked him why Mahatma Gandhi isn’t in “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.” When he answered that it’s because Gandhi wasn’t a Christian, they pointed out that non-Christians are welcome to communion. He noted that the church’s culture of inclusivity is not reflected in the current criteria for “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.”

Anslow Williams said, “The criteria used in the past (from 2009) is still in effect. Are these persons lasting models of Christian exemplary living?” While the committee does review recommendations for new candidates, “looking at the larger criteria” is the committee’s focus, she explained.

Alexander added, “The work of the SCLM following 2015 is a commentary on the existing criteria.”

The Legislative Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music is responsible for revisions to and the simplification of the Episcopal Church’s sanctoral calendar and revisions to the Book of Occasional Services, among other liturgical functions. Committee 12 has formed two subcommittees, one for Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the other for Book of Occasional Services. A General Convention Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 has been formed to focus on the revisions to the Prayer Book and the marriage liturgy. Known as Committee 13, this group is meeting separately from Committee 12.

– Sharon Tillman is a freelance writer for Episcopal News Service at the 79th General Convention.


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Comments (12)

  1. Kevin Miller says:

    The Bishop of New Hampshire’s comments are mistaken. The official position of the church is that you must be baptized in order to partake of Holy Communion. We need to do a better job at educating people about the importance of the sacraments!

    1. Steven Giovangelo says:

      Indeed, one must be baptized to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

      If a new Lesser Feasts and Fasts includes everyone on the planet who was a moral and righteous person, then what is the point of baptism? What are saying about Christian covenant and identity? “Excluding words of power?” This is much ado about nothing.

  2. Wm. Thomas Martin says:

    I am troubled by the idea that all-and-everyone, is invited to receive Holy Communion. If this is the case they why baptize in the first place. Lets just skip that sacrament and go right to the table! Perhaps, I am a traditionalist, for I believe that I am made a member of the Body of Christ and in the Eucharist I share in the Body of Christ. That is, Christ comes to a place where he all ready is! Now why would a non-Christian wish to have a share in Christ’s body? Now, have said this, doesn’t mean that I don’t see the Imago Dei in those who do not profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, for in the other I see the fullness of my faith when I am able to greet them in hospitality, compassion, and love. Their very difference invites me to experience the holiness of humanity. If we are going to have “SACRAMENTS” lets understand them in their mystery and depth.

    1. Jan Robitscher says:

      I agree with this and all of the above comments. First we must get our theology and practice of Communion as the repeatable part of the baptismal rite and then we must reform the overflowing calendar of “saints” to those who have truly lived holy, heroic lives for their faith and not just every group being represented in the calendar by nice people doing nice things.

  3. Jon Spangler says:

    If I recall the decades of sermons, church history classes, and Bible studies correctly, none of the people who broke bread with Jesus at the Last Supper were baptized Episcopalians or even Christians. (The terms had not come into being yet.)

    If Jesus welcomed sinners, tax collectors, Samaritans, women, and members of other “forbidden” (or, if you will, “unwashed”) classes to speak, walk, and dine with Him, why should we not follow suit and–on His behalf and in HIs honor–welcome all to His table in His household?

    1. Wm. Thomas Martin says:

      Yes, I agree with Jon, we definitely ought to do what Jesus did ~ “welcoming sinners, Samaritans, women, and members of other “forbidden/unwashed” class to speak, walk and dine with him”, and that is why we must invite the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the immigrant, to dine with us in our homes, around our table, to break bread with them, and to received them as our sisters and brothers. Only then can we really say that we have done what Christ has called us to do.

    2. Doug Desper says:

      The meal with the disciples – the Eucharist – was not the same meal as eating with the general public, say at Matthew’s house where there were all sorts of people. Jesus said that He longed to share the Passover with them because it would further illuminate His intimate teachings with them. By implication the Eucharist is for the more aware and for those committed to understanding the life and ways of Christ. Invite everyone to the church picnic. But the Eucharist is, by example, more defined and intimate for those committed to be learners.

    3. lindsey martin says:

      Well said. Jesus, a reflection of God, Christian, a reflection of Jesus.
      “Expand yourselves; do not contract into your own tiny individuality.”
      “God is not burdened by any name.”

  4. Greg Phipps says:

    The Baptism rule concerning communion is being ignored in hundreds of parishes as it should be.

    1. Richard Loop says:

      It sounds to me, from this conversational string, that there needs to be some effort to review who Jesus invited to the Last Supper – the genesis of Holy Eucharist.

  5. lindsey martin says:

    NEW COMMENT (I cannot easily find where to enter a new comment.) The founders of the Social Gospel Movement, Walter Rauschenbusch, Richard T. Ely, Josiah Strong, Washington Gladden and Jacob Riis, were once included in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on July 2. This movement played such an important part in 20th Century America and it continues in Mainstream Christianity today. This movement and these giants of Christianity need to be commemorated in the Episcopal Church Calendar. Surely, they are beloved of the Lord.

  6. Ann Van Dervoort says:

    When you invite guests to your table, should you be first to take a bite? No, you should be last. When you invite guests to your table, do you say “you over there can eat, but the one across from you cannot? Of course not. So should not the holy table be the same.

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