Monday, June 11, 2018

Care with the Blue: Sub-committee on the Church Calendar

Today I will tackle the second sub-committee from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the sub-committee on the Church Calendar.

First, Some Background
The official calendar of our church has been in a state of increasing disarray over the past several General Conventions. For several years, Lesser Feasts & Fasts (LFF) was the official calendar for use in addition to the one printed in the BCP. This first form of this calendar was published for trial use in 1964, edited again and republished in 1973. Starting in 1980, a third edition was published under optional use, instead of trial use. It was edited again in 1988 and then again in 1994, with the 1994 edition including guidelines for what criteria should be used in future revisions. The last revision of LFF was in 2006.

However, three years before publication of the last version of LFF, in 2003, General Convention called for a full revision of our church's calendar, one that would
...reflect our increasing awareness of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of the Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities.
In 2009, General Convention authorized for trial use the new volume that committee created, entitled Holy Women, Holy Men (HWHM). The volume retained all the commemorations in LFF and also added nearly 100 more. It was reauthorized for trial use in 2012.

The trial use of HWHM was mixed, with the most vocal being those who disagreed with aspects of its content. There were people included who were not Christian. There was a perceived weakness in many collects (a refrain heard in pretty much every revision of our church's calendar over the past several decades). One of the strongest critiques was published in the Living Church by Derek Olsen.  For many in our church, HWHM was not passing the trial. (You can also read this essay by Derek Olsen to get a better analysis of the history I have just outlined).

The SCLM went back to work and created a new resource entitled A Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW). That resources took care to note,
The reception of Holy Women, Holy Men and additional commemoration requests brought to General Convention since 2009 suggested that the range of sanctoral theologies (that is, theologies of sainthood) within the Church remained as broad as ever, resulting in disagreements concerning who does and does not belong in the Calendar. 
Thus, GCW sought to maintain "a comprehensive stance toward differing theologies of sainthood," and wound up being a significantly large volume with a very full calendar. It also sought to redirect the energy for saintly commemoration back to the local level, including not even specifying propers (specific readings) for each day and instead encouraging communities to select readings given the category of saint being commemorated.

However, when GCW hit General Convention in 2015, it failed to be authorized. Instead, the enabling resolution instructed SCLM to "make available for publication and distribution" the new text." The resolution identified seven key criteria that should be used in our calendar and directed "the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to review the list of names in 'A Great Cloud of Witnesses' in light of these criteria and recommend revisions to the 79th General Convention, with a full explanation for any revisions."

This led to tremendous confusion among congregations and clergy who offer Eucharist during the week as to which calendar should be used. Eventually, those "in the know" told us that by failing to authorize GCW, our "official optional calendar" had reverted to the 2006 edition of LFF. However, congregations that wished to use GCW were welcome to do so.

Which really cleared things up.

In my own parish, we have used GCW. Though I have appreciated some of the changes in commemorations and, in particular, in the collects for commemorations, the volume has been very unwieldy in congregational use. Most specifically, I do not, frankly, have the time to select individual readings from the list of options for each category. Thus, I have defaulted to the readings which had been offered in HWHM and have gone to the trouble of selecting readings myself for any new commemorations.

Summary of the Report
Note: A serious debt of gratitude for some of the research in this section goes to the amazing members of the Prayer Book Revision Facebook Group who helped put together some of the data on what is being proposed. 
In this past triennium, the SCLM fielded no less than eleven different resolutions related to our church's calendar. After sorting through those resolutions and the feedback from the broader church, the SCLM decided the best thang to do would be to prepare a new edition of LFF which followed one of the key initial ideals of the revision: a calendar that better reflected the diversity of our church.

The report notes that our current calendar "still skews overwhelmingly clerical, white, and male. The numbers in HWHM reached about 80% male, compared to 20% female—nearly a doubling of the number of women included, but clearly not enough. GCW brought it down to 75% male and 25% female, still and improvement, but clearly not where it needs to be. The numbers are close to the same for the difference between ordained and lay/religious persons included. Further, the report from the sub-committee notes that there truly is no good excuse for the lack of diversity—the 2015 General Convention even gave the SCLM 60 new possible names of women for consideration.

Given the confusion the SCLM inherited, they have chosen to return to the original mandate to revise LFF. They believe that GCW should continue to be "made available" for those who prefer a more exhaustive list of commemorations, but that it should be treated more like a "family tree" than an actual sanctorale. Thus, in their revisions to LFF, they have sought to use the original criteria for inclusion to come up with a clearer list of saints to be commemorated, one that is more fully diverse. To do this, they have removed some people from commemoration (noting that those people still exist in GCW and, thus, can still be commemorated by communities who wish to do so).

The sub-committee notes that they are asking this new version of LFF to be authorized "for optional use," noting that trial use, in our church, really only applies to questions of BCP revision. They believe this volume will be "in trial" and are hopeful that the church will bring helpful feedback so that it can further be revised at General Convention in 2021. They urge further revisions not to be made on the floor of Convention but, instead, for this volume to be tested in congregational life, first.

In their supplementary information, they note that they have now increased the commemoration of women to nearly half of the commemorations on the calendar. Furthermore, laity now take up roughly half of the commemorations as well. White people are only slightly more than half of the commemorations. When it comes to time period of commemoration, they have drawn back on the very modern leaning of HWHM and instead sought to draw equally from several different eras (20th century, 19th century, 16th-18th centuries, 8th-15th centuries, 1st-7th centuries, and biblical times).

As to their proposed resolutions, I will summarize and respond to them in the next section.

Reactions to the Report
Overall, I want to give a big debt of gratitude to the SCLM and, in particular, to the sub-committee who did this particular work. They did indeed inherit a bit of a mess and, absent a clear direction from General Convention, I believe they have tried faithfully to do what is best for our church. In addition to their clarifying our calendar, I am immensely grateful for the work they have done finally to publish a much more diverse calendar for our church, one that reflects our actual breadth and depth.

I may have some quibbles with aspects of their work, but I do hope this volume will be authorized for optional use so that it can be tested and improved upon in a more orderly process than the frenzied run-up to General Convention.

Resolution A065 Authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018
This enabling resolution would authorize the new version of LFF, direction tis publication, and also direct the SCLM to solicit feedback and bring suggestions for changes to the next General Convention.

My only significant frustration with the new version of LFF is that there were people who were moved over to GCW that I do believe deserve official commemoration in LFF.

Here I need to say, I am pretty doubtful about this report's approach of a dual-track calendar and would rather that they allow GCW to remain in the archives for people who wish to use it but focus their sole energy on the new version of LFF as the main calendar of our church. Thus, to say that removing people from LFF doesn't matter because they remain in GCW side-steps the fact that one is officially authorized and one is not. The average parish will not use two books and it is important that our official book includes saints that are venerated in our tradition.

The reason given in the report for removing people from LFF was to increase the diversity of our calendar. However, there are several people who were removed but actually would have helped questions of diversity (for example, Florence Nightingale and James Theodore Holly). Both of those people—along with any other women, people of color, or laity who meet the criteria for inclusion—should be restored to this new iteration of LFF.

Other people were removed largely because they are men and you can correct gender imbalance more easily by deletion than by addition. However, some of those men who were removed a hugely important in the life of the church and should also, in my view, be restored—particularly when restoring them would not displace one of the new commemorations (that is, when their previous day is left blank in the new book. Just on a brief skim of the list of deletions, I would say that the following people really should be restored: Cyril of Jerusalem, James De Koven, Gregory the Illuminator, Charles Henry Brent, George Augustus Selwyn, Alphege, Cyprian, John Coleridge Patteson and His Companions, Philander ChaseWilliam Tyndale, Leo the Great, and Clement of Rome).

Like I said, I support the authorization of this book and would not want to hold that authorization up because of my quibbles with those included. I would like to see some of these names restored (at the very least Florence Nightingale and James Theodore Holly), but would also support authorization of this book without any restorations because the argument could be made in the next triennium for all of the above people and the SCLM could then respond to that feedback accordingly.

Resolution A066 Add Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, and Florence Li Tim-OI to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018
This resolution is a nice departure from prior SCLM practice. Recognizing that these three people do not fit the official criteria for inclusion (given how recently they lived), the SCLM is giving their names to GC separately for explicit approval of the exception their inclusion would create. I support the resolution, as each of these people should be commemorated in our church, and I am grateful for the SCLM's approach on this question.

Resolution A067 Propose Additional Optional Fasts Days for Lesser Feasts and Fasts
This is a much-needed resolution that acknowledges the reality that—despite the title—LFF is overwhelmingly a list of feast days. As the sub-committee noted earlier in their report, they wondered "whether it would be helpful or desirable to add more fast days to the calendar as well as feasts, including both the traditional practices of abstinence and self-denial but also works of justice and mercy, and to call the church more deeply into serious discipleship."

I like the idea of the study behind this question and think that it could bring much to the life of our church.

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

1 comment:

  1. You spoke of diversity in terms of men and women - what about races?