Tuesday, July 10, 2018

To the House of Bishops: Thoughts on Prayer Book Revision from a Millennial, Anglo-Catholic, Convert Priest doing Latino Ministry & Church Planting

Hi Bishops,

It was an interesting experience, watching your debate on Resolution A068, the plan to begin the process of prayer book revision. I'm sure you are spending tonight resting and have many things on your plate in the morning, but if you have a moment, I hope you will read this blog post to hear some more fulsome responses to the questions raised in the debate.

First, let me be honest about my perspective on this question. I am a millennial, anglo-catholic (really, more accurately, a prayer-book catholic) priest who converted to the Episcopal Church while I was in seminary as an evangelical. Though I'm approaching ten years of ordained ministry, I'm only 36 and so thankful still get to claim the title of a young priest. I'm also honored to be leading one of the church plant grants you funded as a part of General Convention in 2015. The ministry at my congregation is the El Corazón Latino Ministry Initiative, and we have been working for nearly three years now to cultivate a Latino worshipping community at the heart (el corazón) as opposed to the edges of our predominantly Anglo worshipping community.

But, after telling you my perspective, I need to let you know something else. I don't speak for any of the groups I just listed, groups I am honored to identify myself with. Honestly, one of the most frustrating parts of the debate this afternoon was hearing people talk about what young people want, about what the next generation needs, in the Book of Common Prayer. It was frustrating, first off, because I was sitting right there along with several of my colleagues. But even more than that, it was frustrating because it assumes that we are a monolith. Some bishops talked about their experience of young people as a reason for revision and some spoke about their experience of young people as a reason not to do revision.

I do believe my own generation, including my generation of clergy, is divided on this question. Likely just as divided as you are as bishops.

But we are looking to you. We are looking to you to lead and shepherd us at this moment in the life of our church.

One more thing: when I first looked at this concept, I was opposed to Prayer Book revision. But the more I studied the approaches in the Blue Book and the more I listened to testimony in committee hearings, my mind changed on this question.

Let me give you a few reasons why that has happened, as you consider how best to lead us as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in this moment.

Revision or Deepening Study
I know you are all very busy, and you probably haven't had a chance to read through the entire proposal put forth by the SCLM (often referred to as the Option One of Revision and Option Two of Deepening Study). If you would allow me, let me give you the Cliff's Notes on the two options: they are largely the same in actual process. You'll notice that if you skip down to the budget session (you can also read my essay I wrote as a summary on the whole report online here).

Both assume revision in the future, but the deepening study one assumes it will take at least another triennium (or several!) to get there. Do you know the big difference between the two? The amount of listening that will happen. In A068 (Option One of Revision), there will be listening sessions in every diocese—not just in some parts of our church. In A068, there will also be a "Grounded Theory" Research Project that seeks to study the question of revision without preconceived notions of what it might look like.

So, if I may be so bold, I would invite you please to consider spending this next triennium in a time of listening. Listen to the broader church to figure out what revision might look like to be faithful. Truly listening isn't cheap. The SCLM has created an amazing process that would bring all voices of our church to the table. But isn't that worth the investment?

Inexpensive Surgical Revision
Rather than engaging in prayer book revision, another idea being proposed is that we instead engage in a relatively inexpensive process of "surgical" or "incremental" revision to the prayer book. We make the Eucharistic prayers of Rite II gender-neutral with a light touch. Maybe we also pass a first reading revising the marriage rites. But we don't spend $2million on a study because probably any one of us could sit down and do that on our own in an afternoon with Microsoft Word.

This is a bad idea.

The reason I was told it was a bad idea was because if we are going to revise the prayer book, it should not be done "piece-meal." Rather, it should be done in a comprehensive and studied manner. This is also the argument made by the SCLM in their report on same-sex marriage liturgies, by the way. They argued that the BCP shouldn't be revised just to put those liturgies in, but that those liturgies should be considered in the context of full prayer book revision.

But that's not why I think surgical revision is a bad idea.

Surgical revision is a bad idea because it is contrary to what I have heard so many of you say. Over and over again you tell us about the importance of grass-roots ministry. You tell us that it is important to listen to and be attentive to our flocks. But for those gathered at General Convention to, on their own, without any time listening to the broader church, simply revise the prayer book... this would be an elitist act.

Surgical revision might solve what many of would say are some of the most glaring problems but it won't do what we really need: bring all the rich voices of our church to bear on what our common prayer should look like.

I bet you were all rectors at one point, with a building issue that someone knew how to quick really fix for not a lot of money. My guess is that you've all seen how that generally works out.

But What About Evangelism & Racial Reconciliation?
Once more, you've all been priests at one point who heard someone say we shouldn't do one thing because something else is important. You all have experienced the presentation of that false choice.

Let me be clear: this is a false choice.

We can engage in a triennium of robustly funded study and listening when it comes to our prayer book and at the same time engage in a triennium that is boldly devoted to continuing the work of evangelism and racial reconciliation.

In fact, my guess is that we'd do it better.

What could be more evangelistic than removing unnecessary barriers to worship in our church that exist in a prayer book that nearly forty years old? Almost as soon as the 1979 BCP was published, people in our church recognized that the language remained very masculine—even in places the original language of the liturgy didn't include masculine language! We added it in! Don't you think that getting rid of that barrier might be an aid in evangelism?

Every time a new family joins our church, so thrilled to finally find a form of Christianity that truly welcomes all people—including our LGBTQ sisters and brothers—I have to give a caveat, warning them that the prayer book doesn't reflect the actual practice of our church on this question. I normally wind up doing this after I gave them a prayer book to take home, telling them this is who we are.

Well, most of this is who we are.

Yes, this is not compelling evangelism.

But even more importantly, the current prayer book is the product of white, western-european culture.  Imagine with me, dream with me bishops. Imagine a revision process that invited the rich and amazing diversity of the Episcopal Church to contribute to the creation of a shared book of truly common prayer. Imagine the gift we would receive from translating indigenous prayers and Spanish-language worship and customs into English and spreading them broadly in our church. Imagine the gift we would receive from drawing deeply from the often ignored but rich heritage of African-American Episcopalians, letting their heritage shape the book we all use.

And imagine, if you will, the way that a new marriage rite—one that drew honestly and humbly from the many things the same-sex marriages in our church have taught us, the way these marriages have shown us more clearly what God's true design for marriage actually is—imagine what that rite could do for reconciliation and evangelism in our church.

Like I said above, for the past three years I have been leading a Latino ministry church plant in the midst of our Anglo congregation. Our Latinx sisters and brothers have brought SO MUCH to the rest of their congregation (and I'm not just talking about the food, though that has been pretty stellar). They have shared their cultural heritage with us. They have shared their prayers and customs, the way they see and talk about and pray to God. And we are so much better for that.

Rather than simply translate the current book for them into better Spanish (something that would still be an improvement on the current translation), I would love to invite them and all our Latinx members to contribute to a new book, one where they are actually shaping our common prayer.

A prayer book revision process that put racial reconciliation and evangelism as top priorities in the process could produce a book that is far superior to the 1979 BCP.

And let's not forget why so many people in our church are passionate about racial reconciliation... because the revisions of the 1979 prayer book—particularly the baptismal covenant—invited us to see our calling as Christians differently. What might a new revision invite us into?

But Isn't This Turning Us Inward When We Should Look Out
It could. This could be a futile exercise in inward naval-gazing.

But it doesn't have to be. This process of listening and revision could spin us outward even more. We could engage with those who have converted to our church and ask them what brought them in and what, if anything, made them hesitant? That would probably tell us a lot about how our liturgy can better enable us to be more evangelistic.

We could even engage in a process of deep listening with those who are not churched. We could find out where they already see God in their lives... and then find how we could revise our prayer book to name that divine presence.

We could do this with an outward view... we just have to chose to do it that way.

We Should Do This for Theology, Not Sociology and Demographics
I have to be honest, every time I have heard this argument against revision put forth I have winced.

First off, theology for Episcopalians is first and foremost about how we pray. So anytime we talk about changing how we pray we are talking about the theology we hold as a church.

Even more importantly, when women in our church tell us that our masculine language has obscured their ability to experience God... we are talking about theology. We all know, as Prayer D says, that our God is one who dwells in light ineffable. We know that God is not a bearded white guy in the sky... so why don't our prayers better reflect that.

And this is theological. Because all of humanity was carried into the divine through the Ascension—not just Jesus' maleness, but the totality of humanity. As St. Gregory Nazianzen reminds us, "What has not been assumed has not been healed." We believe that all of humanity—male, female, cisgender and transgender—all has been assumed into God through Christ... shouldn't our prayers reflect that.

And in the age of #MeToo, after just a few nights ago we all heard the powerful testimony of the experience of the victims of sexual misconduct in our church, particularly that of women, isn't it theological to ask if our worship has in some ways enabled the continuing exploitation and oppression of women? It sounds like theology, like God-talk, to me.

Furthermore, by ensuring our prayer book pays more careful attention to the richness of who we are as a church (as I noted above in the section on racial reconciliation), we are making a theological argument: one St. Paul himself made. We are insisting that every part of the body is important to us. Every part of the body has value. And every part of the body should be included in determining what exactly common prayer looks like.

It's Too Much Money
Yes, I will admit. $1.9 million dollars for this triennium is a lot of money. $8 million over the whole course of the project is a lot of money.

But do you know how much it is in relation to the rest of the budget of The Episcopal Church?

Less than 2%.

Don't you think everything I've charted above, all the opportunities in front of us as we face the prospect of revision... don't you think all of this is worth 2% of our budget?

Isn't bringing our prayer book in line with who we are as the Episcopal Church today worth 2% of our budget?

I think it is.

Oh, But We Don't Know What Church Will Look Like in Twelve Years
You do know, I hope, that this argument could be used never to engage in prayer book revision. We will never know what the church will look like at the end of a prayer book revision process. That will always be impossible.

But we do know who we are today. We know what our prayer book needs.

In fact, I have yet to find a single person—lay, priest, deacon, or bishop—who is opposed to prayer book revision but doesn't, when asked, have a list of revisions that they would like to see happened.

And furthermore, if you are really worried about this, here is an idea: ensure that the SCLM that shapes the next prayer book has a wide variety in its composition, including young people who may indeed think very differently about what is important in revision than you do!

Who Needs a Book?
Our church needs a book. Sure, we may not need a hardcover bound book—but we do need, as so many bishops pointed out, a gold standard for our liturgy. We need something we can all look to, something that unites us as a church even as it draws from our rich diversity.

My guess is that a new BCP will still be published (e-book sales have largely plateaued, if you look at the data). Even if we use full bulletins, we still need a common source those bulletins are drawn from, whether that source is digital or analog.

And there are parts of our church that do need regular books because they cannot afford to print full bulletins. Here I'm thinking of the testimony of the bishop from Honduras, about how the 1979 BCP is used in his diocese and throughout Province IX.

If we came up with a new book, one that finally included the voices of Province IX in its creation... wouldn't be awesome if someone did a Kickstarter campaign to provide books free of charge to every parish in Province IX. I have a feeling we'd raise a lot of money for that very quickly.

Trust Our Church
All of this leads me to the most depressing view I heard in the course of your debate: the idea that some of you simply don't trust the church or the process to create a good prayer book.

You do know that you are the House of Bishops, right? You do know that you exist at the highest echelons of authority and power in The Episcopal Church. Sure, I know that some days as you struggle to midwife growth in your diocese and as you struggle with issues of conflict and asset allocation... you may not feel like you have authority.

But you do.

You are the ones in charge. And if the ones in charge don't trust the ones in charge... well, then we have some larger issues to deal with.

Let's talk in specifics with this one. You don't know who the SCLM is that would guide this process. That's scary.

Sure, I get it. (It actually scares me a little, too!) I'm a prayer-book catholic, deeply devoted to the Anglican expression Christianity in all its ancient richness, grounded in the creeds, and centered in the practices of daily prayer and regular Eucharist. I want to be sure all of the richness of our heritage, all the great parts of the 1979 BCP, that all of that is deepened in a new revision... so, yeah, it's a little scary to offer my beloved prayer book up to the wider church.

But do you know this guy named Michael Curry? He's pretty awesome. Do you know this woman named Gay Jennings? She's pretty awesome too. You do know that they are the ones who will appoint the SCLM for this process, right?

Can you trust them?

And, even more importantly, can you commit to talking to them, honestly and clearly, about the voices you want to be a part of this drafting process? You know they will listen, right?

I believe they will. They want this to work just as much as everyone else.

Don't Be Afraid
All of this brings me to my final encouragement: don't be afraid. One of my favorite things to tell my congregation is that, no matter what, we should never be afraid. God is always doing something and if we are feeling afraid that usually just means we haven't yet figured out just what in the world that is.

Don't be afraid. Open our church—and yourselves—to this first triennium of listening. See what comes back after the first phase of this process is complete. See what you hear from the church about our prayer book when we all spend the time truly to listen carefully to one another about it.

God is doing something in this. Over the course of this week, I watched the winds of the Holy Spirit blow through Committee 13. I saw as the minds of their members were changed through prayer and testimony. As I sat in the House of Deputies, I saw the same thing. I saw the minds of Deputies changed as the Spirit moved in their hearts.

And I saw a rustle of that Spirit in your House today. Let go of any anxiety and fear you have and open yourself to that gentle breath. I have a hunch God is bringing us somewhere very new... and very good.

No matter what, know this: you are all very much in our prayers.

Please, as one of your number said, take this as an opportunity to stop being a hospice bishop and start being a midwife bishop.

Let's work together, all of us, to bring a new prayer book into our common life.

Your Brother in Christ,

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Unfinished Business of Prayer Book Revision, or, in Favor of A068

Ever since Committee 13 decided to send to the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) a proposal for initiating the process of comprehensive revision of The Book of Common Prayer, I have been surprised by the many claims that this process is based upon feelings and not upon theology and liturgical scholarship. 

Most significantly, I am dismayed that so many priests apparently do not believe the feelings of baptized Christians as they engage the core of our worship materials in the BCP are.... unfit for consideration. 

But beyond that, though I hold tremendous love and affection for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (79BCP), there are several places where I believe revision could create a stronger book, one that would more effectively enable us to pray together, in "common," as Episcopalians.

For this reason, I submit this brief reflection for your consideration. 

In 1997, it seemed likely that we were approaching revision of the 79BCP. Morehouse Press published the book Leaps and Boundaries: The Prayer Book in the 21st Century. The opening essay to that book was entitled "Unfinished Business in Prayer Book Revision," and was written by Marion Hatchett, liturgical scholar and author of the definitive commentary on the 1979 BCP.

This matters to me because ten years after that essay was published, I sat in a classroom at Sewanee, pursuing an STM in Anglican Studies. Liturgy professor at Sewanee Jim Turrell was on sabbatical and so Marion came out of retirement to teach senior liturgics for his last time before he entered into the glory of his God. When I open my notes on that first class of the semester, there were two subjects covered. First, we covered the rubrics. Then, we covered "Unfinished Business in Prayer Book Revision."

Marion was clear in that lecture, in a way that surprised me as a relative newcomer to TEC, that the framers of the 79BCP did not consider it a final and complete document. They knew they were leaving some aspects of the book to the next generation to be further revised. Top of the list, even then, were questions of inclusive language, the confusions surrounding confirmation, and the need for revision of language in new compositions like Eucharistic Prayer C. 

And though I would in no means compare the suggestions I am about to offer to the erudite work of Marion, my beloved teacher and friend. I think there are several pretty clear reasons for our church to enter into a new process of prayer book revision. 

Here they are, in no particular order,
  • The '79 BCP reflects the fruits of Vatican II and the liturgical renewal movement. And yet, liturgical scholarship has developed since then. There is now an acknowledgement among liturgical scholars that the early church should not always get a trump card on liturgy and so more recent revisions have restored some prayers once considered "catholic" or "medieval" by the framers of the 1979 BCP. 
  • The framing of confirmation in the 1979 BCP reflects a continued confusion about this sacrament in the life of our church. With baptism as full initiation, confirmation (as many have noted) is a sacrament in search of a home. Historically, Anglicanism resisted the Romanizing emphasis on confirmation. (For more on this, I would commend to you my doctoral paper on the development of Rites of Initiation in English Christianity, online here
  • The 1979 BCP has a habit of unnecessarily adding masculine genders into our liturgy. For example, as I'm sure you know, the final response of the People in the Sursum Corda, in Latin, is "dignum et justum est." There is no masculine pronoun. And yet, we say, "It is right to give HIM thanks and praise." Even the current Roman Rite is better, "It is good and just." An unnecessary proliferation of masculine pronouns should be eliminated.
  • In addition, both Scripture and tradition contain a variety of images of God, including feminine images. In my own parish, our midweek Eucharist often uses a "Song of St. Anselm," which includes the phrase, "in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us." Ever since my wife gave birth to our daughter and I have witnessed the holy mystery of a mother nursing her child, this feminine and mothering image of Christ has become increasingly powerful. Our BCP is bereft without it. 
  • Our church has changed its understanding of the sacrament of marriage. The language in our prayer book should reflect that change. It should now say "two people" which gives room for conservatives who believe those two people should be of the opposite sex and for progressives who believe the sex is not essential to the rite. This is not in any way a change that cuts off a conservative view. Rather, this is in the best tradition of the Elizabethan settlement. Just like the 1662 BCP used language that could be understood in both Catholic and Protestant tones, saying "two people" is a multi-valent approach that enables both progressives and conservatives to use the same book. 
  • There have been far better, more poetic, and more accurate translations of the psalter produced since the mid 1970s. They should be consulted in the creation of a new psalter that better represents the beautiful lilt of Hebrew poetry and does not import English masculinity where they are absent in the Hebrew text. 
  • Eucharistic Prayer C need serious attention in its form, structure, and prose. 
  • Finally (and in my view, perhaps most importantly in the long-run), our current BCP is reflective of the liturgical and theological heritage of white, northern-europeans western Christianity. It is high time that we draw prayers from our indigenous members, Latino members, and other groups who pray differently and yet with eloquence and beauty. Those prayers should be translated into English so the minority communities can be a part of a new BCP.
I am sure others will come up with more places where there is room for revision in the 79BCP. I'm also sure there are others who will prove that the reasons I have noted above are unnecessary
or insufficient. 

This is precisely why it is time. It is time to engage a process of revision that is careful, one that engages in a study of what our liturgists have learned, what our members yearn for, and what our church needs at this moment. It will be a long process, one that likely will end sometime in the final decade of my own ordained ministry. But I do believe, with all my heart, that it is time to begin.

Don't be afraid, church. God's love will flow through us in this if we open our hearts and open our minds. 

And who knows? We might even find new forms and shapes of common prayer that will pour God's grace anew into our congregations and our hearts. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Trying to Hear the Spirit in BCP Revision

It's hard. Dammit is it hard.

I became an Episcopalian over a decade ago initially because of one key theological shift: the understanding that I needed to submit to something larger than myself and my reading of the Bible. The Bible itself is a product of the church. Jesus told us that there were more things to teach us and the Spirit would lead us. I chose the Episcopal Church because it was the catholic tradition that seemed most willing to still listen. It didn't want to cut the development of the church off at any point in history.

Always catholic. Always reforming.

And I still believe in it. I still believe the Holy Spirit moves through the institution of the church. I still believe that the Spirit guides call processes, and the election of bishops, and the discernment of vestries on budgets and ministry.

And I believe the Holy Spirit moves through General Convention.

Sure, sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes the Powers of this world—on the left and on the right (powers that divide us from one another hold no political allegiance—sometimes those Powers succeed in disrupting the work of the Spirit.

So we are called to discern. To be willing to say, "I may be wrong and I'm willing to have my mind changed." We are called to weigh directions and movements carefully, seeing if they are indeed within the Summary of the Law that Our Lord taught us: love of God and love of neighbor. Are they advancing that aim?

Today General Convention began the discussion on BCP revision in earnest. I sat though around 45 minutes or so of open testimony on the subject of revision itself along with the subject of expansive language. I heard person after person get up and talk about their experience with our prayer book. I heard two trans priests talk about how painful it is to have "he" used in such an exclusive way, how it makes it harder for them to get others come who don't believe God is a "he."

That's not my experience, I'll be honest. And I know there are LGBTQ Christians out there—many of whom are my friends!—who don't have that experience at all but who find rest and comfort in the more traditional language of the BCP.

But I listened. And my heart wrenched.

Is saying "it is right to give HIM thanks and praise" instead of "it is right to give OUR thanks and praise" really worth that pain? Is it?

I don't think it is.

And so I found myself getting up and testifying. I shared my appreciation for the pastoral need of more expansive language. I shared my own experience as a priest, telling people to look at the BCP for what we believe but then having to give a big caveat when it comes to marriage. Yes, this is a real evangelistic obstacle. I urged the committee to pursue BCP revision in some form because the time is now.

So many of those opposed to revision seem to be afraid. And, as I always tell my parish and vestry, "As Christians, we should never be afraid. God is always doing something, our job is just to figure out what it is right now."

And I do think what God is doing is calling us to what Marion Hatchett (#MarionofBlessedMemory, my dear friend and teacher) called "the unfinished business of BCP revision."

The question before #GC79 at this point is which way. I see two paths.

First, we could approve some form of Resolution A068, beginning comprehensive prayer book revision. It would include some form of the following (at a cost of between $475K or $2million depending on how many of these tasks are included in the actual process):
  • Full SCLM Meetings to oversee process along with a paid project manager.
  • Bulletin Collection Project to look at what is actually going on in our churches and see what we can learn through data analysis about how the current BCP is actually used.
  • Consultation with Anglican Provinces and participation in the Inter Anglican Liturgical Commission (IALC) to ensure our process is in conversation with the wisdom of other provinces who recently walked this road.
  • Focus Group Conversations that would reach out in some form (whether to every diocese or region or online grouping or all of the above) to find out what is important to our actual membership (not just those in power or those elected to GC or the SCLM). 
  • Academic Conferences and Papers to bring the voice and training of our liturgists to bear on what the next BCP should include. 
  • A "Grounded Theory" research project to do careful research, without preconceptions, of who we are as a church and what we would want to see in a revised BCP.  
Then, in the next triennium, with what we learned we would create drafting subcommittees to do the work and hire an editor to ensure consistency across the proposed book. It would be presented to GC for a first reading and trial use. There would be feedback and then it would either be changed again and sent out to trial once more or it would be approved on second reading at the next GC.

Second, we could instead begin the revision of the BCP now, without a time of listening and study first. This could go two different ways.
  1. The current GC could approve a form of A085 (trial liturgies for same-sex marriage, along with other marriage related material) and a form of what Mtr. Laurie Brock is proposing for bringing more expansive/inclusive language to Rite II of the Holy Eucharist. If this happens, I hope we also get a third resolution that presents a wholesale psalter revision based upon at least one of the excellent inclusive psalters already out there. If this is what happens, all these items get a first reading now and could then be approved at a second reading in 2021, creating the 2021 Book of Common Prayer and ending prayer book revision for the near future. 
  2. The current GC could approve a form of what Bishop Wayne Smith is proposing: giving clear direction to the SCLM for an immediate revision (likely along the lines of what is above) and having the SCLM come up with the draft of a new BCP for a first reading in 2021. A second reading could then occur in 2024, giving us the 2024 Book of Common Prayer.
The question before the 79th General Convention is, "Which of these options is more in line with the calling of the Holy Spirit to our church today, now, in 2018?" 

And I'm torn. 

On one side, I think the best option would be some form of Comprehensive Revision. This ensures we spend time listening before we draft. We ensure we learn what our congregations are doing and what our members want. It doesn't have to be the whole $2million. The Grounded Theory research project would cost a half a million dollars and (to be honest) seems a bit much. That cuts 25% of the cost right there. If you also do the scaled back listening (more the sort of listening that was proposed in option two), you get another half a million cut off. Then your down to a $1million dollar project for this triennium—but it is one that will ensure the next BCP is responsive to the whole church, not just those who show up at General Convention. 

On the other side, there is the question of whether all that study would actually produce anything significantly different than the proposals just to revise the BCP now. Is our church really interested in a new BCP or would just fixing some of the most glaring issues with the current BCP be... enough? There is also a political reality at play in that comprehensive revision would be harder to pass in the House of Bishops. However, one of the two forms of immediate revision (either drafted now at GC or drafted in the next triennium by the SCLM) would have a better chance of passing. To wit, is the most pressing revisions actually happening more important than the gamble of shooting for a comprehensive revision.

I don't know, to be honest. I'm still not sure what exactly the Spirit is doing.

But I'm going to keep showing up. I'm going to keep listening. I'm going to keep trying to be open to approaches that are outside my perspective and comfort zone because you never know what the Spirit is inviting you into. And I'm not going to be afraid. I refuse to do that. 

Furthermore, no matter what, at this point in General Convention I do believe one thing for certain.  I believe that the Spirit is calling this General Convention to take some substantive action to revise our Book of Common Prayer. Will we have the courage to step forward and do what needs to be done?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Care with the Blue: Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons

As I shoot for my third report of the day, let's dive into the report from the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution & Canons.

Summary of the Report
This is a Committee that wound up with a rather big task in this triennium as it absorbed the work of two previous Standing Commissions (the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church and the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons). Given the size of the report, I will offer my own reactions to each area as I go.

Canonical Changes
In the area of canonical changes, they reviewed fifteen areas of canonical concern:
  1. Changing One's Name on Records — The 78th GC asked them to review how church records might be amended so that a member's legal name and their name on the church record matched. They have created "Resolution A088: Proposed Guidelines for Amending Church Records," which urges adoption of a policy in this regard. The underlying concern is a need for pastoral awareness "noting that in many instances name changes offer an opportunity for a restoration of dignity after trauma." Though on the forefront of many people's minds would be the realities faced by transgender people, the report notes that this actually touches as well on "adoptees, parents and guardians of minors with name and gender changes, divorcees, family members, ordained clergy in parishes and other administrative personnel." This is an excellent and important policy and I hope it will be adopted.
  2. The Term "Full-Communion" — It has been noted that our current Constitution and Canons are not consistent with regard to the phrase "in communion" or "in full communion" and that this discrepancy can be a cause for confusion. Thus, they are recommending almost all instances of "in communion" to be replaced with "in full communion," so that the nature of the relationship is made clear. They have thus created "Resolution A089: Amend Articles VI and VIII of the Constitution regarding Full Communion" and "Resolution A090: Canonical Amendments regarding Full Communion." I support this resolution because it make sense theologically, but it will be important, if this passes, to pay careful attention. For example, missionary dioceses may not be established in places where the ELCA already has jurisdiction. It also names the theological truth that it is not normative that we currently do have overlapping jurisdictions with ELCA and TEC bishops, that overlap only being allowed because of the Called to Common Mission agreement. 
  3. Canonical Status for Alternative Liturgies — The Commission notes that they worked with and support the resolution the SCLM has put forward on this topic (this would be Resolution A062 and A063). 
  4. Consent for Secular Employment — Given the rise in bivocational clergy, they noted that this work remains important but that they did not have the time to give it the attention it deserves.
  5. Equity in Clergy Compensation — As the Commission sought to respond to the significant variance in compensation between male and female ordained clergy, they created "Resolution A091: Amend Canon III.9 Equity in Clergy Hiring and Appointment Practices." The problem here is a real one, as they note in the first paragraph of the explanation: 
    Only twenty-two (22) percent of senior clergy leadership roles across The Episcopal Church are filled by women…Forty (40) percent of priests are women, twenty (20) percent Head-of-Staff clergy are women, less than ten (<10) percent of bishops are women. In the south, Head-of-Staff male clergy are paid an average of $25,000 per year more than Head-of-Staff female clergy. Forty-three (43) percent of female clergy have applied for rector/vicar positions but never been chosen whereas only eighteen (18) percent of male clergy have applied for rector/vicar positions but never been chosen. 
    That said, there would be significant consequence to using non-discriminatory canonical language to address this inequity. Most specifically, if I'm reading this canon correctly, a congregation which had a theological objection to the ordination of women or the ordination of LGBTQ clergy would not be able to use that objection as a reason not to call that priest or deacon. While I am a full-throated advocate for my female colleagues and my LGBTQ colleagues, I do believe it is important that our church continue to have a place for those congregations that hold more conservative views on these questions. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt this canon will do anything to solve the injustices surrounding pay equity or actually encourage more parishes to hire women into head-of-staff positions. Instead, it will simply be seen as a heavy-handed attack upon conservative congregations. This should not be passed and should be sent back to the Commission to come up with a better solution. Either that or the the committee that receives this resolution should edit it to insert a conscience clause for those with theological objections.  For example, to request an exemption to this canon on theological grounds, the parish could be required to state their theological objection in writing to the bishop, for the bishop to decide whether to approve it, and then for the parish to be required post that noted theological objection in any search materials.

  6. Restoring the Episcopal Church in Cuba to The Episcopal Church — Here the Commission supports the work being done by the Task Force on this question.
  7. Reception of Clergy from Churches in Historic Succession — Related to the earlier canonical changes with regard to "in communion" or "in full communion," this seeks to bring more consistency to the process for receiving clergy who are in historic succession but not in full communion with our church (often, in practice, Roman Catholic priests). As I am currently guiding a former Roman Catholic priest through this process, I find the changes all tremendously helpful and I hope they will pass. 
  8. Regarding Fiscal Years — Schools and other institutions have requested flexibility when it comes to determining the fiscal year (our current canons require it to be the same as the calendar year). While I don't have significant views on this question, the CPG raised an ominous eyebrow and the Commission backed away slowly...
  9. Deacons called to the Priesthood — This resolution (A093) is a clarification of process for when someone who is ordained a deacon later discerns a calling to priestly ministry. It's a good clarification and should pass.
  10. Clarity regarding the Bishop of the Armed Forces —In another area of needed clarity, this changes the canons so that it is now clear that the Bishop over our military chaplaincies is only over those of the United States. 
  11. Correcting Conjunction in Canon IV.4.1 — This is a typo that needed that will be fixed by Resolution A095—and its a typo that deals with misconduct, so it's a pretty important one!
  12. Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe — Resolution A096 is yet another clarification of canonical language. 
  13. Clarity Regarding the Process of Return to Ministry After Release and Removal – Here Resolution A097 clarifies that for someone to return to ministry in TEC, their letters of support must be by clergy in good standing. 
  14. Timelines and Pastoral Response in Mediation — In an attempt to help parishes and bishops who are in a state of disagreement, Resolution A098 clarifies an expected time-line for mediation and ensures pastoral care is provided for all involved.
  15. Interim Meetings of the House of Deputies —This is another big one. Resolution A099 empowers the President of the House of Deputies to call together the house at times other than General Convention. Given the immense cost of calling together the House of Deputies, I think this is a rather expensive solution to the stated desire for "an opportunity for more collegiality across the Church, making virtual meetings more effective, and providing an opportunity to discuss budget initiatives." Furthermore, this feels like it is modeled on the regular meetings the House of Bishops undertake—but it doesn't pay attention to the fact that the House of Bishops is fundamentally different than the House of Deputies, has very different needs for gathering, and also includes people who are paid to attend. Any increase in the meetings of the House of Deputies would only further preclude the participation of lay people who have full-time jobs and diocese that cannot afford further Deputation travel. After all, when a Deputation travels it is eight people (at least, it's ten when first alternates attend as well) and when a bishop travels its just the bishop. 
When it comes to General Convention and Church Structure, they reviewed another fifteen different areas of concern:
  1. Restructure Standing Commissions and Interim Bodies of General Convention — No action was taken because this was already melded by the  Archives.
  2. Schedule Length of the 79th General Convention — This is a VERY difficult question and one that this Commission did not feel they were equipped to change.  Wise move on their part, I believe. 
  3. Clarify Secretary of Convention versus Secretary of House of Deputies — Resolution A100 clarifies prior confusion about the difference between these two roles. 
  4. Annotated Constitution and Canons Review and Update — They are continuing work on annotating previous versions of the constitutions and canons.
  5. Review DFMS By-Laws — Given the fact that the Vice-President of the House of Deputies needs to be able to step in and serve on the President's behalf if needed, they recommend changing the bylaws so the VP is given seat and voice (though not vote) in Executive Council. This is a change that makes sense to me.
  6. Review Consistency in Canons Regarding Officers —At the start of this triennium, the House of Bishops apparently elected two vice-presidents. The Commission noted that there needs to be clarity in the Rules of Order as to who would actually take the responsibilities of Presiding Bishop if needed. Rather than take that question on themselves, they have referred it to the Committee on Rules of Order for the House of Bishops.
  7. Filing Deadlines —This is a bit of a perennial issue, particularly when it comes to the issue of resolutions which have funding implications coming up after the budget is already approved. However, it's thorny enough that the Commission didn't have any real solutions at this time and seeks to punt the question to the Budget Task Force for the next triennium. 
  8. Budget Process — Speaking of, the Commission recommends, through Resolution A102, that a Budget Task Force be created! The goal would be to reshape our process so that it is more in tune with the technological advances of today and ensures as broad of participation as possible. It would also seek to create a more manageable time-line, overall, for this process, as well as a clearer understanding of who holds which responsibilities. This is a much-needed task force and I hope the resolution passes 
  9. Joint Nominating Process — At issue here is the question of who needs to have a background check in order to do their job. The commission has decided on four officers: President of the House of Deputies (PHOD), Vice-President of the House of Deputies (VPHOD), Secretary of the General Convention, and Treasurer of General Convention. Resolution A103 responds to this need by creating clear language about the practice of background checks and who should have them. Some of this would involve significant changes—for example, candidates for PHOD and VPHOD would now have to submit their names three months in advance so that background checks can be completed. However, I agree that these extra steps are necessary given the importance of these offices. At the same time, the commission acknowledges there is unfinished work surrounding this question and I am hopeful some of that work will be done by the commission in the next triennium.
  10. Presiding Bishop Nominations from the Floor —Similar to the previous section, the Commission acknowledges the problem with the fact that candidates for Presiding Bishop (PB) can currently be nominated by the floor—even though that precludes the extensive background checks other candidates go through. They forwarded this issue to the Task Force to Review the Presiding Bishop Election and Transition Process who is aware of and working on the issue. 
  11. Corporate Structure — In addition to monitoring "the integrity of our corporate structure and By-Laws," the Commission notes their joy at welcoming the new Chief Legal Office to his role and how that will be an asset to their own work.
  12. Canonical Changes to provide for a Joint Session — One of the biggest changes proposed by TREC in 2015 was the possibility of a unicameral General Convention. One resolution was referred to this Commission and the other two were discharged. TREC's report argued that "that a unicameral legislature would make Convention 'a more truly deliberative body, and will more closely share governance across all orders of ministry,' while shifting the nature of Convention to 'evolve to become a Church-wide mission convocation'". (Full disclosure, I advocated for and whole-heartedly support this change and the reasoning behind it). The Commission agreed with the hesitance expressed in a 1975 report (because surely decisions made in 1975 should guide us.... sigh), but thankfully recognized that there are occasions when this might be helpful. Thus, they created Resolution A106 which enables a "Committee of the Whole." The proposal does not allow substantive voting to take place when the Houses are meeting together, but would enable shared discussion and debate. I strongly hope this resolution passes and that the experience of meeting together continues to grow so that the two Houses of GC may become more united. 
  13. Ecumenical Engagement — The Joint Standing Committee on World Mission had requested that the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations be restored, a need that became apparent as that Committee sought to respond to the full communion proposal from the United Methodist Church and the 2013 Statement from the World Council of Churches. Oddly enough, the Commission did not agree with that request, noting that the United Methodist Episcopal Committee could do the work of the former and our ecumenical staff could do the work of the latter. I strongly disagree with that decision as I believe that this sort of ecumenical work is central to the life of our church both at the highest levels and the grass-roots and there needs to be a Standing Committee to respond to these questions when they get to the point of wanting an official response from TEC
  14. Review of Canon III.11.2: Election of Bishops — This is another important change, clarifying "that an election could be called earlier than six (6) months before the resignation of a Diocesan Bishop but said election should not be held earlier than six (6) months before the effective date of the resignation." 
  15. Addressing Harassment and Sexual Misconduct — This is yet another tremendously important area, particularly given the significant variance in policies across our church. And the problem is real. As the report notes, "An informal survey taken of a group of female Episcopal clergy under age forty- five (45) revealed that of the seventy-six (76) women who responded to the question, all of them reported harassment of some kind." Yes, you read that right. All of them. This is not OK. So, through Resolution A108, the commission is proposing a series of canonical changes to make clear the need for training with this issue. They are also calling, through Resolution A109, for a Task Force to undertake a review of current policies and come up with best practices. This is an important resolution to pass. 
In the section for Provinces, Bishops, & Diocesan Vitality, the commission reviewed four different areas:

  1. In Support of Diocesan Vitality and Mergers — The commission referred the portions of this work that related to the efficacy of provinces to the Task Force to Study Provinces.
  2. Create a Single Court of Review — One of the various structuring proposals presented at the last GC was to move to one single Court of Review for the entire Episcopal Church instead of the current nine provincial courts of review. The Commission considered input from Chancellors and Bishops and decided to propose Resolution A110, which would indeed create one single court of review. This is a good decision and, given how rarely a court of review is called, it certainly makes sense to have one that is churchwide. 
  3. Diocesan Vitality — The Commission is sending forward the second reading of a constitutional amendment (Resolution A111: Amend Article V of the Constitution) that changes the previous language for diocesan mergers from a decision based upon the bishop to one based upon the Ecclesial Authority. This enables the Standing Committee to oversee this process after an episcopal resignation or retirement—a smart move that gives greater freedom and flexibility to dioceses considering merging. Through Resolution A112 the commission is also calling for a Task Force on Diocesan Vitality. In Resolution A113, the commission also recommends a change in the language to another constitutional amendment to better clarify the intended process. This will mean this particular resolution, if approved, will have to be read and approved again in 2021. Finally, in Resolution A114, the canons are changed to create a simpler process for diocesan union and brings equality to the field by no longer giving precedence to whichever is the "senior" diocese. All of these are excellent resolutions and should be approved. 
  4. Authority of Bishops, Canonical Residence, serving after age seventy-two (72), Defining Disabled and Absent — These areas of concern were either shared with the Task Force on the Episcopacy or were forwarded on for consideration by the commission in the next triennium.
Next, the commission took up concerns related to Title IV issues—a whopping eighteen in total. Every single one of them is important to be adopted.:
  1. Adopt and Implement Charter for Safety — The "Charter for Safety" was sent to our church following the 2012 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. This commission reviewed it to ensure consistency with the canons and also sent it to the Task Force to Update Sexual Misconduct Policies. They believe it should be adopted and are sending Resolution A115 to that effect. In particular, they are including a funding request to ensure training materials can be created for Province IX. 
  2. Develop Title IV Training materials — All candidates for ordination in our church are required to go through Title IV training—but what actually makes up that training varies significantly. The group worked to create an interactive website to accomplish this training. They are also proposing Resolution A116 so that ongoing monitoring and providing for this training will remain under the authority of this commission. The creation of these materials solves a gap in many ordained person's formation and hopefully placing it under the authority of this commission will ensure it continues to be kept up to date. 
  3. Enable an Appeal of a Decision not to take Action— The current canons did not provide a mechanism for a complainant in a Title IV case to appeal if the reference panel decided not to take action. Resolution A117 creates a mechanism for that appeal to take place, ensuring there is a fair hearing. 
  4. Clarify Rules for Publishing of Materials — In Resolution A118 the commission clarifies what part of a Title IV investigation should be published, when it should be published, and under what circumstances. This is a helpful addition. 
  5. Clarify Process for a Court of Review — Through Resolution A119, the commission seeks to clarify what makes up the process for a Court of Review. However, they used the term "provincial" court of review—even though Resolution A110 eliminated the provincial court of review in favor of a single court of review. Hopefully this will be addressed in the committee work.
  6. Create a Title IV Database — A significant issue in the current Title IV canons has been that information about the proceedings sometimes are not well communicated to other dioceses or parishes considering a call. Resolution A120 calls for the creation of a database that will record information and ensure there is consistency in the application of the canons. This database would also help the background check practices already in place. 
  7. Remove definition of Procedural Officer — The inclusion of this definition in the recent Title IV revisions was an error, so Resolution A121 corrects that mistake. 
  8. Ability of Conference Panel to hire independent mediator —The commission determined that no action on their part was needed to create this ability.
  9. Amend Article IX to change Removal to Admonition — This is another oversight from the Title IV revisions which needs to be corrected through Resolution A122, this time in the Constitution. 
  10. Address misrepresentations in Ordination process and clarify sexual misconduct in Title IV — In the first resolution (A123) an addition is made to Title IV canons for circumstances were a candidate for ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy knowingly misrepresents a material fact regarding their life. In the second resolution (A124), there is a clarification of what constitutes sexual misconduct as well as a an acknowledgement that there may be relationships which would not be misconduct—but that these would need to be approved in writing by the bishop. 
  11. Decline to Advance Proceedings in Title IV — Through Resolution A125, a way is created for the proceedings in Title IV to stop if the Church Attorney requests this to happen. It includes articulation of a specific situation when that was needed but not possible in the current canons. 
  12. Repeal Canon IV.19.31 — This was a canon from the old form of Title IV that was inadvertently kept in the new Title IV canons. Resolution A126 now repeals that canon. 
  13. Clarify Term on Disciplinary Board for Bishops — Given the tremendous work involved in this board when an issue arises, Resolution A127 increases the number of clergy and lay people who will serve on the board and also clarifies that terms continue if a case is in process
  14. Membership of Conference Panel — Through Resolution A128, the commission proposes in adding to the number of persons who serve on the Conference Panel to ensure both a lay person and a clergy person can be included.
  15. Retention of Title IV Records — This clarifies that the same rules for the retention of records applies regardless of the order of the clergy person who is going through a Title IV process.
  16. Correcting for Uniformity regarding Release and Removal — Resolution A130 is another one that is correcting language and also is removing a rogue comma. At this point in slogging through this material, I think the rogue comma should go through Title IV proceedings... but I digress.
  17. There were several further resolutions (A131, A132, A133, A134) that sought to clarify processes in some areas and bring greater justice to other issues (for example, ensuring there are time-lines in the process so that complainants are treated fairly). 
  18. Title IV across the diversity of civil jurisdictions in The Episcopal Church— Finally, through Resolution A135, the commission calls for a study of Title IV across the various civil jurisdictions of our church as well as the assumed cultural homogeneity of the canons. This resolution arose out of the struggle Province IX had in fully implementing these canons. 

If you weren't exhausted yet (remind me never to get myself appointed to this commission), they also worked on issues that arose out of a review of Committees, Commissions, Agencies, Boards, & Other Interim Bodies:

  1. The commission recommended the continuance of all Boards of the church. They did note their reservations about the General Ordination Exams since they are no longer used throughout the church and did call for a review of the relevancy of those exams. They also recommended a continuation of all Covenant Committees—though they noted there was a lack of information published about their work.
  2. In contrast, many of Task Forces and Interim Bodies, along with several Advisory Committees, were recommended to be discontinued because they had completed their mandate, including: 
    • The Committee to Study the Relationship of General Theological Seminary,
    • The Task Force for Leadership Formation of Clergy in Small Congregations, 
    • The Task Force on Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism, 
    • The Task Force on the Episcopacy
    • Task Force to Study Leadership and Compensation
    • Task Force on Provinces
    • Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development Search Committee 
    • Chief Legal Officer Nomination Advisory Committee
    • Chief Operating Officer Nomination Advisory Committee
    • Legal Review Committee
The commission also recommended the creation of a new Standing Commission, one on Formation and Ministry Development. They recommended this because of the amount of work that fell to their own commission along with the importance of this ongoing work for our church, particularly in the area of pay disparity between genders. (I would reiterate, here, that I strongly disagree with them not following the request of the Standing Commission on World Mission to reinstate the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Commission as well.)

Finally, the commission gave themselves seventeen (!) priorities for the coming triennium, all of which are important—so it's unlikely that their next report will be any shorter. 

Summary of Reactions
I want to stress how exhausted I am just reading this report. I cannot imagine the amount of work that went on behind the scenes to produce it. Almost everything they have proposed is excellent and should be approved. Just to reiterate, there are, however, a handful of areas where I would urge a different approach:

  • Resolution A091 (Amend Canon III.9 Equity in Clergy Hiring and Appointment Practices) is, in my view, a poorly conceived canon that will not assist female and minority clergy but will, instead, penalize theologically conservative congregations. Either a conscience clause needs to be created or the whole thing scrapped in favor of a different mechanism that will address the pressing issues of pay and position disparity in our church. 
  • Resolution A099 (Call Meeting of House of Deputies) should absolutely be rejected if for no other reason than the significant expense this would cost dioceses and the extra amount of time it would ask of lay deputies who are not employed by the church. 
  • I hope that someone puts forth a resolution to reinstate the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations as I disagree with the decision not to honor the request of World Mission that it be reinstated. 

Note: You can click here for a list of all Blue Book Reports & Resolutions that have thus far been reviewed. 

Care with the Cure: Sub-Committee on Revising the Book of Common Prayer

Today, I'll take up the final sub-committee report from the Standing Committee on Liturgy & Music (SCLM), the sub-committee on revising the Book of Common Prayer.

Summary of the Report
In 2015, the 78th General Convention (GC) directed the SCLM to prepare a plan for comprehensive prayer book revision (see the resolution online here). The SCLM spent a year discussing this mandate before deciding on four options to present to GC. They posted those options online, weighed feedback from around the church, and distilled them down to two options. In the words of their report:

  1. Option One (1+2) envisions a decision by the upcoming General Convention to move into the revision process immediately, the first stage being to gather data, resources, and ideas, and then set up the structure to begin drafting immediately after 2021 General Convention
  2. Option Two (3+4) envisions a slower pace, while remaining open to Prayer Book revision in the future. Option Two invites the whole church to broaden its familiarity with the 1979 Prayer Book and the history that underlies it, and provides for time to reflect as a body on the significance of common prayer in our tradition

The goal behind each of these options is the same. Once more, in the words of the report, "to move our church toward unity through a process of collective discernment rather than to cause divisiveness by attempting to assert personal piety and individual liturgical preferences over that of others."

Option One: Comprehensive Revision (Resolution A068)
The plan for comprehensive revision draws significantly from a similar plan that was actually passed by GC in 2000—though left unfunded. So the SCLM is very clear in their report that comprehensive revision cannot happen without adequate funding. They estimate that funding need for the first triennium of work at $1.9 million, with full revision likely costing between $8 and $9 million over the next decade or so.

It is important to note that the plan for revision represented in option one is a very careful and well thought-out. It includes a set of eight guiding assumptions that seek to balance the historic liturgy of the church embodied in common prayer with the rich diverse make-up of TEC in our time. It insists on rich translations of any trial use material (as opposed to the wooden translations of the current BCP) as well as full participation by church musicians. It also insists that catechesis must be an essential part of any revision process throughout.

The process itself would begin in the next triennium with a research phase. There would be a quantitative data collection of bulletins from our congregations, analyzing the actual usage of the current BCP, with the idea that such insight could provide direction for where revisions are needed due to actual practice (that is, so that our BCP reflects our actual common prayer). There would also be a qualitative data collection process which would draw together focus groups for conversations in each diocese as well as online. It would undertake a "grounded theory" research project—an approach which "seeks to conceptualize what’s going on in a social setting, building a theory on the basis of what is actually happening, not what one believes should be happening." It would also encourage seminaries to host further conferences on the subject of prayer book revision to ensure there is academic engagement with the process.

Finally, the process would include continued consultation with other Anglican provinces who have undertaken prayer book revision in the past decade. In addition to a project manager to oversee the work, the SCLM anticipates the hiring of an editor to bring together the work of various drafting committees.

The results of the research in the next triennium would enable drafting to begin in 2021 with a first draft presented to General Convention for trial use in 2024. During trial use, feedback would be gathered and then a proposed BCP would be presented for a first reading in 2027. If during that triennium no further changes are proposed, the prayer book would be adopted on its second reading in 2030.

Option Two: Intentional Engagement with the Current BCP (Resolution A069 and A070)
The second option, it is important to note, is not created to avoid the process of prayer book revision. Rather, the second option that is proposed seeks to begin with a period of deeper engagement with the current BCP before moving into research about possible revisions. Additionally, the second option calls for much-needed new translations of the current BCP along with an expansion of categorizes for forms of worship authorized in our church.

One of the key underlying understandings of the second option is that prayer book revisions has historically been a top-down process, one that seems to inevitably identify those with power and those without. Thus, one of the pieces of work that must be done is a true listening to one another across the divides and differences that exist in our church. This must be done if we are to be able to create a prayer book that could truly be called common.

The second option also resolves one of the confusing realities of our current life of worship. The only authorized worship in our church is the prayer book and trial liturgies published in the revision of that book. However, over the past two decades GC has authorized numerous supplemental liturgies which actually have no canonical home. Thus, through work with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, and Canons, they will seek to expand the canonical categories of authorized worship so that there is both a grounding for our common worship as well as room for continued creativity and experimentation.

The second option also seeks to address one of the most significant injustices in our church: inadequate translations of the prayer book. Thus, it calls for a full process of new translations of the BCP so that all communities within our church can fully participate in our common life with worship that has the same theological weight and poetic elegance of the current BCP.

Finally, the SCLM acknowledges that the BCP is, in actuality, a model for Christian discipleship that assumes a certain way of life for Episcopalians. However, many grounding markers of the current BCP are not actually observed in the life of the average Episcopalian. Weekday observances of feasts and fasts is, they argue, a relatively uncommon practice (I assume they mean the practice of keeping feasts and fasts on their actual day, as I think most parishes have a midweek Eucharist to which feasts are commonly transferred). The public recitation of the Office—the true bedrock of Anglican spirituality—has become increasingly rare. Further, the riches of the prayer book in evangelism, catechesis, and spiritual formation is largely untapped.

If the second option is the one taken by GC, there would be a series of tasks proposed for the coming triennium. Bulletins would be collected and archived from every congregation in our church. Focus group conversations would be hosted in each diocese, with particular attention paid to the inclusion of those whose voice is not often heard. Consultation would be engaged with other provinces in our communion. We would engage deeply with communities who worship in languages other than english. The SCLM would create resources to equip "congregations, musicians, seminaries, schools, and individuals" for deeper engagement with the BCP, including those portions which are currently underutilized.

Reactions to the Report
I have to say, this report is exceedingly well-written and each of the options is well-argued. After reading about option one, I found myself totally agreeing that it is the way to go. Then, after reading option two, I found myself changing my mind and agreeing with that option. I do believe either of these paths would be fruitful for our church, each one including its own benefits and drawbacks.

However, one of the reasons each path sounds compelling is because there is actually a remarkable similarity in tasks in each of the two different paths. As I sought to understand and articulate the specific and concrete differences, I created two documents with the basic plan and budget and then made a pdf comparison (you can view it online here).

From that comparison, one can see that actually several of the same tasks would take place regardless of the option chosen:

  1. Full SCLM Meetings to oversee process along with a paid project manager.
  2. Bulletin Collection Project — This is called "quantitative data collection" in option one and "catalogue texts used in worship" in option two. However, the budget is identical regardless of plan (which makes it rather confusing that the plans each describe this slightly differently). The background material does not indicate any actual difference.
Some tasks would be slightly different given the option chosen
  1. Consultation with Anglican Provinces and participation in the IALC — For option one we would do this to report on our own process of revision. For option two we would be focused on learning how other provinces have "lived ever more deeply into the theology of their Prayer Book." 
  2. Focus Group Conversations — For option one these would take place in every diocese of our church along with an online survey to reach those unable to come to the conversations. For option two these would instead be "a more organic invitation to interested groups, parishes, dioceses, provinces, and gatherings of Episcopalians across the church." It is, thus, half the budget of the conversations in option one. 
  3. Academic Conferences and Papers — The budget is the same for either option, but in option one this would be for the purpose of prayer book revision. It's not clear in the report, but my guess is that in option two these would be used to study and develop resources for deeper engagement with the BCP. 
Option One would involve the following additional work:
  1. The "Grounded Theory" research project. 
  2. The creation of drafting sub-committees
  3. The hiring of an editor to oversee the collection of drafts and ensure consistency across the proposed book.
  4. The drafting work of the 2021-2024 triennium and the trial use of the 2024-2027 triennium.

Option Two, by contrast, would involve the following additional or different work:
  1. Study the need for liturgical and pastoral resources surrounding terminal illness and death, collecting those in use and developing new ones (though no budget is provided for this work).
  2. New Translations of the BCP in Spanish, French, and Creole. It also includes an engagement with communities who worship in languages other than English to learn about their liturgies (though no budget is provide for this work).
So, in summary, it seems to me that the fundamental difference between these two options is that option two does not articulate the plan for revision (but still assumes it will take place in the future) and focuses our time now on understanding the BCP as well as ensuring it is available in a high-quality translation to all our members.

I would note that the call for the development of liturgical and pastoral resources surrounding terminal illness and death seems entirely out of place in this conversation—that's the sort of work that should be done in a supplementary text like Enriching our Worship (EOW) or the Book of Occasional Services (BOS). It makes little sense why it is included in option two as it does not seem to advance the fundamental goal of that option.

One would assume that if option two is taken, the next General Convention in 2021 could then take what we learned from this time of engagement and in the next triennium put in place the Grounded Theory research project along with changing the focus of academic conferences and inter-anglican engagement to focus on the beginning work of revision.

Given the tremendous amount of anxiety in the church surrounding prayer book revision, my own sense is that some form of option two is what will be chosen by General Convention. My hope is that people will engage in the process, and that this engagement will lower the anxiety of everyone around the idea of prayerbook revision.

Just to be clear, I am one of those in the minority who believes prayer book revision is something that is tremendously important. I even tried my hand at a resolution that would do a "surgical revision" of the current BCP (no deputies signed up to sponsor it). When that didn't work, I tried my hand at a resolution to call for a revision that was not comprehensive but instead a deepening of the theology of the current book (that garnered one deputy's support, not enough to send it to GC).

That said, at this point I think option two is the best one for the church. I think that option two, if engaged well, would lead us to a revision like the one I describe in the second resolution I wrote, a revision that is a deepening of the theology of our prayer book. Furthermore, even option one wouldn't give us a new prayer book for another twelve years and that is too long to wait to solve the injustice of inadequate translations.

Note: You can click here for a list of all Blue Book Reports & Resolutions that have thus far been reviewed. 

Care with the Cure: Sub-Committee on Same-Sex Marriage Rites

Today, I'll take up the fifth sub-committee from the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM), the Sub-Committee on Same-Sex Marriage Rites.

Summary of the Report
This sub-committee was created in response to the 78th General Convention's (GC) call to monitor the use of the same-sex marriage rites approved at that GC— Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing: Revised and Expanded, 2015.

In April of last year, the SCLM published an online survey to get a sense of the use and response to these trial rites. Out of the 262 responses, 60% were from clergy and 40% were from laity. Only a third, however, had experienced the liturgies used in their own parish. Roughly three-quarters of respondents expressed a positive view on the blessing rite (with a bit over half saying it was excellent). About the same number expressed a positive view of the gender-neutral version of the BCP marriage rite. One-fifth characterized the blessing rite as poor and 15% said the same for the gender-neutral BCP marriage rite.

In the specific comments on the rite, the SCLM found an equal amount of positive versus negative views on the various components, not indicating a strong consensus for further revision. Further, those who wanted further revision didn't have a consensus on what shape that further revision might need to take. Thus, the SCLM recommends no further revisions at this time but, rather, that the rites remain in trial use until the SCLM initiates a comprehensive revision of the BCP.

Reactions to the Report
I was indeed curious about the reception of these liturgies and am pleased to see relatively strong support for both of them. I have used both liturgies in my own parish for same-sex weddings and found both of them to be excellent, providing a good amount of options for couples to be able to work with me on coming up with a liturgy that is reflective of their relationship while also proclaiming the good news of God in Christ.

It was interesting to note that the SCLM is actually not recommending this enter into a first-reading for BCP revision in 2018 (this is in contrast with the resolution submitted by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which is recommending that these rites be given a first reading for prayer book revision at this GC).

In general, I lean towards a desire for what some are calling a "surgical revision" of the BCP that would give a first reading to these rites and also update the language in our catechism. Though I understand the arguments of those who believe any prayer book revision should be comprehensive, as a parish priest I find it difficult to explain why our church's actual belief and practice on this important question differs from what they will find in the BCP in their pews.

Thus, at this time I am still hoping for approval of the A085, beginning the process of revising the marriage rite in the BCP itself using these rites. Furthermore, if this process is begun in 2018, each diocesan convention will then respond to these rites. My guess is that further revision of these rites (particularly the blessing rite) might indeed be proposed at this time to strengthen the language, creating a second first-reading in 2021 and first approval no sooner than 2024—six years from now. To me, that gives us enough time to ensure the marriage rite in the BCP does indeed reflect the belief and practice of our church.

Furthermore, if comprehensive prayer book revision is then approved at any time before then, this rite could then be held back to be included in that process.

It's time to begin addressing this question—to me, the most pressing of all those related to the revision of the BCP.

Note: You can click here for a list of all Blue Book Reports & Resolutions that have thus far been reviewed. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Care with the Blue: Sub-Committee on Racial Justice & Reconciliation

Today, I'll take up the fourth sub-committee from the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM), the Sub-Committee on Racial Justice & Reconciliation.

Summary of the Report
At the 78th General Convention (GC), there was a call to address Systemic Racial Injustice which included a specific resolve focused on our corporate prayer life: "That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music produce and post online a set of prayers for racial reconciliation and justice, suitable for inclusion in the Prayers of the People."

This sub-committee was formed to answer that resolve. They invited prayers and litanies from around the church to be submitted to the group as a part of their work. They wound up with 24 documents, including prayers, music, and full worship services. The sub-committee wisely hired writers who had extensive background as liturgists in our church and, in the end, they created six resources which have now been made available:
  • Prayers of the People with Confession 
  • Prayers of the People for Advent 
  • Prayers of the People for Christmas 
  • Prayers of the People for Epiphany 
  • Litany of Repentance
  • Commissioning for the Ministry of Justice and Reconciliation
Reactions to the Report
This strikes me as a great example of GC and SCLM operating at their best. Though the sub-committee acknowledges that everything written has not yet been made available "due to time constraints in the editing process," what has been submitted is largely quite good. Most importantly, to have us respond to issues of racial reconciliation through our prayer lives is a distinctively Anglican move—one that is not divorced from concrete actions of social justice but, instead, should ground the concrete actions we take in the world.

The first set of the Prayers could be used at any time and is quite well written. I think the Confession could have used a bit more editing, it lacks some of the elegance and theological heft of the rest of the prayers, but it is all still quite good.

The seasonal prayers for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany all do a great job of setting our prayers for racial reconciliation in the context of these important seasons of our church.  I will likely use these in my own parish beginning this Advent.

The Litany of Repentance is particularly well-done and something what could be used in a variety of contexts when there is need to voice our repentance. Like good confessions, it broadens our sense of our sin so that our repentance may be fulsome.

The only piece I would leave out is the "Commissioning for the Ministry of Justice and Reconciliation." From a coherence standpoint, I'm not sure why the SCLM removed specific commissioning liturgies from the proposed BOS but then put this one in. Either we commission specific lay ministries or we don't. I prefer to keep these things available, but if the SCLM is recommending we don't do specific commissioning any more, then why are they recommending this one?

Secondly, this is a Commissioning that every Christian should actually undergo and, absent a "concerning the service," it's not clear what the intended context of this commissioning actually is.

None of this needs to be approved by General Convention because it is simply being "made available," so there's no point arguing about that final piece—it just gave me a bit of pause. If it's going to be included, I wish we were given some direction on when to use it and for what purposes.

Note: You can click here for a list of all Blue Book Reports & Resolutions that have thus far been reviewed.