Deputies vote to begin process to revise Book of Common Prayer

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 7, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The House of Deputies on July 7 adopted a resolution that would set the stage for the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

The outcome of Resolution A068 was decided in a vote by orders, with each diocese casting one ballot for its lay and one ballot for its clergy deputies. To prevail, the resolution needed 56 yes votes in the lay and in the clergy orders.

The House of Deputies passed Resolution A068, to begin a process of prayer book revision, in a vote by orders on July 7. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

The results:
* Clergy: 63 yes, 30 no, 17 divided (the deputies were split 50-50)
* Lay: 69 yes, 26 no, 15 divided

The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for its consideration.

The resolution adopts a process recommended by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, or SCLM, which from now until 2021 will gather data about how the current 1979 prayer book is being used in congregations across the Episcopal Church, with a focus group meeting in every diocese and a variety of consultations.

The resolution directs that any future revision will “utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity” and will “incorporate and express understanding, appreciation, and care of God’s creation.”

The Rev. Matthew Mead, a New York deputy, offers an amendment during debate on July 7. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Additional guidance for the process was included in floor amendments, which deputies presented on July 7, after having debated the basic resolution the day before. The amendments direct that elements of prayer book revision be faithful to the historic rites as expressed in the Anglican tradition, while making space for rites that might arise from the working of the Holy Spirit. It also is to take into account the church’s “liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, and ethnic diversity,” while adhering to the four elements identified by Anglicans as the essentials for Christian unity: scripture, the creeds, the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and the historic episcopate.

Because of concerns that have arisen during the convention about the availability of materials for non-English-speaking deputies, the resolution calls for materials generated in the next three years to be available in English, Spanish, French and Haitian Creole – the primary languages spoken by people in the 17 countries of the Episcopal Church.

In the process set out by the SCLM, a revised Book of Common Prayer will be created by 2024, with three years of trial use after that. Final adoption of that revision by two successive General Conventions would result in a new prayer book in 2030.

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

Deputies debated the resolution for an hour on July 6, with speakers alternating between those supporting and those opposing.

The Rev. Jane Johnson, deputy from Fond du Lac, said that since human beings, in all their diversity, are made in the image of God, then the church must move away from an image of God that is white and male. “God’s pronouns are them and their, not he,” she said.

The Rev. James Sorvillo, deputy from Central Florida, said he thought the money planned for the overall revision process, estimated at $8 million over 12 years, could be better spent on providing Spanish language materials for Puerto Ricans now living in his area.

Chicago Deputy Louisa McKellaston said that all human beings are made in God’s image, “but that is not reflected in our Book of Common Prayer.” She said she is concerned that exclusive language in the prayer book is unwelcoming and alienating to both members and seekers.

The Rev. Everett Lees, deputy from Oklahoma, said that while he understands the need for more expansive liturgical language, now is not the time to address it. Noting that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry now is frequently appearing on television, “people are coming to look for us.” He said revision “will draw us from the important work of evangelism.”

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

A previous version of this story reversed the vote totals.


Comments (129)

  1. Terri Hoornstra says:

    Language has nuance, folks! Jesus, the great teacher, has a purpose in using the image of the good father — the one who knows every child by name — to represent to us a caring, loving god. How can anyone presume to alter one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus by changing this parental image to “The One”, a robotic “they” or “them”? I really cannot believe anyone could approve these changes and still call him/herself a follower of Jesus. Language has nuance!

    1. kilty mcgowen says:

      Carlton F. Kelley: “. We are too much like a group of children who need more toys to make them happy. In any case, there are far too many priests who don’t believe what’s in the current book and the canons – like the necessity of Holy Baptism before Holy Communion – with bishops who are completely disengaged from any godly disciplinary process to correct it. Perhaps that may be because we elect too many bishops with little theology except socialism.” THANK YOU.

    2. I returned to the church after 50 years, and found its practices much more compatible with my understanding of Jesus’s teachings and example. I might even have studied for the clergy if that had been possible when I left. But I was sad that so much of what I loved hearing and reciting from memory from the prayer book had changed. I have some creds as one of the launchers of the 2nd wave of American feminism, and I have used the historic record of male pronouns for God and references to father to research, teach, and reinforce my evolving understanding of the emergence of patriarchy in response to the emergence of class divisions within still matrilineal societies: “….when the only route to a share of the loot’s a paternity suit.” I’d love to share with other Episcopalians with whose stated values and practices I feel quite compatible, the pronunciations and interpretations of words I recite along with fellow congregants whose personal attitudes toward gender, sex, and class are vastly different from mine. But I oppose changing the printed words. Such changes cannot change the history of misogynistic practices, exploitations, and attitudes. I see changing pronouns and gendered nouns in print in the official prayer book as attempts to white wash, to deny, to sweep under the carpet truths which should be admitted and atoned for. Study them, discuss and speculate on why, but don’t try to erase whence we came.

  2. william dailey says:

    The concerns expressed about the movement to revise the BCP have merit it seems to me. My sense is that this motion wasn’t passed to do nothing. I hope that this is not a precursor to more significant revisions in church doctrine to embrace all the social movements where there is no right or wrong. We live in interesting times!

  3. Doug Cashell says:

    This seems to be the Triennial version of Looney Tunes. Gender neutrality ??
    Don’t stand in front of any doors as Episcopalians might well vote with their feet.
    There are many churches out there from which to choose. He lives in them all.

  4. mike geibel says:

    Given the reaction in the comments, the satire, “37 Episcopalians Remaining On Planet Vote To Stop Using Male Pronouns For God,” published February 8, 2018 on Babylon in the link below, would be funny if it were not so prophetic:

  5. Michael Brown says:

    Looking at the upside, as this is rolled out and adopted, it will create plenty of open seating at Sunday services.

  6. Sloane Graff says:

    TEC has effectively been revising the Bible for decades. What’s the big deal about revising the BCP? It is probably a good idea and long overdue. At least TEC is becoming more honest and transparent about what it has become.

    1. Terri Hoornstra says:

      The goal of any revision should be always to approach more truth in the meaning of the original document. Revisions based on more recent Biblical scholarship have merit. Translating Elizabethan English to contemporary English (i.e. older to newer prayer book) also had merit, as the translators took care not to alter the intended meanings of the words. The goal of this proposed revision is not based on scholarship, but political bias. It INTENDS to alter the original meanings of the words. It is “1984” all over again!

  7. Bev Bell says:

    I’m hesitant about revisions for God-neutrality in the prayer book. Just one opinion but personally, I’m not offended by Father and find comfort in it because that’s how Jesus referred to God. And what about the downstream impact; will it mean we change various hymns too? I’m one of the younger ones TEC probably doesn’t want to lose but I may switch gears depending on outcomes from the convention. I’m a progressive but also a moderate and in recent years have been concerned about TEC’s leanings toward what seems a more political and “media topic of the day” strategy (even though I’m all for much of the social progressiveness TEC focuses on). On Sunday mornings, I’m drawn to the anglican tradition TEC is anchored in and the beauty of ancient liturgy, and while I understand attention on social trends of the times, I’m a tad troubled by the direction TEC is headed. Love is indeed the answer but my observation has been that any extreme leads to division, whether left or right. For example, I have many conservative family and friends who are not as hateful and homophobic as media implies, and I know many liberals who are not as loving as they, imply. And as further example I’m ‘pretty’ sure in my church, a newbie wearing a Make America Great Again t-shirt would feel unwelcome just as a gay person wearing rainbow buttons might be unwelcome in a fundamentalist church. What is a moderate to do? What happened to the middle way and working together across many belief systems to bring God’s kingdom to this world? Conundrum. God bless all at the Convention; may God’s will be done.

  8. Larry Waters says:

    Reverend Jane Johnson: please explain your comment about God being “white”. I never knew that God had an ethnicity! Wow, have I missed something? And since Jesus referred to God as Father, then that is who God will remain. And as I have said in previous posts, perhaps “white males” should leave the EC! Maybe white male clergy could stay, but I suspect that you would be in danger. I see no reason to change the BCP. As other erudite posters have said previously, this is NOT the time to create MORE division in our little protestant sect. These voters at the GC apparently do not concern themselves with the wishes of their congregations, as the votes to change the BCP indicate. I fear that the changes to the BCP and all this gender neutrality hysteria, will be the end of the EC.

  9. Amy Pringle says:

    Minor alterations for expansive language are fine, but I’m hoping that a revision would primarily add new optional material rather than make any big changes to the foundation blocks already in there. And a digital book or online database is probably the best format, rather than the expense of printing new books.

  10. Sloane Graff says:

    What’s all the controversy over the revision of the BCP? TEC has been effectively revising the Bible for decades, this is just an official recognition of that. Revision of the BCP is a positive thing, at least TEC is being transparent and honest and being forthcoming about what they stand for.

  11. Robert Oakes says:

    As we are only human, our understanding of God is never complete. We should strive toward greater understanding, which requires open hearts and open minds.

  12. Matt Ouellette says:

    I think a lot of people here are going a little overboard with their criticisms of prayer book revision. First off, the Bishops still haven’t voted on this yet, so it is not a done deal. While I am hesitant about the process, and I have concerns about the theological leanings of some who will be in charge of this process, remember that amendments were passed that will help temper the more extreme liberal leanings of some more eager revisionists. And then once SCLM releases their revised prayer book, it still needs to be voted on and accepted, so there are still many chances to have our voices heard and keep them from proposing something too radical. I think we both sides of this issue need to calm down and stop throwing insults at each other (e.g. those in favor of revision need to stop calling those who oppose it “sexist” and “homophobic.” Those who oppose revision need to stop calling those who support it “radical” and “extreme leftist.”)

  13. Clifford Grout says:

    I’ll bet Arius, himself a learned theologian, made much the same arguments.

    In 2003-2012, I was told by those pushing a certain agenda, I should be open to “new ideas,” living in tension,” and “everyone sitting at the same table.” But after 2012, people like me were “bigots,” “homophobes,” “haters,” and various other fill-in-the-blank “-phobes” – by many of the very same people who are pushing this agenda.

    So I hope you can understand why this lifelong Episcopalian (until 2014) is in an Eastern Orthodox Church today, and at peace. We gladly use the personal pronouns that God wants to be known by.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      I’m pretty sure God is okay with people using pronouns other than “He” or “Him” to refer to Him/Her, or are you implying God is male? While I personally use male pronouns to describe God, and I think we should keep male imagery of God in the prayer book (especially those that Jesus and the Apostles used), there is nothing wrong with also using gender-neutral and female imagery to describe God. I’m glad you found a spiritual home in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but I hope you understand how some of us (especially LGBTQ+ Christians) would not feel welcome in a denomination that does not affirm us as people.

      1. Clifford Grout says:

        I remember back in 2003 being admonished, “Who are you to say what is OK with God?” when I defended traditional understand of Scripture as taught by the Church. So I ask the same of you.

        As for Eastern Orthodox, we seek the Christ in all people. What we do not do is to redefine sin as not being sin anymore simply because it makes us feel good, or makes us more popular at parties.

        The Church’s role is not to change with the times. It is to be timeless.

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          It is right to re-examine what is and is not sin if the reasons why something was thought sinful no longer applies today. Back in antiquity, homosexual attractions and behavior were thought to be the result of sexual excess and lust that anyone was susceptible to, not an in-born attraction to the same-sex. Therefore, it made sense for the church to condemn homosexuality in the ancient world when they thought it was linked to lust and that people could just choose to be with the opposite sex if they wanted to. We know now that isn’t how sexuality works, and so we need to re-examine how we deal with homosexuality. Mandatory, life-long celibacy is a novel doctrine that was never taught in the early church (life-long celibacy was always vocational), and it is not truly welcoming to LGBTQ+ individuals. Grafting gay relationships into marriage, and providing disciple for their relationships, is the truly pastoral response that fulfills St. Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. I recommend reading God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines for a more thorough discussion on this case. Also, this series by Bishop Gunter of the Diocese of Fond du Lac is good:

      2. Terri Hoornstra says:

        I really want to know: how does using the pronouns that Jesus used to speak about God, and the designation “Our Father”, not affirm an LGBTQ+ person?

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I wasn’t making that statement at all, and I apologize if I wasn’t clear. I am perfectly fine with calling God “Father,” and I oppose efforts to expunge that imagery from the prayer book (especially since it is the most common image used by Jesus to describe God). My statement was about why many LGBTQ+ people don’t feel at home in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and that is because of its non-affirming stance on gay relationships.

  14. Matt Ouellette says:

    I am personally supportive of using more gender-neutral and feminine images of God in liturgy. However, my concern with Prayer Book revision is that I don’t want to see the removal of every male image of God, because I think there is still space for male images like “Father” and “King” alongside gender-inclusive images. I worry that some in SCLM, in their zeal to produce gender-neutral liturgies, will remove important, classic male images of God in the process, and I don’t want to see that. I also don’t want to see gender-neutral formulas which border on heretical (e.g. he modalist Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier formula as a replacement for the Trinity). And I personally prefer Rite II over Rite I, so I want to make sure we don’t radically change the cadence and flow of the Rite II liturgy in the process. Overall, this is a process that will take a lot of careful thought and theological reflection, and I worry whether the current SCLM leadership is up to the challenge.

  15. Brian Cannaday+ says:

    I grow increasingly dumbfounded by the self-inflicted mortal wounds perpetrated by a very select few who are alleged to speak the mind of The Church.

    None of the conversations taking place around BCP revision is necessary in its current context. None of it heals. None of it furthers the mission of The Church or The Kingdom. ALL of it divides.

    This is nothing more than an exercise of a chosen few collaborating in a theological echo chamber, most of whom have been elected to multiple GC’s in a row. How is that diversity?

    1. mike geibel says:

      Well said. Especially the echo-chamber metaphor.

  16. John McCann says:

    When will the House of Bishops be voting on this? I hope they vote “no, not now”. There is no real theological urgency to revise the Prayer Book. That is being driven by those who are politcally, not theologically motivated. Not a priority, and so many in my very “progressive” church have expressed a not favorable view of needing to revise the Prayer Book. Can the Bishops squelch this for now? I total revision is not the time, when so many are so who worship are so ill-informed about the Episcopal Church. Am not if favor.

  17. Phyllis D. Halt says:

    I am so saddened at the direction that our church leaders and laity are taking. Jesus is the Son of God. Nowhere have I ever learned that Jesus is a white male, but that he is a male is the Word of God. We as a church need to embrace our collective history and belief and stop trying to make our beliefs fit today’s narrative. If our leaders are not practicing and following God’s teachings than they are making a mockery out of our faith. And will be judge accordingly. Don’t lead our people or our youth down this path.

  18. Larry Waters says:

    Another thought to the Reverend Jane Johnson: Please turn in your clerical collar. Your hateful, vile animus toward white males is NOT the “stuff” that an Episcopal cleric is made of. Your comments serve only to further divide our EC, which seems to be extremely divided already if the comments of many “posters” are to be believed. That you are a “priest” is appalling. My pets have more Christian love in their hearts than you reverend Johnson. Please turn in your collar.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      I don’t agree with Rev. Jane, but I think it is quite disrespectful to ask her to step down as a priest just because you disagree with her. Please show us where she said she hated white people. All she was saying was that current imagery in the prayer book promotes an image of a white male God. That’s not hate for white people, but a concern that our prayer book imagery does not promote a diverse enough image of God (for the record, I do not think that the prayer book paints an image of only a white, male God).

      1. Frank Harrision says:

        Any well-educated priest in theology and tradition of the Christian faith would not speak of God in terms of any characteristics used to describe spatial-temporal objects. God is NOT something that can have a color, or have a sexual identity in the sense that your earthly father had a sexual identity. To speak of God as a “white male” is logically the same as speaking of “round squares.” To raise issues in these terms is really to show either great ignorance of the person raising the issues or to suggest that there is something there to promote other than what has traditionally been know as the “classic view” of God. I honestly believe that there is a great number of both in our church.

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I don’t think she was suggesting that God is a white male or anything else, but was suggesting that our language (which uses exclusively male imagery to describe God) depicts God metaphorically in a way that is not very diverse. Again, I don’t quite agree with her completely, but I doubt she thinks that God is literally described as a white male.

        2. Charles Nelson says:

          For years i have made an effort to avoid using the male pronoun in referrng to God. A wise priest helped me make this transition. In most cases “God” can be substitutd for “Father” or “Lord.” The St. Helena Psalter is an example how this can be done with GRACE.

          1. Terri Hoornstra says:

            Charles, why have you made the effort to use neutral pronouns with reference to God? I really want to know. How can changing Jesus’ teaching model of God as a loving, caring father make the church more welcoming? People are free to question this characterization of God as they meditate and contemplate, but this was Jesus’ teaching. As a church of Christ, aren’t we obligated to be faithful to, and convey Jesus’ actual teachings? For the few who might (for some reason I have yet to comprehend) feel “unwelcome” by this concept, I am sure that for many more, the idea of a God who cares for each of his children like a father is not only welcoming, but comforting – and Jesus, in his wisdom, knew this. Do you think the writers of the Gospels changed Jesus’ words to suit their own patriarchal prejudices? If you call into question this particular teaching/wording, what other teachings of Jesus can be written off to suit the preferences of those who “don’t like it’ for some reason? I truly, honestly don’t get it.

  19. Anthony Price says:

    We could save a lot of money by not revising the prayer book at this time (perhaps “shelving it” until we first demonstrate a 20% growth in membership), and we could save a lot more money by doing away with General Convention and instead invite the British Sovereign to become head of the Episcopal Church as she is for the rest of the Anglican Communion. That might calm the feminist movement as well. Amen.

  20. mike geibel says:

    Do you not see how this plants the seeds for a lifetime of believing that males are superior?”

    My daughter left the Episcopal Church for a non-denominational church bursting at the seams with young faces, teaches Sunday School classes and has done Christian missionary work in South America and China. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer has not made her think men are superior. Quite the contrary, she believes that women are more “worthy” in the eyes of God because they work not for fame or glory, but work because things need to get done.

    1. Clifford Grout says:

      Has the non-denominational church your daughter now attends “de-gendered” the Bible? Do they refuse to call God “Father?” Do they allow gay weddings? Do they have fights over gender neutral bathrooms? Do they allow “clown communions?” Do they spend more on legal fees suing ex-members than on mission work? Does her church give money to pro-abortion groups?

      I think the reason your daughter (and thousands like her) is where she is has more to do with what evangelicals are focused on – Jesus and being His witness – than what The Episcopal Church has as their top priorities.

      Feed the hungry. Not worry about their personal pronouns.

      I bid you Peace.

      1. Matt Ouellette says:

        So being concerned about welcoming women and LGBTQ+ individuals can’t have Jesus as its focus? Or is it that we have to agree with how conservatives want to do things (which is basically to ignore the issues those groups may have and continue to do things how they have always been done, even if the way things have always been done are hurtful to those groups)?

        1. Darryl Grant says:

          We can both be a witness to Jesus and welcome LGBT, racial minorities, etc — as we see in the Gospels. This isn’t a liberal v. conservative movement, but a movement to look at what we see in the Bible and how, Jesus in particular welcomed all. It’s doubtful that he would think that a revision of the BCP would help in His mission. Witness the gospel from last Sunday, the concern for Jesus was the faith of the people, and when he saw it lacking he realized it was time to move on.

  21. Frank Harrision says:

    HELP NEEDED! The Episcopal Church’s overall membership is declining. Many parishes are shrinking in membership. How much is the percentage over the last ten years, year by year of this loss? On the other hand, there are new members coming into the Episcopal Church. Some parishes are growing. Of these new members, over the last ten years, how many of them are from fundamentalist and evangelical backgrounds, and how many from a Roman Catholic background? This information MIGHT help us to understand why various changes are taking place within the Episcopal Church. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP.

  22. Edith Ditommaso says:

    I am encouraged by the move for more inclusive language. I sincerely hope that the new prayer book follows the tradition of the current one in making the rite of holy baptism the central theme of the prayer book. I would also like to see other prayers from some of the other cultures represented in the Episcopal church included. There are so many other prayers that are rich with meaning and understanding.

    1. Frank Harrision says:

      Baptism is NOT the central theme of the Prayer Book The Eucharist is!

  23. J. Harold A. BOYD says:

    I am a cradle to grave Episcopalian. The son of a priest. I am a trustee of my parish and a LEM.

    I went through this process in the 1970’s of changing the BCP. The Church nationally lost several million members over the changes and the ordination of women to the priesthood. We have not recovered membership since the 1970’s.

    With the cuts in the safety from the Trump administration the funds being talked about to do the revision would better be used to assist the poor and downtrodden not making the BCP gender neutral.

    May the Trinity save this great Church from it’s misguided attempts at change. Amen

  24. Matt Ouellette says:

    It seems the Bishops just voted on a substitute amendment that does not support full-scale prayer book revision and memorializes the 1979 BCP, and it now goes back to the HoD for debate. It seems many here may have jumped the gun in their concern about prayer book revision, which is why I think we all need to step back and calm down a little.

    1. J. Harold A. BOYD says:

      You must not have been around in the 1970’s when this happened without any outside input. For those of us who were around felt this was dejavue. Especially those of us who loved the 1928 BCP.

      1. Matt Ouellette says:

        Considering I wasn’t born yet, no I was not. But I did read about how divisive it was, which is why I was concerned about undergoing revision. However, I must admit I do like the 1979 BCP, as imperfect as it may be, so I think the product of the debate in the 70’s was good overall.

        1. Frank Harrision says:

          Have you had a serious look at the 1928 Prayer Book?

  25. J. Harold A. BOYD says:

    For those of us who lived through the 1970’s re-write of the BCP felt we were repeating that mess again.

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