After a good (and long!) two weeks, we're back from our travels to the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church! This post will serve as a bit of a recap of some of the highlights of GC79.
The Way of Love
In his opening remarks to GC79, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, gave an impassioned introduction to the Way of Love, an invitation to the whole Church to participate in a rule of life that focuses on the life and teachings of Jesus. Bishop Curry describes the Way of Love as follows:
The Episcopal Church has provided resources to engage with the Way of Life here. I would encourage us as individuals to pace our lives with these practices, and I look forward to discerning with you how we might embrace this rule of life as a parish!
Book of Common Prayer Revision
By far, the most talked about topic throughout the entirety of GC79 was prayer book revision -- and truly, its been on the minds of Episcopalians all over the church since at least 2015, when GC78 tasked the church with the job of considering what plans for potential revision would look like. We arrived in Austin with two options: start right away on comprehensive revision to the BCP, or take three more years to live into the BCP 1979 more fully and then see what happens. It turns out we left Austin with a third option!
The House of Deputies originally passed Option 1 -- this would have authorized the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to begin work on new resources immediately while also gathering bulletins from parishes as to how they have used our current liturgies. New liturgies would have drawn on scripture and tradition to maintain an Anglican identity, and they would have included gender-neutral pronouns as well as expansive language for divinity and humanity. With this plan, we would have potentially had a new BCP by 2030.
The House of Bishops spent quite a bit of time in conversation about what the House of Deputies had passed. As many of the bishops admitted, there was a fair amount of fear of the unknown in the House of Bishops that day. I got the sense that many of the bishops were in favor of liturgical revision but not prayer book revision (mainly because I'm not sure the majority of bishops were entirely sure about what comprehensive revision would have looked like) -- and I think that's the compromise they ended up creating. The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, bishop of Texas, spent an evening crafting a new resolution with the help of some fifty other bishops. This group presented an interesting compromise of sorts:
First and foremost, The Book of Common Prayer 1979 has now been "memorialized" by this resolution. What does that mean? Well, it means that it won't be going anywhere -- it is now to be remembered as "a prayer book of the Church," and its use may be continued. This language made it into the resolution because, essentially, there's a lot of good stuff in the BCP 1979. It's the book that helped the Church transition into weekly Eucharist; it's the book that still has us thinking more about Baptism and Eucharist; it's the book that introduced Noonday Prayer and Compline to a much wider audience in our Church. Put simply -- I'm not sure we're done with it yet, and I think that's for the best.
However, it may be showing its age a little bit. It is still heavily male in its pronoun usage (a separate resolution passed approved Rite II Eucharistic Prayers with updated language). Eucharistic Prayer C sounds like it was written in the 1970s instead of something like the timeless Eucharistic Prayer D, which is widely considered a great success of the BCP 1979. There are also parts of the BCP 1979 that are under-utilized either because parishes and/or individuals rarely use them (Reconciliation of a Penitent, Holy Saturday, Devotions for Families) or because they're a little clunky in their usage (parts of Ministration to the Sick, the organization of the collects and prayers). This resolution tries to keep the best of both worlds -- keep the BCP 1979 for its good parts, start thinking about prayer book revision to improve it.
Elsewhere, the next three years could prove very interesting for the Episcopal Church. Bishops and dioceses are now authorized to create and experiment with new liturgical language and rites, and those new liturgies will be collected and studied by a task force created by GC79. Though the majority of Episcopal churches are fairly loyal to the prayer book, it's not uncommon for some to bend the rubrics or add unauthorized texts to liturgies (or make up new liturgies entirely). Now that we are officially in a time of liturgy creation, it will be fascinating to see what the church comes up with. If some great liturgies are crafted in the next three years, there's a chance they could make it into the future prayer book.
Since the 78th General Convention in 2015, the Episcopal Church has used a trial rite liturgy to marry same-sex couples. Use of the rite was at the discretion of diocesan bishops, and eight dioceses of the Church did not permit their clergy to officiate the service.
This year, a resolution passed that guaranteed the marriage rite for members of the whole Church and that those services can take place in the home parish of the couple. The dissenting bishops are now required to invite another bishop to give episcopal oversight to the process of same-sex marriages in those same eight dioceses. These liturgies will remain in trial use until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer, at which the same rites or updated rites will be added to the prayer book. Though the topic of same-sex marriage has been a hotly-debated one over the last decade-and-a-half in the Episcopal Church, it's worth noting that both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops passed the resolution overwhelmingly.
La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba
A high point of GC79 was the official welcome back to the Episcopal Church in Cuba. After the revolution in the 1960s, the House of Bishops voted to cut ties with the Diocese of Cuba -- a painful separation that led to decades of the Episcopal Church in Cuba being on its own as an autonomous diocese, though the Anglican Church in Canada continued to support the diocese. Since 1966, the Episcopal Church in Cuba suffered through this lack of support, and many of its clergy and members were imprisoned or even killed. As the resolution reads, "Resolved, That the General Convention laments the actions of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in 1966 that led to the precipitous and painful separation of The Episcopal Church and La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba."
Under the leadership of the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio, the people of the Episcopal Church in Cuba have taken on a missional identity by helping their communities in the name of Christ -- they have created day care centers, implemented irrigation systems for farming, and raised and cared for farm animals for additional food sources. With representatives in Austin for this historic moment, Bishop Delgado was seated in the House of Bishops, and the deputation from Cuba was seated in the House of Deputies. Bishop Maria addressed the House of Deputies by saying “Right now, I feel that the Holy Spirit is blowing on this entire convention and that it is moving: It’s moving here for all of us to really work with it in this very difficult world to make sure that we fulfill the needs of this world.” It was a great moment of coming together, and we give thanks for the witness and faithfulness of the good people of Cuba.
The end...for now
It was a lot of fun to see a full General Convention for the first time. I'm also very grateful that it only happens every three years! It takes a lot of time and energy to put an event of this magnitude together, and everyday is pretty packed on the calendar. I'd like to go again at some point -- maybe even as a deputy in future years. Though GC79 is finished, the real heavy lifting begins now. Task forces and committees continue to meet throughout the triennium to do the business that General Convention tasks them to do. GC80 in 2021 seems like a long time from now, but it will be here before we know it, and the Church has much to do before then. GC80 will be in Baltimore, Maryland.
Til then, thanks for keeping up with the blog throughout GC79!