The SCLM Report on Prayer Book Revision: Welcome to the Conversation!

As the Blue Book report and resolutions proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music become available online, the SCLM will present essays about its work at the rate of no more than one essay per week to allow for focused conversation. We invite your comments and hope that our discussion here will be beneficial to the legislative committees of General Convention.

Through resolution A169, the 2015 General Convention directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.”

At the outset, it’s important to remember that General Convention did not ask the SCLM to begin revising the Book of Common Prayer! Rather, it asked for the construction of a plan for revision for the 79th General Convention to consider. The request was for a thorough and linear process. No efforts to revise the Book of Common Prayer took place this triennium, because that was not what the SCLM was asked to do. The Episcopal Church, through General Convention, has yet to decide whether to revise the prayer book. It will have that conversation this summer at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas (July 5-13, 2018). To convey your opinions about prayer book revision, it will be important for you to speak directly with the elected deputies from your diocese, and your bishops.

In its report to General Convention, the SCLM proposes two options: a) a comprehensive plan for full-on prayer book revision, and b) a plan for a deeper, church-wide engagement with our existing prayer book, which includes a proposal for translations in Spanish, French, and French Creole. In providing more options than General Convention asked for in its enabling resolution, the SCLM hopes to call our church into mutual and reasoned discernment about the future of our prayer book, and infuse that conversation with as much information, historical context, and theological consideration as we could muster. In the SCLM report, both proposed options are parsed out in great detail, and include: theological rationale, descriptions of proposed methodologies and tools; timelines; and detailed budget estimates.

The SCLM’s decision to offer two options rather than one is the result of extensive and thoughtful conversation, theological and historical inquiry, research, listening throughout the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and focused discernment about how we could best support the church in making a clear and unifying decision about the future of our current prayer book. We also understand that there are options that we did not consider, and look forward to the gathering of our church in Austin where ideas not yet expressed can be brought forth and considered.

Option One is a comprehensive plan for full prayer book revision over the course of nine years (three triennia). The first part of the process focuses on gathering information from across the church, listening carefully and sharing with each other our dreams and hopes for a revised prayer book. It includes a bulletin collection project (to get a good idea of how faith communities are currently using the prayer book); a grounded theory research project; small groups and hosted conversations; academic conferences; continued conversation with, and coaching from, the wider Anglican Communion; all coordinated by the SCLM with the guidance of a project manager.

Option Two takes a slower pace, leaving the 1979 Prayer Book as is for the time being, and presenting General Convention with tools to encourage and facilitate a church-wide deepening of our engagement with our current prayer book. As one SCLM bishop said: “it may be possible that we have not begun to mine the depths of our current Prayer Book and what it has to offer.” Option Two, which is open to the possibility of prayer book revision in the future, uses many of the methodologies proposed for Option One, yet proposes to use them in different ways so as to facilitate the objectives of Option Two.

There are, of course, pros and cons of each option, and we hope that conversation—both on our blog and at General Convention—will focus on weighing their merits and drawbacks and lead to a heightened, unifying experience of discerning “to what is God calling our church” in this moment, with regard to worship and liturgy.

A significant consideration, for example, is funding. In 1997, General Convention asked the Standing Liturgical Commission, as it was then called, to come back to the 2000 General Convention with a comprehensive plan for prayer book revision. The SLC complied and sent a plan back to General Convention, which then passed the plan but failed to fund it. While the lack of funding halted any revision, the 2000-2003 SLC accomplished exceptional work in advancing the Enriching Our Worship series. Its goal was “not to supplant the Book of Common Prayer, but rather to provide additional resources to assist worshiping communities wishing to expand the language, images and metaphors used in worship.” (Enriching Our Worship I, 5).

As in 2000, so it will be in 2018: it will not be enough for General Convention to affirm one of the options regarding our prayer book without also ensuring appropriate funding, which will be challenging as each option comes at a cost. Option One is estimated to cost $1,917,025 for the first of three triennia. Our ballpark estimate to the total cost over nine years (three triennia) is between $8 and $9 million. Option Two is estimated at $1,180,625, which includes $201,000 for translations of the 1979 BCP, and is a one-triennium project.

Many people believe that this summer’s General Convention will be largely focused on the budget. How will we use our resources to propel the work and ministry we want to accomplish in the world as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and how will we prioritize competing, yet similarly important, opportunities and initiatives? The significant price tag associated with both Option One and Option Two elevates the prayer book conversation into the wider debate about the church’s resources, budget, and finances.

However General Convention discerns the call forward regarding our common worship, it cannot be in a vacuum, unrelated to the pushes and pulls of other worthy ministry. In some ways, it heightens the importance of real discernment regarding our prayer book leading up to, and during, General Convention. To what are we being called as a church? How clearly and passionately do we hear that call? Is the way forward clear enough to warrant the allocation of funds to bring it forth?

Another consideration is the question of justice and racial reconciliation in regard to translations. Soon after its publication in 1979, the Book of Common Prayer was translated into Spanish and French. At the time, the translators were directed to make literal translations, which, as a result, lacked the quality and poetry of the English version. Since then, the texts have been criticized by speakers of these languages as awkward, unidiomatic, and, in many instances, grammatically incorrect. The SCLM believes that these flawed translations send a clear message to Episcopalians whose first language is not English: their cultures and mother tongues are not valued enough to warrant the investment of resources necessary to address this problem professionally, in order that in keeping with Anglican principles, public prayer may take place in a language “understanded of the people.” (Article XXIV, Preface to The First Book of Common Prayer (1549), Book of Common Prayer 1979, 872). Option Two includes a specific route to rectifying this injustice through literary translation of our prayer book into Spanish, French, and French Creole. If, as Option Two proposes, we are to go deeper into our existing prayer book, part of going deeper should include offering a prayer book in the language of those who want to pray it.

The contours and considerations of the SCLM Report on Prayer Book Revision are plentiful and varied. We hope you will take the time to read the report, and use this blog to ask questions as well as offer your insights and opinions. Welcome to the conversation!

10 thoughts on “The SCLM Report on Prayer Book Revision: Welcome to the Conversation!

  1. This is no a flip question. Do you feel this will fill the pews of our churches? If not when can we have a discussion on bring people to church and developing a relationship with the creator? How to walk and live and love in peace? I do not understand why this topic never comes up?

  2. I applaud the committee’s careful and measured response. The response defines the task as large and complex. And so it is.

  3. I believe that Option 2 would be the best option. It would save the church a lot of grief and money.

    Let’s not fix something that’s not Broken. If anything, we should expand access to Enriching our Worship.

  4. As a healthcare chaplain and transitional deacon completing my final course in practical liturgics at CDSP, I am still amazed and enlightened by mature and creative clergy who have shown me how to use the BCP in ecumenical and multifaith contexts, where many chaplains and community clergy “live” and minister. Although I was looking forward to a new BCP for the new millennium, I can see where furthering my/our familiarity with 1979 might be very wise, especially in light of budgetary considerations and the capacity for a Rite III service to continue to engage the “nones”, the “spiritual but not religious”, and those of other denominations or faith traditions–all of which our beloved church (including chaplains) will need to reach in 2018 and beyond. Thank you for your suggestions and good work!

  5. Thank you for the hard work and careful consideration you all put into constructing your recommendations to the General Convention.

    As a young Episcopalian (27 years old), I fell in love with the Church because of its prayerbook. I saw my own beliefs about God reflected in it. I think it would be a shame if it were to be completely revised. As you said in your report, are people even using the current 79 BCP to its full potential? It doesn’t seem to make much sense to revise a book people aren’t using so that, having been revised, people can use it even less.

    Thank you for also recognizing the new to translate the prayerbook beautifully into languages other than English.

  6. It is my hope that option 2 will also explore the possibility of additional alternative worship books similar to Enriching Our Worship, and translate them into Spanish, French and French Creole.

  7. I sent this to my Spanish mission priest and his response is below:
    I really have not run into
    “literal translations, which, as a result, lacked the quality and poetry of the English version.”

    Nor have seen,
    “in many instances, grammatically incorrect.”

    It would be like saying the the BCC should be translated into every style of English language spoken in the world, ie, UK, USA, Australia, etc. etc.

    The Spanish language is as colorful and varied as the many countries that speak it.

    The Real Academia de Lengua Española (Royal Academy of Spanish Language) advises Spanish teachers to teach the language in a way that it doesn’t favor any coloquial preference. That way new Spanish speakers can travel and be understood. If they want to settle in any one country, they will eventually pick up their “flavor.” (Just like Northerners and southerners in this country.

    If and when the new revision is done, I hope they use the same method they used in the past, at least with the Spanish version.

    Blessings!

    Fred+

  8. We desperately need to fund better translations, especially a translation into Haitian Kreyol. As I discussed in a 2009 article in Liturgy http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/04580630903476095, continued use of french in Haitian churches enacts a dynamic of worship that is antithetical to the gospel. We are behind all other denominations active in Haiti in this regard. The Roman Catholic Church went from Latin to Kreyol after Vatican II.

    Haiti is our largest diocese. It’s past time to fund this important work!

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