Committee hears call for inclusive-language Book of Common Prayer

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 4, 2018

The Rev. Ian Stanford testifies in favor of nongendered language during testimony on resolutions dealing with prayer book revision. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

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

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The legislative committee charged with providing a pathway toward revision of the Book of Common Prayer took preliminary steps July 4 after a hearing filled with impassioned testimony.

The committee – officially titled the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 – heard speakers say that prayer book revision is needed immediately to correct the overwhelming use of masculine language to refer both to God and to human beings, as well as a lack of imagery calling for the care of creation.

Two resolutions on the Prayer Book – A068 and A069 – were presented by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in response to calls from the 78th General Convention in 2015 to begin prayer book of revision. Resolution A068 sets out a process of full prayer book revision, beginning in the next three years and culminating in a new authorized Book of Common Prayer in 2030. Resolution A069 offers instead a process of deeper engage with the current 1979 Prayer Book, to help members explore riches of services and prayers that are seldom used.

At the end of its first meeting, which stretched to four hours including testimony and member comments, the committee created a subcommittee of six members to craft a way forward, noting both the process outlined in A068 and the need for inclusive language detailed in Resolution D036.

‘Let’s let God be God’

Most of those who testified in hearings on prayer book revision resolutions called for new ways of talking about God that don’t rely on masculine nouns, pronouns or imagery.

The Rev. Ernesto Medina, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of Nebraska, said that his church counted 125 masculine references in a single Sunday morning service. He urged the committee to think beyond the question of revision or not, saying that the Episcopal Church “has been transformed by the Baptismal Covenant” of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. He urged the committee to “dig deep and come up with a courageous response” to help the church share the love of Jesus.

Rowan Pantalena testifies in favor of nongendered language during testimony on resolutions dealing with prayer book revision. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

Rowan Pantalena, a postulant from the Diocese of Connecticut, said that as a nonbinary trans person, “I am not your brother or your sister. I am your sibling.” Pantalena called for new liturgical language that doesn’t erase existing images from scripture and liturgy but expands upon them.

Two clergy who identified themselves as transgender men, the Rev. Ian Stanford of the Diocese of Oregon and the Rev. Cameron Partridge of the Diocese of California, described how gendered language in the prayer book is an impediment to people with whom they minster. Stanford said that if he can get young people who don’t care about religion to even think about giving the Episcopal Church a try, he worries about how they will receive what they hear. “What am I inviting them into?” he asked.

Kathleen Moore, a seminarian from the Diocese of Vermont, said that in her work to evangelize young people, she tries to help them see that God is bigger than any human construct, but gendered language gets in the way. “Let’s let God be God,” she said.

The Rev. Ruth Myers, alternate deputy from the Diocese of California, described her discomfort in presiding at the funeral for a woman and having to use the opening words of the service referring to the deceased as “he” and “him,” with its implication that being male is normative. She also noted there are no prayer book collects that refer to God’s role in creation and called for a more robust theology for creation care. Susie Burk from the Diocese of Connecticut called for adding care for creation to the Baptismal Covenant.

Some who testified thought the cost – both financial and pastoral – of full prayer book revision was too high. The Rev. Jordan Hylden of the Diocese of Dallas asked how the church today could adequately revise rites to be used by the church of the future.

Cost estimates are that full prayer book revision outlined in A068 would cost up to $9 million over nine years, and deeper prayer book engagement described in A069 would cost $1.1 million in the next three years.

The Rev. Timothy Nunez, deputy from the Diocese of Central Florida, wondered if by 2030 the church would even need a book at all. “We are going to need a more nimble way to approach liturgies to reach into the diversity of our church,” he said.

— Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.


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Comments (43)

  1. Lloyd Newell says:

    Gee what about those who do not have a pro noun problem. What about our feeling about this issue of changing the pray book? Our not our views worthy of consideration? Our we coming so heavenly minded that we become no earthy good?.

  2. Jeffrey Cox says:

    The next Prayer Book revisions cannot happen in a vacuum. This is the place to reach out to the Anglican Church of North America and have preliminary talks about looking at core text with supplemental materials that each respective church can use. The core text would be 80 percent of the book.

    We have to be very careful that the extremely Liberal folks that are over representative in General Convention and other places will destroy the church for their purposes. I do not say these words lightly. The Prayer Book has always last when it has a somewhat Center or slightly Conservative leanings. A very radically Prayer Book will last 20 years and be rewritten.

    With this said, I have not seen a good preliminary resource from Liberal folks used in churches such as Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Church, Boston. This Convention would benefit with publications of written resources that can be tried for 3 years and determined its successes. What is success? Does it help foster both a communal and individual relationship with Christ? Does it promote formation of children and young people? Do people reach for these resources over the 1979 Prayer Book? Does it has space for Mystery? Can you every laugh in Liturgy?

  3. Roger Hamilton says:

    Back in the ’70’s a book was published about the Episcopal Church titled “Trendier than Thou” … I think that now we are reaping the fruit of past labors! Why must we change everything for the few who have a problem with our Episcopal Language when most of the church thinks it’s fine? In the name of inclusion we end up excluding or pushing away current members!

    1. Bill Louis says:

      I don’t see a need to change the Prayer Book either but I think you are underestimating the “few” who have a problem with it. The convention is stacked with liberals who will certainly vote in favor of changing the book to include “inclusive” marriage rites and eliminate the use of gender pronouns and other things to appease the progressive crowd. After looking at the agenda for the convention I think many of us traditional Episcopalians will be dissapointed in the outcome of this convention. I would not be surprised if there is a mass exodus of traditionalists as a result of the changes about to be made.

      1. Charles B. Allen II says:

        Makes you wonder after all the prayer revisions in the 1979 BCP they didn’t change one word of the Lord’s Prayer? Is there a plan afoot to gender neutralize God the Father? Those of us who are conservative by nature are being ignored by the hierarchy of TEC. Luckily, my local Church choses NOT to follow the dictates of those “in power”. This for me is the singular reason I am still a communicant in TEC as I have been for the last 77 years.

  4. Rev. Lynn Naeckel says:

    Please, please provide several optional Statements of Faith to use in place of the Nicene Creed. If we cannot yet update our theology, at least provide more options for those of us who have moved on. The optional Eucharistic prayers are a good start!

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      I disagree. The Nicene Creed (and Apostles’ Creed) summarizes the core essentials of Christian theology, and is a truly universal statement of faith (all the Apostolic churches and communions use it). I don’t think our little corner of the catholic church should be tampering with such a major statement of faith.

      1. Bill Louis says:

        Thank you Matt. We can agree on this one.

      2. Bill Louis says:

        Thanks Matt. At least we can agree on this one.

    2. Amy Pringle says:

      Amen!

    3. Doug Desper says:

      Rev. Naeckel, what have you “moved on” from? The Nicene Creed? Your (or anyone else’s) personal theology isn’t the grounding, impetus or setting for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the catholic communal meal – with those living now and the Church around the world and throughout the ages. Personal objections to the core of Christian belief in the Nicene Creed aren’t accommodated during that time.

  5. Patricia D McCarthy says:

    I agree with there being changes in the pronouns used for God. I say this as a female in a male dominated world.

    1. Kathy McAvoy says:

      I left the church for many years due to the gendered language. Although I’ve come back and intend to stay, I must constantly “translate” what is said in order to feel included and connected to God — a God who is neither male nor female. I can assure you — the use of “he” and “him” is NOT normative. It’s exclusionary and damaging, and the so-called “generic He” is responsible, in part, for the mess our American political system in currently in. It perpetuates patriarchy and sexism, plain and simple.

      1. Douglas Crellin says:

        Stop being fragile, human words have no impact on the power and might of God. Stop the foolishness and get some spine. If you are offended by this I can only imagine. Stop the insanity.

      2. Carrie Loewenstein says:

        While I agree that God is most likely genderless, we can’t ignore the Bible. I believe that God is portrayed as Fatherly to help us understand and relate to Him. As a ligitimate church we have to have our standard be the Bible. Period. It is not our place to change what the Bible has said for thousands of years. The Bible is NOT sexist. The Bible has withstood history and referring to God as our Father has NOTHING to do with our current political climate. We can not use victim mentality to change the Bible and make ourselves feel better.

  6. Matt Ouellette says:

    I think this is a bad idea. Not because I disagree with the use of more gender-neutral or feminine imagery for God, but because we are still recovering from such a tumultuous change in our Church. It is not the right time now for us to begin such a divisive process as Prayer Book revision when we are still sorting out the aftermath of marriage equality. We need to take a breather as a church body and engage more closely with our current prayer book, which is itself beautiful and full of wonderful liturgy and prayers. I also worry about certain gender-neutral formulations of God which are theologically fuzzy if not outright heretical. For example, renaming the Trinity “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” is modalist heresy, since it tries to ascribe each person as a role of God which was condemned by the early church. I also don’t think we need to remove all references to Father or other male images of God (e.g. the “Our Father” should not be changed). We need to be careful in how we approach this, and I think spending more time with our current prayer book is what we need right now.

  7. cynthia seddon says:

    The liberals are going too far in their efforts to change. Mankind, to me, has always meant men and and women. It is time to realise that our God meant all people, and only small minds think that :mankind: meant only men.Our Lord Jesus prayed ” our Father” and that is good enough for me. Stop quibbling , and be secure in His love for all mankind.

  8. Jordan Sakal says:

    Matt,

    I agree with you that there is a place for the modernisation of the language of the Church. However, I am a traditionalist when it comes to “the way things are” as it comes to the Our Father, the Nicene Creed, or the Apostle’s Creed. I do not think that essential tenets of our faith should be “mucked around with” for anyone. Look at what the RCC did when they changed the mass in 2010, it ruined the musicality and beautiful nature of the liturgy and prayers just as you claim. I do not want that to happen to the Episcopal Church, not because I am not in favour of more inclusive language (I am) but because it ruins the beauty of the mass which to me is a representation of our communion with God. It should not be changed (at least not yet.)

  9. Amy Pringle says:

    Revision is a 9 year process which must begin now. Major revision is needed in the BCP’s theology, (esp. substitutionary atonement, Eucharist as sacrifice), and debate of large questions is needed. Should priests be allowed to confirm (so that Episcopal visits can focus on vision)? Should deacons be allowed to celebrate Eucharist in pastoral and outreach settings? Shouldn’t funerals be a sacrament? We have to get started discussing these questions, they’ll take a while!

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      As an Anglo-Catholic, I think we should keep references to the Eucharist as a sacrifice, since it accurately reflects catholic Eucharistic theology. And I think substitutionary atonement is perfectly acceptable as Christian theology, as long as it doesn’t look like the penal substitutionary models which assume an angry God had to vent His wrath on Jesus in order to forgive us. There are other, more patristic, models of atonement which are much more beautiful and wholesome (e.g. Christus Victor). One of the things that really worries me about prayer book revision though, as someone who thinks theological orthodoxy is important, is how some in our church don’t seem to take the Holy Tradition seriously. There are certain forces in our church that want us to go in an extremely theologically liberal direction (e.g. removing the Nicene Creed and references to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection as a physical event), and want to change things that really don’t need any fixing in the first place, just proper understanding. I’m all for re-examining our approach to gender and sexual minorities, but we should be extremely careful not to omit our core beliefs from our worship. Personally, I think we have a decent enough prayer book right now (the 1979 BCP) and we should try engaging more with that first before we look into revisions.

      1. Amy Pringle says:

        Lots of good points, Matt. And I agree with your point above about the modalism thing inherent in new Trinitarian titles. Personally I think Prayer Book revision should be more about adding to, rather than subtracting from, what’s already there. Additional affirmations of faith would be good, but no need to eliminate the existing creeds. All of which is why we need 9 years to talk about it!

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I’m just not sure 9 years is enough to come up with a new prayer book. I think it would be better to instead adapt the resolution urging deeper engagement with our current prayer book, and come back to the question of starting questions on revision at a later date when we’ve had the time to work out the aftermath of the marriage equality changes and have properly handled other issues. I worry that going through the revision process at this time risks causing further division at a time that our church is trying to recover from a previously divisive issue.

  10. Arthur Lee says:

    I have been agitating for Prayer Book revision for years, primarily in the interest of gender-inclusive language, but only where and as appropriate.

  11. Keith Gardner says:

    This I know as fact! Christ himself referred to God as his Father not his Mother. Therefore God can only be God the Father. God is the Creator. From this we can talk about gender less prayers, but they won’t have God in them. There are many prayers where we can avoid saying God or him, and for inclusive reasons we should have many more, but to change Christianity to this sexual identity mess will itself drive christians away from Mother Church and make TEC a cult.

  12. Edward Hardwick says:

    Hmm. How do you plan to get around the pesky “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” language?

  13. Daniel Gilbert says:

    We are well on our way to becoming an ideological social movement rather than a church. You will shortly have a smaller, dogmatic organization driven by various grievance agendas that is largely irrelevant to the vast majority of its former members.

    1. Lloyd Newell says:

      I agree.

    2. April Reese says:

      I second that.

    3. Douglas Crellin says:

      I agree, after 50 years I have had enough. To quote some dopey pastor above, “I am moving on” to a church that reflects the Word. I suppose after they tackle the the prayer book they will be working to make the Bible itself gender neutral and Jesus will call God his non-binary being rather than his “Father”. Sad the state of this church, over run with SJW’s more concerned with maybe possibly offending people or offending those that are offended far too easily and less concerned with showing them the light and the way.

  14. Gary Rice says:

    As a life long Episcopalian I have pretty much ignored the lefty politics for 59 years but I promise this… if you change the words of the Lord’s Prayer or Nicene Creed, my money and I are gone.

    1. Jim Riggs says:

      Well spoken and true! Some things are simply true and do not need revision. The Lord’s Prayer and Nicene Creed are!

  15. Robert Nagy says:

    Just a couple of thoughts: 1) Since the first BCP, there has never been a ‘good’ time to issue a new version; however, occasionally it does need to be done; 2) Some thirty years ago, the discussion moved from talking about ‘inclusive’ language to ‘expansive’ language and I wonder whatever happened to that understanding. Inclusive language would be changing ‘brothers’ to ‘brothers and sisters’. Expansive language would be changing ‘brothers’ to ‘mortals’ or ‘people’. In that way, it would avoid many awkward references and seemingly be more accessible to more people.

  16. Steve Harris says:

    Pray for me. The Church is losing me.

  17. Mark Bigley says:

    I sense more egocenticity than Spirit. When you normalize language for a few you de-normalize it for many. You want others to change to fit you. That doesn’t seem to “respect the dignity” (Baptismal Covenant vows unless those are going to be changed too) of the rest. The rank and file Episcopalian (many have left) is not one that will be at General Convention. Is the purpose of delegates to institute change or to represent the people of God (Does the Spirit speak through them? What are they hearing and saying?) Perhaps it is a little of both.

    My biggest concern though is which individual presenting these resolutions is going to tell Jesus that he can’t use “ABBA” anymore? If you understood the Aramaic meaning and culture in this practice you might not be so prone to see your intentions as so virtuous.

  18. Juan Manuel says:

    From the nasty lusty meatballs of the king Henry VIII to our days. It’s part pf this church’s inherent nature, that why it was founded, to fit the hastes of the aion, a Church of the world to the world, not of God. For those faithfull episcopalians… Come back home to the Catholic Church

    1. Douglas Crellin says:

      Sorry Juan your Pope is even worse with is SJW garbage. I see a new movement called Traditional Episcopalians. Rather than force these nuts to change, like they do to us, I will just leave, take money and parishioners with me, this is not God at work, this is human ego.

  19. Mark VanBuren says:

    What is to happen next? Will we change Jesus Himself to gender-Neutral to pacify people who are butt hurt about God’s truth?

  20. Robert Nagy says:

    To disagree, while often uncomfortable, is an important part of dialog; however, the sardonic, mean-spirited, vitriolic comments about leaving the church over this or that matter tell me that there’s a strong likelihood that those folks have already left the church and that there may not be a faith community within which they would be satisfied. Remember, we can stay together and work things out in some way with those who are willing. For those who have a strong sense of their needing to be personally and completely satisfied, they need to know that they will, in all likelihood, be taking their problems with them.

    1. Patricia D McCarthy says:

      I fully agree. I believe it is important to try and look through another’s eyes and at the same time not to lose sight of our own vision. Jesus views during his life were the beginning of great change at that time. I expect if he came again tomorrow there would be additional great changes.

      1. Carrie Loewenstein says:

        While I agree that God is most likely genderless, we can’t ignore the Bible. I believe that God is portrayed as Fatherly to help us understand and relate to Him. As a ligitimate church we have to have our standard be the Bible. Period. It is not our place to change what the Bible has said for thousands of years. The Bible is NOT sexist. The Bible has withstood history and referring to God as our Father has NOTHING to do with our current political climate. We can not use victim mentality to change the Bible and make ourselves feel better.

    2. Douglas Crellin says:

      And I am sorry you made so many assumptions about me or my feelings. I am just as passionate about these things as anyone else. It is rather convenient for you to just easily dismiss dissent by denigrating those who dissent. AS in it must be our “problems” we are now “taking with us”. How about just debate what I said. How do you remove Abba or references Jesus made to his “father” in the bible? This is idiocy and ego plain and simple, again that is my opinion. Now you want to dismiss it however you feel makes you sleep better at night go ahead, reality is these kind of suggestions will offend far more people than seeing the word father in a prayer book. My faith is not defined by any man, nor will it ever be shaped by the church with which my beliefs align. The reason I am an Episcopalian is because those beliefs aligned with the teachings and leadership of the church, but my comments are about the slow erosion of common sense in the ever reaching goal of inclusivity, which in my short 50 years on this planet always equates to excluding people.

      This is far deeper than this, but this convention seemed to be the worst I have seen in my 50+ years and I am fed up and I was voicing my opinion, but not shocking, as I voiced an opinion that is opposed to the current leadership in the church that is now on a path of SJW causes and positions I find there are people willing to insult me and assume things about me over my opinion. Just securing my belief that this church has swelled with people with planks in their eyes that need to be removed rather than pointing out splinters in others.

      1. Carrie Loewenstein says:

        Well said.

    3. Gary Rice says:

      I’m all in favor of good natured debate, but there is a pretty clear line here… either you believe that Jesus referred to His “Father” or you don’t. Those of us who know what Jesus actually said ARE going to have a problem with changing His words, and I assure you, I will be gone if you do this. And yeah, I’m still an active member of my “faith community”… still work for the Vestry I belonged to for years… but there are lotsa fish in the sea… lotsa places to worship… sad to leave but a pretty simple decision… no hard feelings.

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