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. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Care with the Blue: Sub-Committee on Congregational Song

I've taken a bit of a break after those the previous two rather long pieces of work, but am going to start again today by moving on to the third sub-committee from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the sub-committee on the congregational song.

Summary of the Report
This sub-committee had a mandate to respond to two separate resolutions from the 78th GC. First, they were "empowered" to further our church's mission by "enlivening and invigorating congregational song through the development of a variety of musical resources." This included developing and expanding the work of the "World Music Project." Second, they were tasked with developing a plan for revision of the Hymnal 1982.

A few words of background on the first mandate. As an Episcopal News Service article in advance of the last Convention notes:
Completing the World Music Project to provide affordable musical resources for Province IX and non-European-American clergy and musicians is a top priority, said Ana Hernandez, task force chair. The task force hopes to have three face-to-face meetings to collect and edit materials, secure copyrights and make the resources available for sharing via a website that can continue to grow. 
“What we would like to do is actually work with people in Province IX to gather things that they’re using and get them typeset and printed so that people here can see them,” Hernandez said. “There’s stuff all over the place that’s out there. It just needs to be collected and curated so that we can spread it around.” 
The task force also has identified about three dozen congregations to work with it and provide feedback through a survey, now being developed, on “how music actually works in their individual parishes,” she said.
The complete lack of adequate authorized musical resources for non-European-American congregations within TEC continues to be a glaring issue. There was a Spanish-language hymnal published (El Himnario) but it is now out-of-print and impossible to get a hold of. In my own parish, our Spanish-language worship service uses Flor y Canto—a great resource that also makes available a set of CDs of all the music played by professionals and versions of the songs in keyboard or guitar chord/tab format. It's been a life-saver.

However, Resolution A060 was not funded by General Convention and so the work done in this past triennium was minimal. Further, the sub-committee's understanding of the scope of their work is apparently focused only on discerning "which hymns and songs are being sung in parishes in the Episcopal Church," seeking to bring together one person from each province for a symposium in the next triennium. There is nothing in their report about the work they did (or did not do) with regard to the World Music Project.

When it comes to hymnal revision, the SCLM declined to take action. Like A060, this resolution was also not funded, but there were deeper reasons not to move forward. They noted that it would be highly irregular to revise a hymnal before revising a prayer book and since prayer book revision conversations had already begun, those should first be concluded. Furthermore, they emphasized that the Church Pension Group already did a lengthy and serious survey on this topic that did not find widespread interest in hymnal revision.

Reactions to the Report
This report left me with mixed feelings. Most specifically, I think it is evocative of the inadequate priorities of much of TEC in our day and age. As I read it, there were three subjects given to this sub-committee—none of which were actually funded.

The call to work for the "enlivening and invigorating congregational song through the development of a variety of musical resources," would be needed work for resources we do not currently have. The Hymnal 1982, along with its supplements, clearly prove to be effective and useful to the majority of Episcopal congregations. However, as I noted above, we have no authorized musical resources for Spanish-language worship—despite the fact that we have committed millions of dollars in church planting work, including planting more Spanish-language communities of faith.

When the sub-committee received this resolution, they oddly seemed to focus only on the question of collecting information about what hymns are currently being used. They said nothing about the World Music Project and why it was apparently discarded. Furthermore, if we do need to figure out what hymns and musical pieces are being used throughout the church (and I'm doubtful there is a real good reason to do that right now), an in-person symposium may be the least effective way to get that information. A simple survey, contracted through the Church Pension Group, could easily get at that information.

But my real concern is that the focus seems to be on existing musical resources instead of the much-needed work of developing resources for Episcopal communities who worship in languages other than English. Either there was an oversight in the report in not reflecting that work or this remains a significant blindspot in the SCLM.

On the other hand, I am abundantly grateful that they declined to take action on hymnal revision. All three reasons given are compelling. The resolution was not funded. It does not make sense to revise a hymnal before revising a prayer book. And there is not widespread interest in hymnal revision in our church. Hymnal revision is a solution in search of a problem. Indeed, if you look through the CPG survey linked to above, you'll note that the groups most opposed to hymnal revision are those who are over 70 and under 35. A majority of laity are not in favor of it, no matter the age group. The only group with a majority in favor is baby-boomer clergy.

I hope this will finally put this issue to rest so we can get on with more pressing work: providing musical resources for our Spanish-speaking congregations and engaging thoughtfully and prayerfully in the question of prayer book revision.

In the meantime, I personally would love to see General Convention authorize Flor y Canto for use in our church. Or, if some of the language and structure is too "catholic" for our members, then let's not create our own liturgical resource but instead let's work with OCP in creating an Episcopal Church version of Flor y Canto. There is no need to re-invent the wheel here.

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

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. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A supposed victory for religious freedom, a failure for Christianity

Today's column in the Grand Haven Tribune, reprinted below. 

In a surprise decision this past Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple’s marriage. Many Supreme Court watchers were surprised by this ruling, particularly given the court’s recent decision fully to recognize same-sex marriage.

From a legal standpoint, though, this was a difficult case to decide. As the ruling notes, there are two competing goods being weighed, “The first is the authority of a State and its governmental entities to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services. The second is the right of all persons to exercise fundamental freedoms under the First Amendment.”

Their decision to rule in favor of the baker seems to have been upon the court’s belief that the government had exhibited hostility to sincerely held religious belief instead of the principal of neutrality. Specifically, the problem was not that the Civil Rights Commission in Colorado rejected his arguments, but rather that the commission did not give the baker a fair and impartial hearing.

Thus, it’s important to be clear about what this decision means. The court did not rule specifically on the question of whether a Christian business owner can refuse goods or services to a same-sex couple. Rather, they found that the government had not acted fairly with regard to religion as they adjudicated this case. As the court also noted in their opinion, in the future “these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Given the facts of the case, and the argument in the court’s decision, I do not believe this decision will provide a precedent to future business owners who wish to deny services or goods based on their own religious beliefs. What it should do is ensure that when these disputes take place, the government is careful to be neutral with regard to religious beliefs and not single out one person.

All that said, I believe this case, and the continuing controversy which surrounds it and others like it, is a profound failure for Christianity.

First off, every time the news media talks about a Christian baker refusing service to a same-sex couple, there is no qualifier. That is, the assumption is that it is the baker’s Christianity that resulted in his decision — with no real recognition that there are now many Christians who actually support same-sex marriage.

A 2017 Pew Forum poll indicates that more than half of religious Americans now support same-sex marriage. The only two religious groups that do not have majority support are white evangelicals and Mormons. But even then, the statistics are telling. Twice as many young white evangelicals (53 percent) now support same-sex marriage compared with those who are over 65 (25 percent). Furthermore, 60 percent of Americans (including 53 percent of white evangelicals), no matter their own personal religious beliefs, oppose the idea that a business owner like the baker in Colorado can deny services based on that business owner’s religious beliefs.

So, the decision of this baker and the minority of Christians who support him continues to perpetuate a falsehood about Christianity. There are wide swaths of Christians who support same-sex marriage. There are whole denominations — my own, the Episcopal Church, included — which actually have full sacramental marriage equality. Our voice is often ignored in these conversations. If this couple were members of my church, their own free exercise of religion as Episcopalians seeking to get married and have access to public goods and services would be infringed upon by this baker’s actions.

But the second issue, for me, is far graver. And here I speak to my sisters and brothers who support this baker, those who may still believe gay marriage is a sin.

When Jesus walked this earth, the religious reviled him for his willingness to associate with sinners. They called him a drunkard and a glutton. All of the Gospels witness to the open hostility religion exhibited to God when God walked among us, loving and dining and embracing saints and scoundrels alike. It was this hostility, this offense, which killed Jesus.

For Christianity to be in the news once again because of the refusal of its conservative members to extend kindness to those with whom they disagree, this is a stain upon the church for which Christ died. And, because I doubt any bakers have refused to make cakes for divorced couples who are remarrying (even though Christ actually spoke about that issue), the hypocrisy and homophobic bias in these actions is astounding and heartbreaking.

The presiding bishop of my church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, preached a powerful sermon at the Royal Wedding last month. In it, he invited each of us to a love like that exhibited in Jesus Christ — a love that does not cling to supposed rights but is always willing to give up for the other. As Bishop Curry said, “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, we can do better than we have done. Let’s put down our swords and shields. Let’s walk away from the culture wars. Let’s start inviting people into changed and transformed lives, but not by bringing the power of the State or of vicious rhetoric to bear on our divisions. Instead, let’s start inviting people — let’s start inviting ourselves — into changed and transformed lives by loving people the way Jesus loved them.

Care with the Blue: SCLM Sub-Committee on the Book of Occasional Services

The first sub-committee of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music that I'll look at is the one that produced the new proposed Book of Occasional Services (BOS). I want to acknowledge at the start that since English is my first language and my Spanish is not quite fluent, I'm only reviewing the English-language portions of this book. I hope that those who speak the other languages included in this proposed BOS will review those sections for the benefit of the larger church. (In fact, I would prefer the book simply be published in English and then that a parallel volume which translates all the rites be published in the other languages used in our church).

Summary of the Report
The 78th General Convention directed SCLM to continue work on revising the current BOS (first called for at the 77th General Convention) and to report on progress to the 79th General Convention. As the SCLM engaged this work, they apparently felt that they were able to do enough work to actually present a new BOS to this General Convention.

At the fore-front of the perceived need for revision was possible inclusion of new liturgical resources already in use, the modernization of language, and the need to include resources that draw from the multi-cultural membership of  our church. They "reviewed and refined" materials from the 2003 version of the BOS, drew resources from a variety of congregations around the church, and also drew on other resources that have been published through other mediums. The SCLM hired two writers to serve as consultants and editors as well as a project manager to organize and facilitate the entire process.

As I worked through the newly proposed BOS, I used the PDF Compare tool at—you can see the comparison that website created between the old and new BOS online here. I also would note that the proposed book is nearly 400 pages long, so forgive any errors, mistakes, or omissions in this essay... I did my best.

Several pieces were removed from the BOS in the new version. Usually this was because they were a duplication of resources already authorized in other locations (for example, the BCP or the Hymnal 1982). Items removed include:
  • Anthems at the Candle Lighting (Lucenaria)
  • Anthems at the Breaking of the Bread (Confractoria)
  • The Vigil liturgies for various occasions (Christmas Eve, Eve of the Baptism of our Lord, Eve of All Saints' Day, and the Eve of a Baptism
  • Blessing of a Pregnant Woman

Other liturgies were newly edited/created for this edition, including:
  • Las Posadas
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • St. Francis Day / Blessing of Animals
  • Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
  • Rite for Receiving or Claiming a New Name
  • Welcoming after a Traumatic Absence
  • Concerning the Blessing of Water
  • Concerning Holy Oils
  • Liturgical Materials Honoring God in Creation

Some prior liturgies had minor edits to their content, but retained their old name, including:
  • Candlemas Procession
  • Rogation Procession
  • The Preparation for Baptism, or Catechumenate (which actually includes some rather major edits, as noted below). 
  • A Public Service of Healing
  • Concerning Exorcism

And some prior liturgies were edited significantly enough to warrant new titles, including:
  • Station at a Christmas Creche (now called the Blessing of a Creche)
  • The Presentation of the Creed and of the Lord's Prayer (both now more explicitly parts of the Catechumenate)
  • Preparation of Parents and Godparents for the Baptism of Infants and Young Children (now called Preparation of Parents and Sponsors of Infants and Young Children to be Baptized)
  • Commissioning of Lay Ministries in the Church (now called Recognition of Ministries in the Church and in the World)
  • The Seasonal Home Blessing Liturgies (now simply a "Shorter Blessing of a Home" and placed as an alternative option at the end of the Celebration for a Home liturgy)

Finally, some liturgies were not changed at all (with the exception of minor changes like the use of "presider" instead of "celebrant"), including:
  • Service for New Year's Eve
  • The Way of the Cross
  • Tenebrae
  • On Maundy Thursday
  • Agapé for Maundy Thursday
  • Blessings Over Food at Easter
  • Service for All Hallows' Eve
  • Welcoming New People to a Congregation
  • When Members Leave a Congregation
  • Celebration of a Home
  • Anniversary of a Marriage **(Though this one should have been changed, as I argue below.)**
  • Burial of One Who Does Not Profess the Christian Faith
  • Dedication of Church Furnishings and Ornaments
  • The Founding of a Church
  • A Liturgy for the Opening of a New Congregation
  • Setting Apart Secular Space for Sacred Use 
  • A Litany for the Mission of the Church
  • A variety of Church Planting collects, blessings and other prayers
  • Hymn suggestions for Church Planting Liturgies 
  • Restoring of Things Profaned 
  • Secularizing a Consecrated Building
  • Distribution of Holy Communion**(Though there is a small edit that should be made to this rite)**
  • Guidelines for Use on the Occasion of a Retirement or Work Transition
  • All of the liturgies for Episcopal Services (that is those properly celebrated by the bishop) were also unchanged.

In the newly written Preface for the BOS, the SCLM is clear to note that care should be taken with any of these liturgies which come from specific cultural contexts so as to avoid cultural appropriation.  They also note that they have chosen the term "presider" instead of "celebrant/officiant" for the person—whether lay or ordained—who is leading the liturgy.

As to the specific changes made and the details of the above liturgies, I'll leave that to my reactions to the report section because it will be easier to note the changes and my reactions to them than to do that part separately. 

Reactions to the Report
This is a truly impressive product that the SCLM has put out. As noted below, I may have some quibbles with various sections, but I'm truly impressed. Given the enabling resolution from last year, I don't know if anyone expected this document to be presented, but I'm glad it was and hope it will be vigorously engaged and then, after perhaps some edits, be approved at GC this summer.

As they sought to do this work, I think their methodology and process was sound. I recognize the names of several people who served on this Sub-Committee and they are some of the absolute best clergy and liturgists in the church today. I also thought that balancing the inclusion of more culturally diverse materials with a warning against cultural appropriation was wise. Most of the cultural inclusion comes from Latino culture and heritage, but not to be overlooked are the very good additions to the Rogation Procession from Native American and Indigenous liturgical materials. 

As to the items that were removed, they all largely make sense to me. Some might wonder why the Blessing of a Pregnant Woman was removed. My hunch, given their aforementioned desire to avoid duplication of liturgies, is that since we now have Enriching Our Worship 5: Liturgies and Prayers Related to Childbearing, Childbirth, and Loss (EOW5) , that book is a better resource for use than the single blessing that previously existed in the former BOS. I'd agree with that decision and have found, both personally and as a priest, that EOW5 is one of the best books to come out of that entire series. 

I'll now work through the newly proposed book section-by-section. For the most part I will only comment on sections that have newly created or revised liturgical material. 

Seasonal Blessings
This section is left largely intact though there is now the inclusion of a seasonal blessing for use on Ascension Day, for feasts of the Virgin Mary, and for a saint's day. All of them are well-written and will be helpful resources for those of us who like using seasonal blessings when appropriate. 

Concerning the Advent Wreath
Here the SCLM does some helpful work countering liturgical misunderstandings that have increased in the years that the use of Advent wreaths have proliferated. They clarify that the wreath originated primarily as a domestic practice—not one that is, at its base, a part of the worship of the church. They resist the adoption of practices from other denominations that have ascribed allegorical meanings or names to the candles, emphasizing that the wreath is really a minor symbol meant primarily to help us countdown to the feast of the Nativity. 

For all of these reasons, they now clearly state that if the wreath is used in the church, the appropriate number of candles should be lit before the liturgy begins and that no special prayers or ceremonies should be added. 

One of the most helpful pieces is a better description of how this tradition may be observed domestically. Instead of just directing people to the Order of Worship for Evening, they have now provided specific readings that would be appropriate for each week in Advent. This means I'll have to update the liturgy booklet we hand out with our Advent wreaths at the workshop where they are made each year—but I am helpful for the added guidance on what would be good for domestic observation of this tradition.

While I generally agree with the tone and approach in this section, I'd note that liturgy does adapt and change throughout the years and practices which were once minor or arose in a different context can be re-appropriated for use in the church and can be effectively transformed into a more major symbol to guide the way through a season of the church. Thus, though I know liturgical scholarship supports the approach envisioned in this book, I also am doubtful about whether this will stop those who have turned the Advent wreath into something more. Furthermore, I believe some (not me!) could possibly make arguments for a more fulsome use of the wreath on Sunday mornings. 

We'll see. 

My guess is that this section will need to be revisited the next time the BOS is revised in another twenty years or so. If people are still doing something different with it than is envisioned in our liturgies, that it might behoove the SCLM and liturgical theologians to help guide that felt congregational desire rather than discourage it. 

Advent Festival of Lessons and Song
First off, it is important to note that the title of this liturgy is now changed to Lessons and Song instead of Lessons and Music. Of course, what people often think of is the phrase "Lessons and Carols." Regardless, changing the name does slightly limit the rite because instrumental music cannot now really be used in the same way—an unnecessary narrowing of practice, in my opinion, but not one I would strongly oppose.

One of the best parts of this new liturgy is the introduction which tries to put a stop to the unfortunate practice of having Lessons and Carols at the Sunday morning liturgy as a substitute for Holy Eucharist in its entirety or as a substitute for the Word of God within Holy Eucharist. The introduction is clear that our primary act of worship on the Lord's day and any major feast is Holy Eucharist. This liturgy is meant to be an addition to that—not a substitution. I truly hope clergy and lay leaders will pay attention to this rubric so that the Eucharist can remain the principal act of worship in the important Season of Advent. 

They have also shifted the rubric that used to be at the end and was permissive to one that is at the beginning and is restrictive. That is, the older version used to say that a sermon is not a traditional part of the service. The new version is clearly that a sermon is not a part of the service. Full stop. This is a helpful clarification and the rubric makes much more sense in the preparatory directions at the beginning. 

At the end of the new liturgy, the rubric has changed from one that was permissive ("the service may conclude") to one that is restrictive ("the service concludes"). This means it is now required that the liturgy ends with the appropriate Advent Collect and the seasonal blessing from Advent. 

The liturgy itself remains unchanged, other than the clarifiers noted above. 

This is a great revision of the rite and hopefully will be helpful and ensure congregations observe it properly without violating the exceptions of the BCP for our Sunday worship. 

Las Posadas
This is a new creation for the BOS and one that is tremendously helpful—particularly to congregations like mine that include Latino members and a regular service of Eucharist in Spanish. It gives helpful information to the setting of this practice and VERY helpful advice to how this practice could best be used in the Anglican tradition—including an incorporation of An Order of Worship for Evening and closing devotions. 

We just started the practice of Posadas at my church last Advent and it was a big success for those who participated. I'm glad this has been created—it would have saved me a lot of time that I spent googling and researching how best to do this in a congregational context. 

Nicely done.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
This is another new creation for the BOS. If you don't know the story behind this festival, here is the relevant paragraph from the new BOS.
According to legend, an indigenous man named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin saw the Virgin Mary on two separate occasions, on December 9 and December 12, 1531. In his vision, she told Juan Diego to ask the archbishop to build a church on Tepeyac Hill, located in today’s Mexico City. Unconvinced by an uneducated indigenous person, the bishop asked for proof of Mary’s appearance. When Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac, he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, growing. He gathered the roses in his cloak – called a tilma – and took them to show to the bishop. Roses spilled out when he unfolded the tilma, and it revealed an image of the Virgin Mary, a dark-skinned indigenous native, head bowed in prayer and bearing the Word of God. The bishop was convinced of the miracle and built a church in honor of the event.
I'll admit that I got emotional reading through the preparatory materials and the liturgy. 

That's not entirely true. As I read the opening lines of the liturgy, with the direction for people to carry roses like Juan Diego did so bravely when he returned to the archbishop who turned him away... when I read the opening acclamation, quoting the book of Revelation....
Presider A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, 
People With the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
When I read all of this I wept for the sheer power of it.

You see, the Virgin Mary has been an important part of my own spiritual life, drawing me to her son, Jesus, at several times when I have felt lost or unsure. Since I been preparing for Latino ministry, the Virgin Mary as she was revealed in Our Lady of Guadalupe has also been a potent symbol of Latin American theology and heritage. She has helped me see Jesus more clearly, appearing, as she did, as a brown-skinned indigenous woman, head bowed in prayer, to those religious authorities which believed the indigenous people of Mexico were not worthy of attention.

This is an important addition to the BOS. The liturgy is, quite simply, stunning. Really. Go read through it now

Blessing of a Crèche
OK, after all my praising of the last liturgy, I have to say this new revision of the former Station at a Christmas Creche leaves me primarily confused. In some ways it seems to be encouraging the blessing of the creche to take place before the first liturgy of Christmas (but doesn't explain why). At the same time, it does provide a form for a station at the crèche. However, it is not clear... is this meant to be used at the Christmas Eve liturgy (which is the custom) or do they want this now done at a Eucharist before Christmas.

A new hymn/anthem is provided for the entrance and the rest of the liturgy is simplified. There is no longer two options for the versicle and response, just one. There is also only one station collect instead of the option of three different possibilities.

This seems like an unnecessary (and somewhat confusing) narrowing of the pre-existing rite... and I cannot figure out the reasoning behind it. If I had my druthers, I'd restore the previous version, with a simple amendment of including the suggested hymn/anthem at the start of the rite. The rest of the changes are unhelpful.

Christmas Festival of Lessons and Song
The significant revision here is the same as the one to the aforementioned Advent Festival of Lessons and Song. That is, the title is slightly changed and the rubrics are now very clear that this may not be used to supplant the Sunday Eucharist or the Word of God in the Sunday Eucharist. If I read the new rubric correctly, neither should it be used in place of a Holy Eucharist in celebration of the Nativity on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It is, rather, intended to be an additional opportunity for worship.

Oddly, in what was likely an unintended error, they left the conclusion of this service the same. That is, they did not include the change making the Collect and Blessing required. They also left in the more permissive old rubric about the sermon... but also have the new rubric at the beginning that is more restrictive.

To me, it would make sense to make the rubrics at the end of this liturgy match the rubrics for the Advent liturgy, but that's not a hill I'd die on.

Good revisions, helpful clarification of what is appropriate, and I hope people take the rubrics seriously.

Candlemas Procession
This liturgy is largely the same as the previous one, with a few minor, mostly helpful, changes. First, the rubric now adds a section that includes information about the tradition of using this day to bless candles for use in the church during the year along with those to be carried in procession. There is the inclusion of a new "Dear people of God" after the greeting, outlining the context and meaning of this day, along with an opening prayer. All of this provides a helpful beginning to the liturgy which, in the previous version, could be a bit abrupt at the start.

I don't know what it was about Stations with the sub-committee who created this proposed BOS, but they have now removed the optional station before approaching the altar. This seems like an entirely unnecessary removal.

Similarly, the rubric that invited candles to be lit once more for the dismissal and exit is now gone. This is likely because, for practical purposes, it would have likely very rarely been actually followed in congregational settings.

I would encourage the station collect to be reinserted into the liturgy, then I would approve its use. The station collect is already optional and its use is often an important part of the liturgical procession in churches that take those things seriously. For example, at my church we use a station collect in the processions on several major feast days, including Christmas, Candlemas, and Palm Sunday. I see no compelling reason to remove this option from our worship.

Rogation Procession
There are now added rubrics at the beginning that encourage a solemn, rather than festive, atmosphere during the procession. This is actually in keeping with the history of the rogation days, which were focused on solemn prayer and petition.

The liturgy now includes and opening acclamation along with an opening prayer, both of which are well-written and would help orient the people to the day and the liturgy in which they are about to participate.

One of the most helpful changes, though, are several suggested stations readings and collects for a variety or places where the procession might stop. They are all really well thought-out, with excellent suggested Scripture readings and prayers. The final station, at the door of the church building, is a helpful bridge from the procession into the Great Litany.

If Eucharist is to follow, there is also the addition of three new Collects of the Day drawn from Native American/Indigenous sources. There is a new Proper Preface for the Eucharist that day and a new post-communion prayer. All of these are well-written and welcome additions to this liturgy.

Finally, there is a beautiful Rite for the Blessing of a Garden that could also be used in observance of the Rogation Days.

Nicely done.

A Litany for All Creation and Blessing of Animals for St. Francis Day
This is a much-needed liturgical resource for our church. The Blessing of Animals/Pets has become a highlight of the year in many Episcopal parishes and the absence of an authorized rite has led to a plethora of liturgies—some better than others. That liturgical experimentation on the ground, though, has done what it should in the life of the church: bubbled up into the crafting of an authorized rite that takes what is the best and leaves out that which is... less than the best.

One of the most helpful parts of this new liturgy is right at the beginning. Though the Blessing of Animals is generally observed as a fun day to celebrate St. Francis's connections with nature, the opening Collect clearly situates the liturgy in the context of a saint who renounced "gladly the vanities of this world." The reading from Luke also situates care of creation in the Franciscan discipline of poverty, a helpful orientation that should needle us as Christians on this day.

The Confession of Sin helpfully gives language for the people to confess our own squandering of creation, another spiritual strengthening to ensure the rite is not just a playful blessing but that it also proclaims the truth of God in Christ—including our need for penitence and forgiveness.

There is a specific form for blessing animals individually or collectively, a helpful option for churches that may get a significantly large attendance on this day.

Finally, there are several other suggested readings from the Bible, additional prayers, and readings from important theologians and saints. All of these help situate this day within the context of Scripture and the Gospel message of Christ.

Really, really, well-done work on this.

El Día de los Muertos: Day of the Dead
Another one of the new additions to the BOS, this section seeks to do the same thing as the earlier section on Las Posadas. That is, it seeks to explain the history behind the Day of the Dead celebrations in Latin American culture, to offer guidance on how the day is best observed (including ideas for how we might draw from our own Anglican worshipping tradition), and also to encourage conversation with actual Latin American people so that this observance does not become an act of cultural appropriation.

Finally, there is a helpful relaxing of the rubrics. Rather than insisting upon a strict separation between All Saints' Day (November 1), All Souls' Day (November 2), and All Saints' Sunday, this rite allows the Día de los Muertos observances to be done on any of the days that would make the most sense for the worshipping community. Though in my own practice, I seek to encourage a congregational observation of the distinctiveness of All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, and All Saints' Sunday—I appreciate the offer of flexibility for this part of the observance to occur on any of those three days.

Really well-done.

A Service of Renaming
The proposal for a liturgy like this has been around for a few years now. It is primarily suggested for use when someone transitions their gender identity, to acknowledge the new name they might take and also for the congregation to affirm their newly claimed identity.

This is a VERY important liturgy, particularly because earlier this year the bishops of the Church of England blocked the call of their General Synod to create exactly this type of liturgy. The rubrics for the proposed rite enable this to supplant even the Sunday liturgy, a remarkable pastoral flexibility that speaks to the importance the SCLM believes the church should give to this moment and this rite.

The rubrics at the beginning gently situate the liturgy in a specific pastoral context. They note that this rite of renaming is distinct from the new life given at Baptism which has its own meaning, but also articulate the pastoral use of this rite and its importance to the person and the gathered community. There is even a helpful rubric for those who may be unaware, ensuring that question is made of which gender pronouns the person experiencing this rite might prefer.

The liturgy itself is quite beautiful. The opening acclamation situates renaming squarely in the Christian tradition, acknowledging the several times in Scripture when people received new names. The people's response articulates this as an experience of a God who comes among us, reconciles us, and sets us free.

Then opening collect is excellent and the wide variety of Scripture readings are, to my mind, a strong rebuke to the bishops of the Church of England who rejected a liturgy like this. The readings make it clear that naming (and renaming) are indeed central to many of the key stories and scriptures of our faith.

Rather beautifully, the candidate for the renaming is invited to offer a reflection instead of the traditional sermon. Since transgender people have spent so much of their life often having the church talk down to them, the invitation for the church to sit down and shut the hell up, to listen to the voice of one of our members, is a powerful rubrical option.

The Rite of Renaming itself now marks the second time something proposed in this book made me weep. It calls upon the words of St. Paul in Second Corinthians, inviting the candidate to respond to God's invitation and rename themself, part of the new creation called to a ministry of reconciliation under their new name. It has the presider clearly state that the new name is a part of who this person is and is becoming by God's grace. It honors the name that had been given even while affirming the new name that is chosen.

The Rite of Renaming then concludes with an invitation for the gathered community to express its own commitment to supporting this person in their new name—not as some bland message of inclusiveness, but because of the way this person will now carry on the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

Everyone then lays hands on the head of the candidate or the shoulders of those around the candidate as the Presider pronounces a blessing and then declares the truth that all are names are important and are written in heaven.

Seriously, this is some of the best liturgical work I have seen in Anglican Christianity and ranks right up there with the liturgy for Our Lady of Guadalupe in how important it is that this be adopted and approved.

The Preparation for Baptism, or Catechumenate
The newly-written version of the catechumenate materials in the BOS have an extremely helpful and entirely re-written introduction. Here, one can see very clearly the immensely skilled work of Canon James Turrell, who five years ago published the excellent handbook, Celebrating the Rites of Initiation: A Practical Ceremonial Guide for Clergy and Other Liturgical Ministers. The process itself has not undergone significant and substantive change, but the explanation of it is now much easier to understand and the language and ideas surrounding each stage are helpfully simplified. Parts that had previously been in the introduction but are actually regarding the liturgy have been removed, further making the introduction easy to read and ensuring there is not a duplication of instructions.

The rite itself is largely the same as before. There are some small changes to the language of the rites, but nothing substantive. For example, instead of the presider saying "I accept you as a candidate for Holy Baptism," she or he now says, "we accept you as a candidate for Holy Baptism." This sort of minor shift in language is helpful correction, theologically, to how the catechumenate actually functions in the life of the baptized community. Another example is in the prayers after admission to candidacy for Baptism, which prays specifically now for the catechesists—a tacit statement that these should not just be the priest, but should actually be trained lay people within the congregation.

The previous version of this rite had worked very hard to situate this in the context of the Great Vigil of Easter, timing everything else around that. This timing is still possible, but much of that language has been removed, making this a much more flexible rite for the calendar of the local community of faith.

At times, it is clear that those who devised these rites are seeking to use simpler liturgical language that is not a part of the rich ideals of those who originally crafted these rites for our church. Thus, for example, instead of the prayer during the period of preparation that drew from Orthodox language and theology, praying for those who would "receive the illumination of the Holy Spirit," the new rite simply prays for those who will receive the Holy Spirit. Though the part of me that delights in the richness of Orthodox language will miss things like this, I also recognize that this is the sort of thing that delights priests and liturgists and likely just confuses the average Episcopalian who is unaware of the provenance of this sort of language with regard to baptism.

Other aspects of this new rite contain helpful new material. For example, in a subtle rebuke to those who practice Communion Regardless of Baptism, the new rite includes specific rubrics for how the unbaptized who are preparing should be invited to come forward. It  offers an option to highlight their role in the community, as the priest says, "Let the catechumens approach" and they all then come forward for their blessing. It even gives a particular blessing for those who are not baptized and yet come to the rail, something I hope might become more common in our church than the more generic blessing used by most clergy.

This is a very helpful revision of this rite and I hope it will enable a more fulsome use of these materials in the life of our church.

Preparation of Parents and Sponsors of Infants and Young Children to be Baptized
This rite seeks to ritualize what is, in effect, the more common practice in our church: infant baptism. It is a revision of a section in the current BOS called "The Preparation of Parents and Godparents for the Baptism of Infants and Young Children."

In practice, I know any form of significant preparation of parents for the baptism of their children will continue to be resisted in our churches. The culture of many Episcopalians still sees baptism as a private family event. Sure, it may now occur at the Sunday liturgy, but it is a rite the church does for my child and it doesn't require anything more of me... <--- I don't agree with that line of thinking, but as I close in on my first decade of ordained ministry, I know this is the way that many parents think.

Furthermore, this new rite basically tears apart the rite that previously existed. In the new rite, there is no explanation of what should be involved in each stage.  After the initial welcome into the process, the first stage involves an expectation that the parents will spend time with a catechist learning about the meaning and commitments of baptism. There is then an enrollment as candidates for baptism, which should apparently be followed by further study and instruction... but the problem is that nothing is given to articulate what that might look like.

If you compare that with the current rite, you will quickly see a difference. In the current rite, the first stage occurs when a couple discovers they are pregnant. They choose godparents and set out a plan for gathering together. In the second stage, after the liturgical celebration of the pregnancy, the couple meet with catechists to deepen their formation in salvation history, prayer, worship, and social ministry. It also situates the process within the rites of the BCP, especially the "Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child." In the third stage, couples continue to meet with the catechists along with other parents in the church. The goal is to help the couple as new parents. They talk about how to model prayer and ministry and develop the role of the godparent.

I don't know where impetus for the new version of this came from, but I think it is a step in the wrong direction. Maybe people thought the former version was too bulky and unwieldy and so they came up with this shorter version. The problem is that this shorter version still includes expectations but now gives you absolutely no idea how they should be fulfilled. It does, thankfully, give advice on how the first stage is handled (focusing on the meaning and commitments of baptism), but after the children are enrolled as candidates.... what happens then? What further teaching would be helpful for parents to receive? What is supposed to take place between the enrollment as a candidate for baptism and the baptism itself.

Furthermore, both of these rites seem to assume parents who are not active and faithful Christians and does not pay attention to how this process is different for when a couple has subsequent children. I will say, the idea in the old rite that after having a baby you will be meeting with people regularly is ridiculous. I say this as the parent of a 22-month old. In the time following Lucy's birth and before her baptism, we were just surviving. If the church required us to go to several classes, I don't know how much my new baby-addled brain could have actually absorbed.

Don't get me wrong, as a parish priest I truly do yearn for guidance and a more robust way of engaging parents who are bringing their children to baptism. This new rite gets rid of several of the ridiculously high expectations of the previous version... but gives you nothing substantive in its place. It gives you a liturgy, but one that has no legs, one that is not reflective of the vast majority of worshipping communities and, most importantly, one that envisions a process that is still remarkably unaware of the realities of parents who bring their children to baptism.

As much as we need something like this, this section is simply not ready for publication in a newly revised BOS. And if we approve it in the BOS as is, then it will likely just continue be ignored. Our church, our parents and our children, need more than that. The whole thing, in my mind, should be scrapped and sent back to the SCLM so that they can work with a task force on coming up with something to be published as a standalone volume (maybe in the vein of EOW or in collaboration with Forward Movement). What is proposed simply does not fix the problems of what we currently have.

Preparation for Confirmation, Reception, or other Reaffirmations of the Baptismal Covenant
This revision of the previous BOS's process of preparation for the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows not only carries with it the benefit of the past fifteen years trying to follow this process in the church, but it also carries the mark of Canon Turrell's scholarship and skill.

Once more the overly wordy and involved language of the previous introduction is entirely re-written and simplified. The essential structure is maintained, but it is now much easier to read and follow. Interestingly, this new version seeks to relocate all confirmations/receptions in the church to the Great Fifty Days of Easter—a VERY cool idea and one that I would strongly support. It also removes the hard-to-understand second track of "active baptized members" who in the previous rite would go through this process differently. That was an unnecessary confusion to a process that would already be new to the average congregation and Episcopalian and so I am glad it has been taken out in the new rite.

The language in the liturgies themselves has been cleaned up, while keeping the substantive structure and focus of each rite intact... mostly.

That said, there are some peculiarities. The new rite removes the affirmation of the congregation to support those who are entering this process—a strange choice and one that runs counter not only to the rest of the proposed BOS but to the BCP itself, I would say. It also removes the prayer over the baptized that was used at the end of each rite, another loss to the liturgy, in my opinion.

One of the liturgical changes I strongly support is the removal of the call to welcome the new members of the community. The language in the welcome in the old version of the rite was entirely too similar to the language used in the baptismal liturgy. There is already enough confusion about baptism and confirmation in our church. (I once hold a bishop tell a group of candidates for confirmation that this was like ordination for a lay person. I literally gasped out loud in shock because, of course, BAPTISM is ordination for a lay person. Yikes!). The old rite, drawing from the language of welcoming the newly baptized and having a form of it used to welcome those entering the process for confirmation/reception only further muddied those waters.

The new rite also removes one of my favorite lines in the previous version of the Enrollment for Lenten Preparation (now called Rite of Enrollment for Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows.... because more words always make it better). Anyway, the old rite had the priest ask the candidate, "Will you strive to set an example for us (and especially for those among us who are preparing for baptism) of that turning toward Jesus Christ which marks true conversion?" The new rite instead simply says, "Will you strive to set an example for us (and especially for this among us who are preparing for baptism) as a follow of Jesus?" The removal of conversion language, of the way in which those preparing for confirmation/reception help us all see our life as constant conversion is real loss to the liturgy.

Finally, the new rite also removes the way in which the candidates were invited to be a part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. I know that in my own experience I found the participation of candidates for confirmation/reception in the Ash Wednesday liturgy to be deeply meaningful. It made the whole process more about renewing your conversion, it gave a penitential heft to the process. That is almost entirely lost in the new rite which now situates the experience on the First Sunday in Lent (though the BOS, **gasp** calls it the First Sunday of Lent, a huge no-no in the language of the BCP).

One of the other significant losses in the newly proposed BOS is the removal of the Maundy Thursday Rite of Preparation for the Paschal Holy Days. This is another rite that had worked very well in my own congregational context, setting the confirmation/reception experience squarely in the Paschal mystery. I have no idea why it was removed and it definitely takes away from the experience.

Overall, there is much I like I about this new process in its conceptualization, but the liturgical changes seem a bit odd in the first rite and downright unhelpful and a step backwards in the second rite and removal of the Maundy Thursday rite. If the former Enrollment for Lenten Preparation and the Maundy Thursday Rite would be restored, I could live with it.

Recognition of Ministries in the Church and the World
This new rite is a significantly different approach to the Commissioning for Lay Ministries in the Church in the current BOS. I do not know why, but the new rite has removed a tremendous amount of liturgical material. The explanatory greeting and the examination have been entirely rewritten, replaced with a simple greeting (that thankfully still clarifies, theologically, the difference between a commissioning and baptism). There is no longer a sponsor to affirm the fitness of the person for ministry and the person herself no longer is asked to affirm their faithfulness to the ministry to which they are called. Instead, the people simply call out, "Praise be to God, who has called you to this service."

By removing the fuller role of the community, the liturgy now makes it appear that the calling of the person is simply God calling the candidate—instead of the God calling the candidate through the discernment and support of Christian community. The person is commissioned but, absent public promises of faithfulness, the commissioning seems... anemic. To be honest, it seems to me that this rite was created by someone (or a group) who were opposed to commissioning people in the first place and so sought to create the barest rite possible.

The real loss, however, is in the liturgical material that had been written for a variety of different ministries in the church. Previously each ministry had an antiphon, a versicle and response, and its own collect. Indeed, after the prayer the person is no longer commissioned at all but is, instead, "recognized."

Sure, I doubt many churches used all of these commissioning liturgies... but that's kind of the whole point of the BOS—these are occasional and optional liturgies. I do not understand why this version would remove the liturgical material previously created. There is no explanation of a problem with the material. Furthermore, by substituting a commissioning liturgy with a "recognition" liturgy, the theological and ecclesial nature of the rite has fundamentally shifted.

As I said earlier, with regard to the removal of the community's affirmation of call through a sponsor and the examination, this new liturgy is simply the community "recognizing" something that God seems to have called the person to as an individual.

The title is also misleading. Sure, by removing the liturgical material specific to different roles in the church the rite does become more flexible and could be used for recognizing ministries in the world... but there is no guidance on how (or why) that might be done. If the goal was to broaden the use of the rite, further texts should have been created for various ministries in the world along with explanatory preface information for how and why the church should recognize these ministries.

Quite simply, this new rite is an unnecessary destruction of previous material that was actually quite good. It should be removed and the previous Commissioning for Lay Ministries in the Church restored for authorized use. 

A Shorter Blessing of a Home
This new rite is appended as an alternative at the end of the full Celebration of a Home liturgy and replaces the previous seasonal blessing of homes liturgy. I would say this is a significant improvement on the previous liturgies.

A simple shorter blessing is a helpful option for whenever that might be used.

The blessing for use at Epiphany has been entirely reworked. It is now much shorter and is the increasingly familiar "chalk liturgy" so many people actually use in this season.

The blessing for use at Easter is even shorter and though some might lament the loss of the glorious vidi aquam ("I saw water proceeding out of the temple...)", that text makes much more sense in the context of the asperges of the people in a Eucharistic liturgy (the more common use) than it does in a home blessing context.

Whereas previous simplifications in the newly proposed book have not made sense (and have even been destructive to pastoral sensibilities and practice), this rite is a good example of a well-done simplification. Also, by being attentive to local and including the chalk blessing at Epiphany, we now have an authorized rite for a practice that is increasingly common in our churches.

Anniversary of a Marriage
Here is an example of a place where the SCLM truly missed the mark on a need for revision. As our church continues to move towards full sacramental equality, they have done excellent work charting possible paths for us in the area of same-sex marriage liturgies. Thus, it truly boggles my mind that no one took the fifteen minutes it would have taken to rework the Anniversary of a Marriage Liturgy into a version that would have been gender neutral.

Here, let me show you what I mean. I'm going to copy and paste the old liturgy below and rewrite it into a gender neutral version. I'll time myself and put the changes I made in underline.
This form is intended for use in the context of a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. When the form is used at a principal service on a Sunday or Major Holy Day, the Proper of the Day is used. When it is used at other times, the Psalm and Lessons are selected from those recommended for use at the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, and one of the following Collects is used for the Collect of the Day. 
O gracious and everliving God, look mercifully on N. and N., who come to renew the promises they have made to each other. Grant them your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep their promises and vows; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
or this 
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send your blessing upon N. and N., who come to renew their promises to each other, and grant them your grace, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their lives together may be a witness to your love and forgiveness, and that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 
or this 
Grant, O God, in your compassion, that N. and N., having taken each other in marriage, and affirming again the covenant which they have made, may grow in forgiveness, loyalty, and love; and come at last to the eternal joys which you have promised through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
Immediately after the Sermon (and the Creed if appointed), the Couple present themselves before the Presider, who stands facing the people.
All stand, and the Presider addresses the congregation with these or similar words
Friends in Christ, we are gathered together with N. and N., who have come today to give thanks to God for his blessing upon their marriage, and to reaffirm their marriage covenant.
The Presider then asks each spouse
N., do you here, in the presence of God and of this congregation, renew the promises you made when you bound yourself to N. in holy matrimony? 
The spouse answers
I do.

The couple, kneeling or standing, say together
We thank you, most gracious God, for consecrating our marriage in Christ’s Name and presence. Lead us further in companionship with each other and with you. Give us grace to live together in love and fidelity, with care for one another. Strengthen us all our days, and bring us to that holy table where, with those we love, we will feast for ever in our heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
The Presider then blesses them, saying
May God the Father, who at creation ordained that it is good for us to live in covenanted relationship with our beloved, keep you one. Amen. 
May God the Son, who adorned this manner of life by his first miracle, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, be present with you always. Amen. 
May God the Holy Spirit, who has given you the will to persevere in your love and in your covenant with each other, strengthen your bond. Amen. 
And may God the Holy Trinity, the source of all unity, bless you this day and for ever. Amen. 
The service continues with the Peace, or, at a principal service, with the Prayers of the People. 
The couple may present the bread and wine at the Offertory. 
If there is not to be a Communion, the service concludes with the Lord’s Prayer and the Peace. 
When this form is used as an act of reconciliation, the Presider may adapt it in consultation with the parties.
OK. There you go. That seriously took me four minutes. FOUR MINUTES. And that was including making sure the formatting was right. Seriously.

If any GC Deputies are reading this, feel free to submit it as a resolution for a proposed change. Or some better liturgical scholar than I submit something else. For our church to authorize a new BOS in 2018 that excludes our same-sex members from the Anniversary Blessing liturgy would be a tremendous failure.

A Public Service of Healing
In the newly edited version of this rite, we are given a new (and very helpful) set of explanatory rubrics at the beginning. In particular, it is now increasingly common for parishes to offer healing at their Sunday liturgies—but many of them do it in a theologically incorrect manner. Prayers for healing should always lead to Holy Communion—they should never follow Holy Communion. The blessed sacrament is the fullest experience of God's grace for our healing and to receive unction after Communion is theologically backwards. If you think I'm making this up, check the rubric on page 453 of the BCP.

The liturgy itself has also been revised in several places. There is a slightly different opening acclamation offered. The former opening collect is replaced with three new options. As much as I love the former opening collect, I'll be the first to acknowledge that it is not really a healing collect, per se. The three new options are quite well-done, even allowing for the insertion of people's specific name if this is a public liturgy for someone in particular.

There are several possible readings given as an added option, if one were to do this on an occasion when the proper of the day would not be the best choice. These existed at the end of the rite in the current BOS and relocating them here makes it more likely that people will notice these options.

After all these good changes, I will try VERY HARD not to grimace at the new rubric that replaces the previous one related to the sermon. The current BOS says that a sermon, meditation, or period of silence may follow the Gospel. The new rubric says, "A homily or other form of response, such as song, talk, dance, instrumental music, other art forms, silence, may follow the Gospel." This is a really bad rubric. I have no idea what a "talk" would be—at least one that would be an appropriate response to the Gospel and yet not a.... homily. I'm certainly not keen on just having some dancing "or other art forms" as a response to the Gospel.... I wouldn't hold up the whole BOS for this one rubric, but I would like to note that this rubric is very bad.

OK, back to positive changes. The Litany for Healing is left intact, but now there are two newly offered concluding collects. The previous ones removed were already in the BCP and were not related to healing. The two new collects (the first of the new ones actually from a different part of the prior rite) make it so there are now three healing-oriented collects with which the litany may be concluded. This is a great improvement.

For the Confession of Sin, the version that exists in EOW2 is now inserted into the rite. This form of the Confession has actually become a true favorite of mine and I'm glad it has been "elevated" from EOW to the BOS so that it may hopefully be used more widely. The normal confession from the BCP is also permitted.

The actual text of the prayer for blessing healing oil from the BCP is helpfully included in the new rite, along with a new alternative prayer for blessing healing oil.

Unfortunately the "Savior of the world" anthem has been removed. This is a disappointment because this is an anthem people hear on Good Friday. When it was also situated in the healing liturgy, it broadened the understanding of the anthem and also located our healing within the work of Christ on the cross, making it clear that the salvation on the cross is not just about forgiving our sins, but about healing our entire person. That said, I don't wouldn't try to put it back in because this is primarily a question of personal preference for me.

Furthermore, it is clear that the goal of the revision team for this rite was to make the actual healing rite less clunky. Now oil is blessed, hands are laid upon those who come forward, and a concluding collect is offered. The previous rite had the anthem, then a collect, then laying on of hands, then another collect... it was, admittedly, not as smooth as it could have been.

Overall, this structure is an improvement. In particular, the new rubrics about how the laying on of hands should take place are a very helpful addition. There is a new invitation to ask names and invite specific requests for prayer. There is also a new requirement that the pray for the laying on of hands must now be preceded by a time of silent prayer. I think this is a helpful broadening of the liturgical act and is an excellent revision.

Oddly enough, the rubric which had allowed lay persons with the gift of healing to join in the laying on of hands has been removed. I don't know why that was, but I don't really think that sort of a practice or tradition actually requires a rubric to permit it. So, I don't think that will change the substance of what takes place in a local congregation.

Strangely enough, even though the newly proposed BOS has thus far created more proper prefaces and post-communion prayers for liturgies related to specific occasions, the new rite has removed the proper post-communion prayer and blessing that had been a part of the previous rite. This is, in my mind, a loss because the previous ones were quite good. That said, the rites in EOW still give more flexibility in this regard for those who would prefer that way of ending the liturgy.

Finally, there is now a list of suggested hymns for healing liturgies. This is a helpful addition and might encourage some music to be added to these services when they are done.

Overall, this is a fine revision and I have no significant objections to its use—other than that horrible rubric about the response to the Gospel...

A Rite of Welcoming After Traumatic Absence
This is another rite newly composed for this version of the BOS. The opening rubrics clarify what sort of traumatic event might necessitate the use of this rite, "imprisonment, warfare, sickness, or any other condition that has disrupted the normal course of relationships in the community."

The rite itself is meant to take place after the Prayers of the People. After a welcome from the Presider, and a reading of a passage from the Gospel, the person who is being welcomed is given an opportunity to address the congregation.

There is then a set of versicles and responses followed by a prayer said by the presider while holding the hand of the person who has come back. The prayers itself is beautiful and well-written enough that it could be used in for a variety of pastoral contexts.

This is a rite I had never thought of, but I think it is an excellent addition to the BOS.

Concerning Exorcism
And so we come to every Episcopalians favorite page in the BOS—the page that talks about what Episcopalians believe about Exorcism, often referred to as the "Call the Bishop!" page.

Though this page, which really is just explanatory and contains no rites or prayers, could have been left alone, it has actually been revised and enlarged in several helpful ways. The Christological basis of exorcism is slightly rewritten and the history of its development is clarified in a few small (but helpful) ways.

And to avoid Episcopalians ooo-ing and ahh-ing over this page at Halloween, there is an entirely new paragraph that is worth quoting in full:
The rituals of exorcism, while weighty and never to be undertaken lightly, are not by nature esoteric. The Celebration of the Eucharist, especially in a place that has been disturbed, and the prayer of the Great Litany, for example, are ordinary practices. And as Christ has said and as scripture counsels, any rites of exorcism include preparatory prayer and fasting.
Though a minor revision, this is another one that is particularly well-done and would be helpful to the life and ministry of the church. I, personally, would love to be able to tell someone who inquires jokingly about an exorcism that a good starting place would be for that person to pray the Great Litany, for example.

Concerning the Blessing of Water
This page is a much needed addition to the BOS. It first and foremost encourages the custom of leaving the baptismal font uncovered so that people may dip their hands in it as an act to remember their own baptisms. The covering of fonts was a medieval invention, largely one that arose over an increase in the superstitious use of baptismal water (and the church's desire to avoid such practices by keeping the water away from people!). If you're curious, you can read more about that in my doctoral paper on the development of baptism and rites of initiation in Anglican Christianity (online here).

At the same time, those churches that have left their fonts uncovered have had no real direction in our authorized texts as to how that water should be blessed when it needed to be refreshed. Hopefully, it is obvious that the best case is for it to be the water that was blessed in a baptismal liturgy. At the same time (as the new page in the BOS notes), the water should be kept clean and thus should be refreshed from time-to-time.

The rubric now makes it clear that the same Thanksgiving Over the Water from the BCP is the proper form for blessing water in the baptismal font. However, it also offers a new prayer for water that will never be in a font (and thus never used for a baptism) but will, instead, be located in a small stoup near the door.

This is a small but excellent and very helpful addition.

Concerning Holy Oils
This is another new page that helps to clear up some misunderstandings and theologically misleading practices. In the Roman Church, during Holy Week there is often a blessing of all three holy oils: the Oil of the Infirm, the Oil of the Catechumen, and the Oil of Chrismation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oil of the Catechumen also exists, though it is used differently—blessed by the priest as a part of the baptismal liturgy and used to anoint the candidate for baptism prior to the water bath (which is still followed by the post-baptismal anointing with chrism oil).

As Anglicans often have a tendency to copy the rites of other traditions (often without realizing that they have entirely different theological underpinnings than our own), this page seeks to discourage that practice. It makes it clear that both Chrism Oil and Healing Oil, in the Episcopal Church, are best and more appropriately blessed when they are used—chrism oil blessed by the bishop in the rite of Holy Baptism and Healing Oil blessed by a priest in the Ministration to the Sick.

It acknowledges that there has arisen the custom in some dioceses of our church (following Roman custom) of blessing oil during the Holy Week liturgy with the clergy and bishop (often the same liturgy where the clergy renew their ordination vows). It allows for that practice (the BOS even includes the proper rite for it), but makes it clear that healing oil should not be blessed at the same time because that "confuses the understanding of the two oils."

This rite also is clear that the use of the Oil of the Catechumens is not envisioned (I would add is not authorized) by the liturgies of our church. As beautiful, in particular, as the Orthodox practice is (and as much as I love the ancient history behind it), our own BCP is an heir to the Reformation and, after that, to the Liturgical Renewal Movement, both of which sough to simplify rites that had become exceedingly complex. Whether not not we like the move to simplicity, the authorized liturgies of our church do not provide for Oil of the Catechumens and so it should not properly be used.

This is an excellent addition to the BOS and I hope will clear up misunderstanding and inappropriate liturgical practices.

Distribution of Holy Communion
This rite is unchanged though it should have one minor edit of we are going to authorize a new BOS. The term "Lay Eucharistic Minister" is no longer used in our church and is reflective of a prior canonical practice. This rite is intended for use by those who the canons now refer to as "Eucharistic Visitors." Thus, the rite should be updated to be reflective of our current canonical language.

Even despite changes in the canon, people are still sometimes confused about the very different gifts and callings of Eucharistic Ministers (those who assist in the distribution in the liturgy) and Eucharistic Visitors (those who bring communion to those unable to attend). Updating the language in the BOS would help avoid that confusion.

Liturgical Materials for Honoring God in Creation
This material is new to the BOS and was given to the SCLM for inclusion by the 78th General Convention.

First, there are a series of propers (a Collect of the Day and set readings) for a variety of circumstances related to God in creation:
  • God, the source and destiny of the cosmos
  • God of order and dynamic change
  • The justice of God and the dignity of all creatures
  • The kinship and unity of all creation in Christ
  • Reading God's goodness in the diversity of life
  • Called to be God's partners in the care of the planet
Then, there are three possible forms of the Prayers of the People that honor God in creation. They are also three concluding collects given after the second form, one from Anne Kelsey, one from Gregory of Nazianzus, and one from an indigenous liturgy. There are three specific forms of confession related to our sins against God's creation along with a Litany for the Planet. 

The language and forms of these rites is unobjectionable (some if is actually quite lovely and good). Personally, this is not the sort of thing I find important for the BOS and I think it would fit better in an EOW volume, but I wouldn't object to its inclusion in this volume

Summary of My Reaction
For the most part, I would say that 90% of this proposed book is absolutely fine and should be approved. Several of the new and revised liturgies are actually quite excellent and I would say are essential to our common life.

However, there is a small portion of the book which I would say is not what it could be. Sometimes the rite has been unnecessarily narrowed (for example, removing Station Collects which are already optional). In other places, something new was created to fix something that didn't work—but the new thing is even worse (see the "Preparation of Parents and Sponsors" section). In other areas, material was removed that was better than what is now proposed and should be restored (the Enrollment in Lenten Preparation, the Maundy Thursday Rite of Preparation, and the Commissioning for Lay Ministries). And, finally, there is the significant problem of the exclusive old Anniversary of a Marriage liturgy being maintained.

Option A: Just Fix the Darn Thing and Get it Approved
So, if I had my way, I would like General Convention to approve this newly proposed BOS, but with the following essential changes:
  • Restore the proposed "Blessing of a Crèche" to the former "Station at a Christmas Creche," but insert the suggested entrance anthem in the former rite.
  • Restore the Station collect to the Candlemas procession liturgy. 
  • Remove the section on "Preparation of Parents and Sponsors of Infants and Young Children to be Baptized" and refer it back to SCLM with the encouragement that they come up with material to meet this pastoral need but propose it in a different venue than the BOS.
  • Restore the Enrollment for Lenten Preparation section along with the Maundy Thursday Rite of Preparation for the Paschal Holy Days. 
  • Restore the Commissioning for Lay Ministries in the Church. 
  • Edit the Anniversary of a Marriage liturgy to make it gender-neutral.
I would also suggest the following minor changes, but would not push for them if it would hinder the adoption of this book:
  • Make the rubrics at the end of the "Christmas Festival of Lessons and Song" match the rubrics at the end of the newly proposed "Advent Festival of Lessons and Song."
  • Restore the rubric in "Response to the Word" in the "Public Service of Healing" to the one in the current BOS.
  • Change the word "Lay Eucharistic Minister" in the Distribution of Holy Communion rite to "Eucharistic Visitor" so that it follows the current language used in our canons. 
Option B: Approve it, but make it clear that we still need feedback and another revision
At the same time, I know the fear of liturgical editing by Convention—and I affirm that it opens up a tremendous can of worms, so though I would prefer that the most glaring issues with this proposal simply be corrected at General Convention, I'm doubtful that could take place.

Furthermore, despite all that I've said, the other pieces in here are really good and, to be honest, I wouldn't want to stop the whole process because of my objections to a few areas. I had thought about proposing that this be approved for trial use... but that's a foreign concept, canonically, to this sort of liturgy.

So, if the BOS cannot be edited at General Convention before approval, then I would argue for an amendment to the enabling resolution which authorizes this work (my amendment is indicated in underline):
Resolved, The House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention authorize for optional use throughout this Church the revision of that certain document entitled The Book of Occasional Services, prepared by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and published by The Church Hymnal Corporation in 1979, and last revised in 2003, and be it further, 
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to solicit feedback from the church on this newly revised edition, so that any further needed revisions can be proposed to the 80th General Convention, and be it further, 
Resolved, that the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $250,000 for the implementation of this resolution. 
My hope is that the budget allocation would ensure a project manager could be hired on as a consultant to oversee the process of soliciting feedback and to help the SCLM make any further needed revisions that the rest of the church puts forward.

The benefit of the second approach (though it is not my preferred one) is that the SCLM was actually not directed to present this for approval this year—they were directed to continue the process. And, thus, it could be argued that they are submitting something for approval prematurely, something that needs further feedback.

Indeed, the sub-committee even noted in their own report that some sections still needed to be included or edited (material related to death and dying and editing the Service of Tenebrae). The coming triennium could thus be used to solicit feedback on what has been completed and also for the SCLM truly to finish the work the way they believe it should be. 

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