Revising the Book of Occasional Services

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is presenting 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. 

On certain occasions, the Book of Common Prayer isn’t quite what’s called for. It’s not that the prayer book doesn’t work well enough; it’s just that there are occasions in the life of every congregation that need to be celebrated, and that aren’t between the covers of the red (or blue) book. And although many church folks can craft their own liturgies for special occasions, it’s good to have a book for the whole church to use that celebrates what’s not in the BCP. In the current triennium, the SCLM worked to complete the Book of Occasional Services (BOS)–work that began in the last triennium and is a revision of the BOS authorized in 2006. General Convention expressed a need for a revised book that would add new resources, subtract little-used ones, and respond to the church’s desire to include material that was relevant to the diverse membership we enjoy as a denomination.

The Book of Occasional Services is designed to give congregations resources that both form our members in the faith and support the liturgical goals of the Book of Common Prayer. The intention is not to duplicate resources in the BCP but to enrich, seasonally in many instances, the purposes of the prayer book. We have worked to reflect the prayer book’s ethos in the BOS, paying attention to the sound of its language and the shape of its rites. We’ve also asked the church to give us material that might be included in the BOS, materials that are being broadly used in congregations already like St. Francis Day animal blessings and rites for December 12, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. Congregations across the church generously shared their resources with us for these and other rites.

Where it seemed appropriate, instead of included complete rites, we included paragraphs of stated principles and guidelines for crafting liturgies in particular contexts. For instance, the resources for Día de los Muertos are an outline. A part of the outline is an expressed desire that those congregations that wish to develop and use the rite will do so in collaboration with communities for whom the celebration is already a culturally significant event. We hope that congregations will draw together, creating opportunities for deeper appreciation and love among their members.

Another principle that guided our work was working to reduce redundancy of rites. Some of the rites in the previous edition of the BOS were seasonal variations of the same thing, for example, house blessings in Epiphany and Easter. Instead of having two separate rites, we decided to have a single rite with seasonal variations. Again, this is an opportunity for congregations to think creatively about using the resources provided in the BOS. And since some of the material in the previous edition of the BOS is already included in other resources, we decided to take those out of this revision of the BOS (this includes the Lucernaria and Confractoria.

A final guiding principle for the work of BOS revision was paying attention to the cardinal rule of love. Just as Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another by washing each other’s feet, we were guided by the principle of loving one another in truth and action, not just in word or speech. This consideration led us to draw the widest possible net in finding resources to include. It also helped us to attend to some pastorally sensitive rites. One of these is a rite to be used when a member of the congregation returns after a difficult absence, called “Welcoming After Traumatic Absence.” Another pastorally meaningful liturgy is called “Rite for Receiving or Claiming a New Name,” designed to be used by those who, because of gender transition or other reason, choose to change their names. These and other new texts were very much developed from the bottom-up and not from the top-down; many thanks to those who shared resources with us.

We hope that this revision of the BOS will serve the needs of the church for years to come and that the next revision will be carried out with the same level of loving attention invested in the past two triennia.

We welcome your comments!



5 thoughts on “Revising the Book of Occasional Services

  1. Makes sense. I look forward to the next essay. I downloaded the Blue Book Report, which references that the text was too large to append and is published separately, but I could find no link to the PDF. When will that be available?

  2. I could contribute liturgical material that I developed from the material in the BOS, to the SCLM, if I had an email address to upload the material to. You can contact me at to arrange that upload. By the way, in the recent list of Bishops who are not conforming to the welcoming of LGBT members within the Church (cradle Episcopalians here, two of them), they missed the Bishop Diocesan of the Diocese of SW Florida, Dabney Smith, who has repeatedly and consistently refused to allow the blessing of our union within the church. I have had several one-on-one exchanges with him, and his non-conforming position is clear. His position is: you can go to the Diocese of SE Florida for that. Sorry, that’s not happening. If our church is not allowed to accept us here locally, we have been invited by the Unity Church and the ELCA to accept and celebrate our 2011 Civil Marriage. Or perhaps we will return to the founders of the ECUSA in the USA, in Scotland, where we will be welcomed. They teach us a powerful lesson about freedom and self-determination. If the Presiding Bishop of the USA wants to transform the Church into a Jesus Movement, who BTW welcomed in the outcast and downtrodden in his society to create the greatest movement of humanity that has ever existed (which I totally agree with), these holdout Bishops would be a good place to begin! We are praying for Bishop Smith’s passage to the next world! Sorry, but we are. We are ready to do a Celebration of Life, for him, today!

  3. I would like to be in touch with someone about the entry for St Nino, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of the Georgians. I see the date given for her is December 15th. Is this the Romish date? The proper observation is January 14th. I am an Episcopalian in Washington, DC, but also make the claim to be the authority on St. Nino in this hemisphere.

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