Revising the calendar of commemorations: Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018

For the next several weeks, the SCLM will present essays describing portions of our Blue Book report and explaining the thinking that shaped our conclusions. We invite your comments and hope that our conversation here will be beneficial to the legislative committees of General Convention. 

This essay explains the work of the sub-committee that worked on creating “a sanctoral calendar that addresses the many resolutions passed at the last General Convention.” As Paul Fromberg writes, the task “was complicated by the many good resources that General Convention has given the church for commemorating the saints and the lack of clarity regarding the status of these resources.”  The resolutions to which the report pertains are A065, A066 and A067.

In the Episcopal Church, we remember the saints because they show us how to make and remake our lives, following the Way of Jesus Christ. They do this by messing things up; they mess up our preconceptions about God and ourselves so that we can be transformed in both our self-understanding and in the ways that we know God.

In their lives, valiant witnesses of the Risen Christ asked dangerous questions about the world in which they lived. They questioned the common assumption that history was either an inevitable ascent by human will, or devolution into chaos or an exercise of power over weakness. In their lives, the saints lived out the Gospel in ways that so captured the imagination of their friends (and sometimes their enemies) that we continue to tell their stories. The saints’ stories are repeated as a part of our own sacred stories, giving us, year after year, a way of listening anew to the Gospel, and then speaking Gospel in our lives.

All of this means that the lives of the saints, and the ways that we organize telling their stories, matters tremendously. A part of the Church’s mandate to the SCLM is to “receive and evaluate requests for consideration of individuals or groups to be included in the Calendar of the Church year and make recommendations thereon to the General Convention for acceptance or rejection.” During this triennium, the calendar sub-committee of the SCLM took this mandate, prayerfully and faithfully working to produce a sanctoral calendar that addresses the many resolutions passed at the last General Convention.

Our efforts at calendar revision attempt to create a calendar that reflects the diversity of the Church. This work is important; our diversity as a Church is one of our great strengths. Welcoming commemorations of saints who look like, talk like and live like us in our diversity gives new ways of hearing the Gospel, and new ways for us to speak the Gospel in the world.  The hope of remembering a more diverse company of saints is that their lives will give us new stories by which to live, new ways to understand the world around us, and new ministries to take up in the world. We hope that adding greater diversity of persons to our calendar we will find new ways to work for the reconciliation of all things.

The task wasn’t always easy; it was complicated by the many good resources that General Convention has given the church for commemorating the saints and the lack of clarity regarding the status of these resources. Following on the trial use of Holy Women, Holy Men, during the 2012-2015 triennium, the SCLM prepared a new volume, A Great Cloud of Witnesses, which was intended as a replacement for Holy Women, Holy Men. This new text was not intended to be a sanctoral calendar, but rather an extended family history. However, the last General Convention declined to authorize A Great Cloud of Witnesses, directing instead that the resource simply be “made available.” This meant that the calendar of the church reverted to Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006. At the same time, there was an expectation by General Convention that the SCLM would continue significant calendar revision this triennium.

We took up this complicated challenge, and offer the church a new version of Lesser Feasts and Fasts that can either stand alone or also be used in cooperation with A Great Cloud of Witnesses for those who would like a more exhaustive list of commemoration. We are asking General Convention to authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 “for optional use throughout the church.” This language reflects the fact that the calendar is an optional document, and that individuals and congregations may choose to make use of all of it, some of it, or none of it. We have deliberately refrained from using the language of “trial use” because the canons of the Episcopal Church only recognize trial use as something to do with revisions of the Book of Common Prayer and not with other authorized liturgical resources. That being said, we hope that those who use this resource, if it is authorized by General Convention, will give us feedback, so that we can use it to make suggested revisions to General Convention 2021.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to do this work. We have done our best to fulfill the directives given to us by General Convention. We invite your comments.

9 thoughts on “Revising the calendar of commemorations: Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018

  1. Thank you all for your efforts on this. You’ve done a wonderful job of threading the needle! The calendar situation really was a mess!! This was shown particularly on the various iterations of the calendar online, which were all different because they made different decisions about which version of the calendar to show. I’m particularly pleased that you’ve decided to recommend that Pauli Murray be retained in the updated Lesser Feasts and Fasts. She will always be the first African American woman ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, so I agree that there is no need to wait 50 years.

  2. I appreciate the work of the committee to increase representation of women and other voices not heard from before. I am not so keen on recognizing non-catholic, non-Anglican, non-religious voices. For example, it would seem inappropriate to highlight someone who would not recognize our church or our right to see them as a Saint. Also, and for me more personal, I would like the practice of moving famous Saints from their date to another to make room for another. We should keep them and anyone else on their date and offer more than one choice on those dates. For example, Saint Cutbert’s day is March 20th and has been moved. Thomas Ken now takes his place. We should just have both on the same day and let the community choose either one or someone new if it is important to them. Same goes for Damien of Molikai who perhaps was moved to double up with the saintly nurse Marianne. Marianne deserves her own date and I prefer to remember Damien on the date assigned to him by our Roman bothers and sisters. For ecumenical reasons we should do what we can to shape similar but, of course, distinct cakendars.

    • Hi, Steve! I too appreciate the work the SCLM does, but I too am also concerned about the saints and figures we recognize.

      I firmly believe any saints who were born and lived after the English Reformation should be specifically Anglican persons. Those canonized before the Reformation can be considered ecumenical figures, but those canonized by the Roman Catholic Church following the Church of England’s separation must be considered in line with Roman peculiarities. The separation from Rome happened for very real, theological reasons and I think it would be wise for our Episcopal Church to recognize and respect that.

      I am also concerned with the removal of a few incredibly important Episcopalians who are not included in this proposed revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The Standing Commission proclaims a commitment to including those figures whose work might otherwise have gone unnoticed in the Church. Yet I find these particular abscenses contrary to that proclamation.

      Bishop James Theodore Holly, first Black bishop in the Episcopal Church, and father of the Diocese of Haiti is one of those saints. Bishop Holly was an early advocate for Black emigration, seeing as how Black congregants were being treated in American churches. He believed Haiti, which was incredibly unstable at the time, would be a suitable place to found a specifically Black mission. He went to the Board of Missions several times and each time, his proposal was rejected. Driven by a desire to further the Gospel, Bishop Holly took his wife and several Black freedmen and left for Haiti with no funds from his Church. His wife and two of his children died on that trip, as well as many of his fellow travelers. But that didn’t stop him. By the end of his life, he had become a bishop and Haiti had become a stable diocese. He founded many churches and is currently buried on the grounds of one. He was given Haiti’s highest honor, left behind an incredible legacy, and is credited with beginning an early precursor to the Union of Black Episcopalians.

      The second Black bishop in the Episcopal Church–the first to be consecrated for a mainland diocese–is also missing from the SCLM’s proposed updates. Bishop Henry Beard Delaney was born a slave. After the end of the Civil War and Emancipation, Delaney’s family moved to start a better life, where he was recognized by the rector of his local Episcopal Church and given a scholarship to attend a school for newly-freed slaves. There he studied theology, among other things, became faculty, and is credited with the construction of a chapel on campus. Delaney was later ordained priest and joined the Commission for Work for Colored People, establishing schools and hospitals and helping to educated newly freed men and women. He was unanimously elected suffragan bishop for Negro Work in North Carolina and spent the remainder of his life helping other bishops establish churches for Black Episcopalians.

      Though there are a few other saints who I feel have been wrongly excluded from this proposed update (St. Basil the Great, a literal Church Father; and John Wycliffe, to name a few), these two men in particular are of importance to Black Episcopalians throughout our Church for the historical and inspiring Christian legacies they left behind. I feel the sub-committee in charge of the calendar has failed to live up to their proclaimed commitment to inclusion. A handful of obscure second century saints, many distinctly Roman Catholic saints, and Pope John XXIII have all been included in this proposed revision of LFAF, yet the first and second Black bishops of our Church–men whose lives were living testinomies to the Gospel and whose legacies are still alive today–are excluded.

      It can’t help but seem as if this commitment to inclusion is merely a proposition as well.

  3. I commend the SCLM for their continued work on these commemorations that I use with regularity. My single concern is that they (or is it we as a church?) complete the work on one version before launching off on the next. We have been waiting THREE YEARS for the release of “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” in PDF format, with only the promise of ‘will soon be available.’ Not everyone wants to kill the trees necessary for a multi-pound book, nor has the resources to spend nearly $50 on such a tome (while lining the pockets of Church Publishing in the process).
    PLEASE RELEASE THE PDF and when “Lesser Feast and Fasts 2018” is approved, the same courtesy of making that document available would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I submitted a comment a couple of weeks ago, which has not appeared. Was it rejected for some reasons??

    • Apologies — I’m not sure why your comment went into a filter, but it is approved now. Thank you for letting us know!

  5. I may have missed her, but it seems like a very important lay woman may have fallen through the cracks. In her advanced age, Frances Perkins [known as Madam Perkins] attended my home parish when I was a child. A foolish Governor of Maine has destroyed her most prominent secular memorial. I hope that her Church doesn’t do likewise. Her work to protect children and aid for FDR in framing Social Security from our pension plan as the first female Cabinet Secretary should no be forgotten.[See HWHM, p. 368}

  6. Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake: I read the entire Blue Book chapter on the calendar of commemorations (most of which I find very salutary), and I acknowledged the need to publish the proposed text of LFF 2018 separately, but I can’t seem to find a link to the text. Where may it be found?

  7. We have a “saint” in our diocese who might be a great addition to our calendar of saints. She’s been an inspiration to the faithful in the Fingerlakes ares of Upstate NY for generations. Would someone from the SCLM be willing to reach out to me, please, and help me understand how we could raise up a saint for consideration? I can be contacted at the Diocese of Central New York. Thank you!

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