Greetings from Austin!
We may remember today as the beginning of the long road towards a new prayer book in the Episcopal Church. Though the House of Bishops must concur, the House of Deputies voted to pass Resolution A068, which could give the Church an important task for the next three years and beyond. If the Bishops concur (they may vote as early as tomorrow), the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will research and develop updates and potentially new rites that "utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship." The resolution has many caveats, including that the commission continues in all good faith to adhere to our tradition of Anglican Common Prayer, that the work includes inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity, that a bishop and an additional clergy or lay representative from Province IX of the Episcopal Church (which is comprised of dioceses from Latin America and the Caribbean) be a part of the revision, that the works are translated into Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole at all steps of revision, that we continue to adhere to the four tenets of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (more on this later), that there be a report and update at the next General Convention in 2021, and that the whole project for the next three years will have a budget of $1.9 million.
So what does all of this mean? For now, not much. There won't be a new book in your pew this Sunday or any time soon. This is only the beginning, but this kind of long process has to start somewhere and sometime. It could mean that by 2024, we have a trial-use Book of Common Prayer that would take two General Conventions to ratify, most likely making it the 2030 Book of Common Prayer. We are nowhere near that point now, though. Such wholesale revision takes a lot of time -- the 1979 BCP is 1,000 pages long, and while there is much I love about this BCP that I grew up with, there's much that could stand to change for the better (that could be a whole post on its own, and perhaps I'll write out my thoughts on that in the future).
What it does mean is change is coming if the Bishops approve the resolution as well. I've participated quite a bit in the online discussion on Twitter, so since all my cards are on the table elsewhere, I'll share briefly with you my opinion. If I were a deputy and had a vote today, I would have voted against this resolution. I would prefer to see more study of the 1979 BCP in regard to what exactly we need to change before we voted to do so and a more substantial theological understanding of the kinds of language we might gain and lose (though presumably this will happen in part over the next three years anyway), I would have preferred the budget for this project to be much lower, and I would have preferred the important work of revision to be done by the vast majority of people who, by nature of their age, will inherit it in 2030. However, I am pro-revision (it's too long a process not to start sooner than later) and I am pro-updated language for God (God isn't male, after all, and much our our language, especially masculine pronouns that refer to the entire Trinity, have given many that idea). The amendment to include the four tenets of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was a very good addition, I believe. On pg. 878 of the prayer book, it reads that we affirm "the two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself -- Baptism and the Supper of the Lord -- ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him." In practical terms, this amendment means that the revision of the BCP must adhere to this affirmation, that we baptize and say the words of institution at the Eucharist in the words Christ used -- this should mean that there will be a new BCP with the same language of baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and Christ's words ("This is my body/blood" etc) must appear as we have come to know them. This avoids a theological pitfall -- we know that Jesus Christ, in his time on this earth, was revealed to be the Son of God and knew his God intimately and perfectly. In explaining that relationship to others, Jesus called God "Father". To ignore those two realities, that Jesus is revealed by God to be the Son of God and that he called God his Father, would be a grand mistake. However, it would also be a mistake in our liturgies not to recognize the many other ways in which holy scripture refers to God and how we, as children of God made in the image of God, have come to know and refer to one another in many expansive ways within our own language and our understanding of the image of God. How that looks in new and revised rites remains to be seen.
This was a bit of a divisive day at GC79 -- some were elated at the vote, others were severely disappointed. As I wrote earlier today on Twitter, though I wouldn't have voted for this specific resolution, I am still excited for the holy and good work of prayer book revision, and I will wholeheartedly support this process if and when it begins -- I hope all in the Church will, too. And while the Book of Common Prayer is an enormous part of our Church and our Christian faith as we have come to know it in the Episcopal Church, it is not the be-all and end-all. It is Jesus Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and he loves us far more than we love any prayer book. I have no doubt that the Lord will continue to be a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path as we look to start this work. Even if the House of Bishops rejects the resolution, that it passed the House of Deputies is an historic step. These moments of discernment will serve the Church well in coming years -- to repeat once more, BCP revision is coming regardless; it's all a question of when.
Tomorrow brings a welcomed Sunday morning -- time to reflect, to pause, and most importantly, to worship our God. We're going to venture out into Austin to St. David's Episcopal Church, a short walk from the Convention Center. Tomorrow also brings more business, and I'll have a report for you on Resolution B012, which considers continuing and affirming the use of the trial rite for same-sex marriage.
I encourage your prayers for the Church of God and for this convention!
God bless you,