What We Agreed to Do: Liturgy (plus a few things I hope we’ll do)


The Journal of Convention is now available here, listing all of the actions of GC78. This post continues reflection on actions of Convention, this time focusing on liturgy.

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is going to be busy.

Actually, they already were. In the past few years they managed a thorough process that produced I Will Bless You, for blessing same sex relationships. They developed Holy Women, Holy Men (now A Great Cloud of Witnesses). They created liturgies honoring God in Creation and liturgies honoring beloved animals. They developed Daily Prayer for All Seasons.  We could go on.

Now at this General Convention, they produced or signed up for all of the following –

  • Liturgies for same sex marriage – A054 updates and authorizes the previous blessing rite and adds liturgies for use by all couples.
  • Authorize liturgical materials for honoring God in Creation (previously proposed in 2012) – A058
  • Continue revision of Book of Occasional Services – A059 – This process began in 2009. The subcommittee working on this has developed criteria and produced a draft table of contents. This will be a major revision. In addition, D036 proposes a Rite for Claiming a New Name for possible inclusion in Book of Occasional Services.
  • Continue work of the Congregational Song Task Force – A060 – This is quite exciting, I think. Hymnal 1982 is a solid European hymnal, but our churches are more diverse. The World Music Project identified hymns and songs suited for more of our church contexts, and Church Publishing has offered use of the Music Rite Away website to make them available. The CSTF will review music from the World Music Project and other sources and add these to Music Rite Away over the next triennium. (Not clear if this was included in the budget – I do hope it was).
  • Address Christian Anti-Judaism – A062 – SCLM directed to produce resources to help us deal with this issue in our scriptures and liturgical texts.
  • Adopt criteria for biblical translations in worship and amend canon II.2 – A063 – Before, we had a list of approved translations but no explanation about why these were approved. This gives us a standard for evaluating new translations.
  • New commemorations – A055 authorizes Albert Schweitzer and Hiram Kano among others. B001 adds Atilano Coco. C006 adds Denzel A Carty. A057 proposes many names for review, including many women, so that if all are eventually approved women will account for 1/3 of the commemorations in A Great Cloud of Witnesses. C002 proposes Queen Lili’ukoalani.  A056 changes Holy Women, Holy Men to A Great Cloud of Witnesses and affirms the following criteria for inclusion in commemorations: historicity, Christian discipleship (though exceptions are allowed for those not Christian but exemplifying the life of Christ), significance, range of inclusion (inclusion of many genders, ethnicities, and orders of ministry), local observance, perspective, combined remembrances.
  • Continued participation in IALC – A069 – an Anglican Communion network on liturgy.

And we haven’t even gotten to the Prayer Book.

  • A067 revises the Book of Common Prayer for the Revised Common Lectionary, substituting Holy Week lessons, etc.
  • A068 calls for better translations of portions of the BCP into French, Creole, and Spanish.
  • And here’s the big one – A169 calls for a process to begin revising the Book of Common Prayer.  If that were not enough, Convention also approved D060 – Establish a Process for the Revision of Hymnal 1982. (When someone in the House of Bishops asked if this was too much to take on at once, a member of the committee – I can’t remember who – said they preferred to work on both processes simultaneously. A new prayer book would need a new hymnal.)

Frankly, it’s about time. Much has happened in liturgical and church music worlds since the 1979 Prayer Book and Hymnal 1982 were published. We’ve become more aware about inclusive language, both for gender and educational attainment. We’ve developed understandings of God’s saving work that are not fully represented in our prayers. We’ve authorized additional rites, prayers, and hymnals, and we use them, but the books in our pews don’t reflect our growing understanding of God’s call to us in this time. United Methodists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Disciples, UCC, and Lutherans (both ELCA and MS) have all updated their liturgical books or hymnals since 1982 – some twice. Our current Prayer Book and Hymnal are classics, but our church is ready for something new.

I wasn’t Episcopalian at the time, but I’ve heard the stories about the process that led to the current Prayer Book – the “zebra book”, other trial publications, not knowing what page number to use, etc. This process won’t be like that. God gave us the Internet, so it will be much easier to share liturgies for trial use and roll along. Prayer Book and hymnal revision will be good and hopeful for our church.

Here are just a few things I hope a plan for a new Prayer Book and Hymnal will consider:

Staffing – The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has done very impressive work as a committee of volunteers. We owe them our thanks. We also owe them some help. Other than the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer, we don’t seem to have an office or staff person at 815 assigned to liturgical work. We did at one point, but that was lost in some budget cutting and reorganization in recent years. The SCLM has taken the lead and done very good work on specific projects, but comprehensive Prayer Book and Hymnal revision is a much bigger job, especially given the other work they’ve been assigned. I trust SCLM to tell us what sort of help they need to complete this work well, and I hope we will give it to them.

Format – Does the one prayer book/one hymnal/supplemental resources model really work for us any more? Is it what we need for the next thirty or forty years? I’m not so sure. United Methodist agencies are proposing a new hymnal (the current version was published in 1989). Their press release talks about using cloud technology to curate a wide variety of resources. “Part of the collection would be uniform across all versions. Another part would contain additional hymns, songs, and worship resources that could be selected based on the preferences of the congregation or user.” In other words, the printed hymnal would have a core body of hymns along with supplemental selections that fit a congregation’s needs – Spanish language hymns, contemporary music, children’s hymns, etc. Would something like this be possible for us? Lutherans and Presbyterians created books of worship that include hymns and congregational liturgies in one volume. Could that be an option? (I’m told paper is thinner now). Could we have a Book of Common Prayer with English on one page and Spanish (or French or Creole) on the facing page? Or are pew editions becoming obsolete? I was surprised by how easily General Convention adapted to a digital bulletin and suspect more of us will do the same in a few years. Whatever we produce, we need easy electronic access, so what platforms will be needed to make these resources widely available? I hope SCLM will spend a great deal of time considering questions of format and seeking input from a wide variety of congregations.

Indigenous liturgies – By this, I mean liturgies that reflect the many cultures and ministry contexts that now make up our church. We find unity in our liturgy, but the language of our current liturgies asks everyone to pray together like highly educated Westerners. Our life together will be strengthened if the prayers we pray reflect all of our voices. We need liturgies with children, liturgies from adults with less formal education, Spanish and other language liturgies that come from the culture and are not merely translations from English, liturgies from people in prison, liturgies from African and African-American culture, Native American liturgies, all as part of our common life, and this is just a start. Ideally, these prayers would come from these communities, not be written by outsiders “for” these communities. And when they become available, we all need to pray them so that our worship becomes the work of all of our people.

Finally, a word about D050, which allows a bishop to authorize “An Order for Celebrating Holy Eucharist” (BCP 400-405) as a congregation’s principle service. “An Order” is simply an outline of what is essential in a Eucharistic celebration, allowing a congregation to write a liturgy appropriate for their context. This is needed, and I’m glad Convention approved it, but note that the reason cited for this approval is “prophetic evangelism.” This is not an excuse to make up new things just because we feel like it. The purpose of this permission is to help us communicate the gospel more broadly in places where the language of the current BCP and EOW present a barrier. I hope our bishops will hold congregations to that standard.

Lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of praying is the law of believing. What and how we pray shape how we believe and live. Because of the work of this convention, our prayer welcomes same sex families, honors God in creation, celebrates more of the saints, includes more languages, sings new songs, and looks to expand in coming years. Thanks to all who lead these efforts.

Photo John Snyder [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons